Monday, April 26, 2010

Applications of a ten-foot pole in "them there hills"

Before a crazy Saturday afternoon and evening (I drove around with an Asian in my trunk, but he wasn't naked), I watched a History channel special on a place called Lucky Friday. It's a vast silver mine in the northwest. The foreman, dirty from the bottom of his hardhat to the bottom of his boots, smiled and said between one of the informatively voice-overed snippets of bleak footage, "I say that any day underground is a good day." I came up with two conclusions after recovering from my slack-jawed dismay. Mining is hard, and it takes special types to do it well.

As of right now, I did not get into the Odyssey writing workshop. The woman did grant me the boon of the mysterious "short list" of those to be contacted if anyone who did get in backs out, and also she read over my work and gave me her feedback. I was pleased, because she seemed to have actually read the entire thing, which I can't say the same for other contests and competitions I've joined. I was also sad because she missed things that no one else who read it over seemed to. People whose editing experience was much less, and I assumed reading acumen also. I understood then that editors are not always people with any great talent, they just happen to be editing, like a janitor with a beautiful singing voice, or a math tutor who happens to have aspirations of being a writer.

Also currently, I am in a new writing group. There's only four of us; we don't have a name, but we do have direction. I have about 20,000 words of a story to read by next Wednesday, and give feedback on. The man who organized it all, whose work we're currently reading, espouses the philosophy of getting as many eyes on a project as possible. Highlight the things that all of them have problems with and fix those. He didn't say anything about the sorts of things that one person notices, but this business being an inexact science has always been painfully obvious. Because the editor at Odyssey also accused me of "bookisms, Tom Swiftys, and telling," the first two of which had my new writing group stumped, and then perusing the internet to find their meanings, I've also become aware that I might not know all the lingo. Ironic, a writer not knowing the words.

And then there's the work of my alumnus friend. That chunk of writing is much longer, and has a softer deadline, in that there is no deadline, and harder because I agreed to do it before any of the recent group foolishness happened. What's more, I was paid.

And also my own writing. The three books are nearing completion, to that point where I can conceive almost of what happens in each chapter from here, and what happens in each. The short story I'm working on is also imminent, like the det cord wasn't long enough.

So, it is a multi-step process: tough man hours are fed into places where the sun doesn't shine, the toil breaks ground and stirs a man's insides, and at the end of it all, what even was yielded is not apparent until brought up, into the light of day, and is filtered and refined into something we all hope is profitable and worthwhile. One of the coolest things in the special, was when the foreman talked about a miner examining an area after it's been blasted. He said the man that set the explosions off is the first to go back and make sure it's safe, poking at the area with a long rod to bring down any loose rock. "So," the foreman said, smiling again, "that miner is the first person ever to stand in that place, ever." That was pretty neat, I thought... and dangerous.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A happy tax

Earlier this year, I complicated my 2010 taxes by accepting pay for working at my friend's theater. Today, a different friend called me about reading over his novel for him, and offered to pay me for that, too. I wondered if the IRS would really come after me for not reporting something like that. I suppose I'll get around to bending that law when it comes time for the breaking. I wish I had some colloquial wisdom to insert right here, but alas, my researching is incomplete.

I am watching Justified though. The latest episode (given unto me by the prophet Hulu) solidified a theory I'd been developing for a few weeks now. Listening to the director and actors, the show seems to owe it's origin to that of a short story from which the first episode takes its name. The first episode is strong, well acted, scripted, and directed. I'm not sure what I was doing, but I dropped it promptly and watched the next three in rapid succession. With each, my anxiousness faded along with my smile; both were replaced by a creeping confusion.

Because only the first episode uses the afore mentioned story as its underpinnings. That work of fiction, which I believe strongly had been edited and crafted, reworked and rephrased, cared for many times more than the other pieces of story. It was fairly apparent. I wondered why. Other shows I admit to watching don't suffer from this phenomenon. And I don't think it was the stellar first effort setting up later chapters only for failure beneath raised expectations. I think, maybe, that the show has only average, or moderately talented writers, and that the one person they should have hired, they did not for whatever reason.

In a story I've been working on, I espouse the notion that effort translates into something like depth or power. Tools remember every hour of work, let's say. Or a well-used toilet seat is never cold, to be even more mystical.  I hope that's true. Thursday afternoon, and evening, I finally put all my planning on the fiction project to the page. It was to be post marked on the 14th, so I was working on the day it was due, and no amount of speed could get it to Brooklyn in time. When I started, I really didn't care much about whether they'd accept it, or even whether or not I'd still send it when (if) I got done.

By the time I was done, though, I knew absolutely that it was going in the mail. The thing was irradiated with my concentrated hours of labor, and the days of pouring over each word that went into it. I used color in multiple shades; I broke several leads from sheer stress. I discovered the complex madness of using a glue stick: how to soak the page with adhesive, then how to move the object once it was affixed incorrectly, or remove it completely without ripping it, then to watch over the edges and press press press them like some manic watchman. There were no cheap efforts. I woke up early today, and I did not bat an eye at the price of next day delivery. And whether or not it ends up in a trash can somewhere, the effort put in will mean something to me.

Today, I feel rich, and I feel like I'll get away with it without having to pay later.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Il Penseroso

Order surrenders to chaos. Yesterday I called a woman who I hadn't tried to contact in three weeks. I hadn't tried because none of my earlier correspondences had been replied to, and in this era of meta-communication, that non-communication communication generally means in our society either a) there's been a tragedy, and the person just needs some time or b) They're just not that into you, but they'd rather not let you know directly. I really thought that I had gotten it, too, had internalized that They wrote a book about it, after all.

After dinner with a friend, I told him "I think if I let myself believe that's how people are, a part of me is going to die," like the guy who says he doesn't believe in gravity: clearly it is a fundamental constant, he simply has chosen his battle poorly. Or maybe it's something else. After all, I'm similarly rejected in that manner all the time. Submissions sent off with SASEs find themselves trapped in limbo forever. There never has come that fateful day that one or more of them have come sliding into my mailbox, each of them with separate epics to tell.

So today's battle is with the impossible. As ammunition, I can say that also on yesterday each of the three novels I'm working on simultaneously have hit 20 chapters. I set a pace and have stuck with it for some 10-13 weeks now. Another novel which I'm trying to edit no less than five chapters a week also is on pace, with the sixteenth edit having gone through also on yesterday. And in the midst of all of this, I have a few more story ideas that I just recently got the hankering to work on. So if the improbable or ill-advise can be accomplished, then...

It's a bit of a paradox that I am told frequently, and can admit, that my tone most often resembles the pessimistic and foreboding. My brow furrows a lot. Between Milton's companion poems, I'm definitely the melancholy one, is what I'm saying. Yet, I work from the bright bleakness cresting my horizon until it sets again and on comes gloomy night. I work, and I work because if I let myself believe that all of this was for nothing, then the rest of me would die. They say as one gets closer and closer to the ten thousandth hour, that it becomes more and more difficult to stop doing a thing and turn one's energies to something else.

I carry around a stack of folded papers that fits neatly in my back pocket. Scribbled down I have ever-lengthening lists of things I have to write about, in what order, what to include, and what details should be described in distracted, swirling lines. Most of them have numbers, which I also scratch out and then above that mark through I increase the former numeral by one. And sometimes, I forgetfully leave these slips of paper around places I go. Then I wonder what others glean from my madding tantrums in ink. Like the guy who leaves behind a confusing suicide note: he wants to be reprized, remembered even, but not for being weak, but for being clever.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The timeliness of some (colored) people

I would like to blame recent neglect on the weather. Where I live, Spring has touched down with a graceful finality, and wherever She alights, golden motes of troublesome dust rise up like smothering clouds. And the garden grows. But that would be too much. Nor would it be completely accurate to say that I just hadn't gotten around to it, because here I am typing away one still-cool morning, fresh from a shower and thoughtful.

An artist I know who works in all manner of strange mediums (from my perspective, I mean) described to me something of her process. She wonders up an idea, and judges it, then usually ends up throwing it away. As whatever deadline approaches this process repeats, becoming more frenzied and wild until rampant need (which I believe is half the formula for genius) causes her brain to formulate on the idea, the one she will actually put forth. Procrastination is what I might have called it, but likely only because I didn't have a better word.

Because, I've discovered, procrastination is what I've enacted. The art-house project has gone no further: the book remains empty, even vaguely dusty, on my desk, planning continues, refining, yet implementation has stagnated as the days tick tick tick away. When I talk about it, I describe it as an obligation. I said I would do this thing, so I am being held at my word to do so. My word is important to me, and yet I've done nothing.

In lieu of further psycho-analyzing myself, or even putting forth effort on the journal itself, or looking tirelessly for a new job, I've been writing. In addition to the three novels I'm working on simultaneously, I've also decided to finally go back and edit the first novel from which those three branch from. Friends from my past have come at me with some small projects which I tend to quickly and directly. Most recently, I've gotten in mind another short story to work on. All of this is overwhelming, but comfortably so. I feel that despite the task, I can achieve it. I suppose I feel confident in my ability in this one, lonely field.

But other concerns some might label as more important. Like the approaching deadline which is now... 7 days away. And the job, which is how one acquires money which is how one acquires food and services. Literally the things needs to maintain life. Not to live, but to stay alive. I discussed my lack of priorities with a friend recently. Well, not discuss, I think I mostly ranted. A crux of my situation has always been the narrow edge of a coin. In one situation, I become successful, perhaps even very successful and famous, certainly a story used to impress people at dinner parties. In the other, I fail to adapt, and so I fail. Almost as if I'm flawed somehow, my energies seem only to commit to the one, thus far unmarketable enterprise.

The oddest thing about all of it is the numerous people who believe that I'll be fine, that things will just work out, and with no idea how. It reminds me a bit of religion, trusting in the invisible. And i'm late even to that, like throwing on my thick and unseasonal suit, and rushing down to the local temple, shoving my knees into the floor, and pushing belief into some situation that everyone else believes absolutely in the happening of.

"Psst, hey." I elbow the person next to me. "Did he come back from the dead, yet?" Annoyed, they look over at me, or perhaps sad for my intense ignorance.

"That already happened."