Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reading and Writing

My biography as a published writer doesn't fill up more than a sentence. A speed reader could blink and miss it. A few of my poems were published in local and school newspapers and I won first place in a college poetry contest. There it is, the total output of a literary underachiever. I began writing what I called poems in advanced composition class in high school, although there was nothing advanced about them; they were short goofy poems that rhymed until I learned that rhyming was for greeting cards and country western songs and not to be used if you wanted to be taken seriously by real poets. Also, I learned at least some of the basic differences between prose and poetry, so I threw in more esoteric symbols and metaphors to elicit the appropriate emotional response. From the mundane to the arcane (forgive the rhyme). It was during my college years that the poems were published and the contest won. After the award, I wondered if it meant that I was then a real poet like Coleridge and T.S. Elliot.
Seconds ticked by until the answer became clear; that I was to Coleridge like Spiro Agnew was to Abraham Lincoln. Looking back on it now, how my poems were judged by the English Dept. as superior to the dozens of other entries, without the advantage of making a surreptitious cash donation to the department is a mystery to me. I never wrote another poem. Prose is what I wanted to write: plays, short stories, novels, jingles for McDonald's commercials, anything and everything. Instead, I wrote nothing. After college I applied for a job writing commercials for a radio station. The application required that I write two sample commercials for a mini-mart grocery store. I thought I did well considering the uninspiring subject matter but I didn't get the job. Someone told me later that the boss was a lesbian and I thought it better to accept that as the reason for not being hired than to doubt my ability to create clever syntax.
After college, the demands of the real world chewed up chunks of my time that could have been spent writing, like work, romantic relationships, television and recreational drugs. When I was approached by my first pot dealer I asked him if it would help me write better poetry. He said yes, the lying bastard. Questions I've asked myself through the years but have never been able to answer to my satisfaction are: what should I write about and why write at all? It's always been understood that I would write for others to read, so writing for my own approval was not enough. In fact, in the process of examining my possible motives for wanting to become a writer,
it became clear that fame and fortune were the compelling stimuli, NOT a burning need to express the angst in my tortured soul. What angst? What soul? I didn't believe I possessed knowledge or wisdom that few others had, nor believed my opinions were absolute truths for others to live by, so nothing was written. Early on, I rejected the notion of writing to entertain. People were entertained by beer commercials and Larry the Cable Guy and I didn't want my writing in that category. Seeking knowledge of ourselves and the world around us and how we might improve each has been replaced with seeking vacuous entertainment to "escape" from using our brains. For the last twenty or so years, I have not read fiction. I don't want to read fantasy, myth or stories BASED on actual events; I want to read about the actual events without the embellishment of imagination. I don't read to escape from the unpleasant realities of Man's behavior, but rather, to become MORE aware of the full range of human capabilities, from the malevolent to the magnanimous. I don't remember if the words were spoken by a college instructor in comp class or I read it somewhere, but the words, "write about what you know" have stuck with me all these years. Several months ago, I began writing again. Just prior to that, I began corresponding with my thirty year-old niece, the daughter of my sister who died of brain cancer not long before. My niece and I never got to know each other beyond information gleaned from small talk at sporadic family reunions, so we agreed that it was time we did. Since I have a great deal more leisure time at present than she does, I began the process by emailing her bits of autobiographical recollections from my first memory to my most recent. It is, as per my standards, as authentic as my memory will allow. Since she wants to know the real me, adding fictional details and hyperbole to enhance her opinion of me or as an attempt to make reading about my life seem more worthy of her attention, would be disingenuous and a violation of trust.
Of course, that means that I am revealing information of a personal nature, closet skeletons if you will, with no wart left unmentioned. There is risk, but the satisfaction gained from trying to live an authentic life is no small consolation.

No comments:

Post a Comment