Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tithe for the mill

I've become somewhat of an excuse factory of late. I didn't write last weekend. I thought about it, over the course of days, but when the rubber hit the road, the words failed to reached the page. Among other things, I'll have to work on that.

Family was in town recently, a lot of it. People I couldn't differentiate from the kind of stranger I might meet in an elevator or at a bus stop. But they said they knew me, remembered me. They said I looked like my parents, not either one but both of them, like I was some sort of mashed together amalgamation of my father and my mother. I spend time in the mornings staring at my face, and when I shave, or whenever my eye catches a reflective object. Another instance of having to take people at their word.

One specific family member, my aunt, and I went to lunch together. She asked me questions, and since no one else was around, and the place was dimly lit, lacking those pesky mirrors that I hate, I earnestly tried to explain to her the peace-less me. We didn't get very far, though. Her first question was what my books (which she had tried to read, but had failed) were about, and why I had written them. That took up almost the entirety of our time together. On the plus side, when I was done she seemed satisfied, if a bit changed over the ordeal.

Over the next few days, I went back to asking questions, of myself and others, rather than answering them. One I got stuck on was the dilemma of the genius. The question makes one choose between distant alternatives, virtually endless and definitively posthumous success versus more immediate and terrestrial notoriety. To struggle for the entirety of one's life, receiving rewards long after death, or being a more immediate spark, mundane but successful, a name forgotten by everyone moments after the casket kisses earth. I've yet to find anyone who would volunteer for the latter in lieu of the former. The religious man has the conscience of his after life to revel in the glory of his first one. The defiant man has his pride, the dignity of dying on his feet with his chin held high. Well, I did find one person who might've settled for the latter, but I only spied that mirror once, and have yet to revisit it.

That same aunt told me she was proud of me, that all in my family were proud of me. I could tell she had been waiting to say it, like it was on a checklist she had written while her plane was in flight. I asked her what I had done that was so deserving of everyone's pride. For her, it was more about things that I hadn't done. I hadn't fathered a child before I was ready, I hadn't ended up in jail, I hadn't dropped out of school. I told her maybe everyone's standards were just too low, however I did thank her. I thanked a friend as well recently, when he told me that he was proud of me, too. In an effort to move forward, I'm going to try to be worthy of these kind sentiments, even if I don't agree with them. Even if I can't see myself.

For these query letters, the next step in my professional development, I'm going to imagine the best version of myself, and how he would write them, and how he would send them. To live is to change, the saying goes, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

Change is hard, though. It is a grating, constantly difficult activity, but it is best accomplished stared in the face.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Judgment days

When your mom asks why you haven't written on your blog, that's a good time to recognize that you've been slacking off.

A friend asked me if I'd ever composed a list of the things I wanted, with as much specificity as possible. The kind of agent I want, the kind of publisher, the kind of contracts. The color, flavor, tone, and dimensions of the success I desire from this life. I had to admit that I never had. I've imagined intimations with interviewers, red carpet photos, conversations with other success stories, and other memories I'd want, but when it came to the kinds of things that would yield all of that, I'd always phrase things like "I just want someone to give me a chance" and "All I need is an advocate that has some backing of their own." For the entire remainder of the day after my friend had asked me that question I ruminated on the possibility that all the universe needs from us is specificity and such things come to us in time. It's not science fiction. Let's call it... faith fiction.

A Chinese oil painting in a restaurant reminded me of my latest problem, which prevented me from writing this past weekend. The style of art is designed to convey a thing, a horse, a cat, a bird, etc. with the fewest brush strokes possible. It's minimalism at its finest, and it's likely that I'm drawn to it because I'm somewhat of a minimalist myself. Sometimes when I write a scene, a floor plan is required, just to make sure I know, as the author, where everything is in the room. If the character is seeking escape, then all doors and windows, and the condition of those portals, must be accounted for. If the character is seeking ingress, then the same is true, but in the opposite fashion. In this case, something more like a drawing might be required. In an upcoming scene, an item comes into play. The problem is I have no real idea of what it looks like, and for the kind off writer that I am, I have trouble writing about things that I can't fix in my mind. What's worse, every day it seems to become more formless, the next passage to write out of reach.

On the (more) professional side of things, I've finally gotten around to composing a list of agents to query. It isn't a short list that I'm developing, but perhaps that's a good thing. A writer friend told me of a story she read about another author who queried 41 agents, who all said no before the 42nd gave the nod. Now, that same author has a very successful career that includes best sellers and movie deals. The last time I tried this I think I queried less than 15. The disparity is obvious, but I'm more reminded of the inexact nature of language. After all, "'this is going to be difficult" might be a statement of fact, but it does nothing for accurately measuring the difficulty of a task. I realized yesterday that I will always write, whether I receive accolades or not, but writing and trying to be a (professional) writer are two different experiences. After all, the person who simply writes understands freedom purely, and will never be fettered in a manner that the latter person will, constantly racing uphill, through tempests of uncertainty and storms of rejection. The professional lives to be judged, but not by choice.

About all I have today are movie platitudes, about how the future isn't set, about how there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.