Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sagging, what to do about it


Disappointed though I am by your lack of smitage, I like "Seventh Draft" as a name--although it does sound kind of like a video game. A very nerdy video game.

So, the difficulty both of us had in coming up with something passably witty seems like a good place to start. Why was this so hard?

Why, in other words, did the wave of semi-creative correspondence that we'd been riding up to this point in our e-mails begin to dry as soon as the promise of an audience loomed?

And how can we (I mean me here, but hopefully you can get something out of the question too) get back to writing good letters, fiction, or, failing that, blog names?

I've been thinking about this question a lot lately, mostly because of my own literary constipation. Maybe I'm being sentimental--but I seem to remember a time when writing a paragraph didn't feel like trying to shit Thanksgiving dinner out through a coffee stirrer. When there was a certain amount of swinging from the vines delight involved in it.

I'm not talking about writer's block, exactly--actually I'm not sure what I'm talking about. Weirdly enough, the things that have helped me focus the problem so far have been images (this is how I tend to think about abstract stuff). So sentences, which I used to write quickly, now appear in my mind like rope bridges, over which I'm slowly lining up a series of half-asleep pack mules. The bridge sags more and more until finally, there's no way to get across. You'd think it would break at this point; but it never breaks. It just sags there mule-loaded.

Good writing, on the other hand, is more and more a flash, a sort of bold, semi-risky slice: the kind of gesture I imagine sculptors using to excise, say, a nose they didn't like (probably sculptors don't do this).

To use a sports example, when I play embarrassingly bad tennis with my girlfriend, I set my feet and wind up, but then tend to hit balls so that they barely dribble over the net.

Why? Timidity. No topspin, no technique.

I suck, in other words. When I'm running after a really strong hit, on the other hand, I usually return pretty well, because I'm off balance, not thinking, and therefore allowing my body (which knows more about tennis than I do I guess) to take over.

Slow like a wall or swift like a knife. Not the most specific terms, but this is how I'm framing it right now. The Northern and Southern borders of Josh Can't Write Town.

Slow: my body, my stories, important things.

Swift (don't know why I'm not just using "fast" here, but I'm not): letters, diaries, marginalia, essays, unimportant things (the great river of "unofficial" literature, for example, which I'm just discovering and that we've got to talk about.)

An interesting irony in all this: that the stuff I enjoy most these days is painfully slow reading. For a long time I was all about the story, but now reading a snappy plot feels being shot out of a catapult to me. I like slowing down, feeling as if sentences have doors in them. Books like maps, and reading therefore more like exploring an island than shooting the luge.

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