Sunday, October 02, 2005

Why I Write + Why Certain Writer/Academics are Total Nuisances

Why I Write

Presiding over the unformed world of the blank page, in an imitation of the Creator, I intone, “Let there be entertainment! Let there be jokes!” And there are. Eventually. With Bill Hicks dead, Lenny Bruce dead, I cannot wait for the appearance of the next person who makes me laugh. That person may be in diapers now. In the interim, I work on my own comic turns.

I have observed numerous writers*, usually the type that teach creative writing, blindly rehashing a well-worn pearl, talking of how they write to discover not what they know, but what they don't know. There are clumps of writers who have been “revealing” this truth periodically since Plato. Like phoney Victorian mediums, they seek out the most gullible, the most curious (usually a group of well-intentioned students). And then they go through their act, furrowing their brows, waving their arms, maybe even finding time for a little beseeching. And I think to myself, dear me, when will they call a halt to this branch of showbusiness? What do we have to say to make them disperse, to reskill, to retire. Yes, learning is a form of remembering, now move along. So why does it persist? Here are my thoughts.

Basically, this line of talk has a couple of benefits that are simply too good to ignore. And these writers persist with their routines for the same reason that mousetraps continue to prove effective. Firstly, if you are still busily discovering all that you don't know, then, hell, you're on a sort of quest, aren't you? And isn't it great to be on a quest? Particularly if you're advanced in years; maybe you have a beard, maybe you have cataracts. No matter. Those things are irrelevant if you can impress upon yourself and others the idea that you are still there, grappling with the great unknown. You're young at heart. You're just different because you are on the teaching staff of six universities and live in a converted windmill. Otherwise, we're the same. There is also the added bonus of this statement serving as an indicator of great modesty on the part of the speaker. Look at him/her, addressing the audience, prepared to admit, after an entire lifetime spent writing and thinking, that they don't know everything. That they sit at their desk, not knowing things. Wowee. And even braver, to be prepared to collect a fee, and stand for an hour, telling us in tricksy language how little they've learned. Now that takes some guts.

I take it as a given that I write to discover things. About myself and the magical universe I operate within. With my brand of entertainment, that is the only way forward. There is no pleasure in tracing a thought to a conclusion that is obvious from the moment of its conception. All those thoughts can land outside the page. I record those thoughts that it strikes me as being sad to lose. And preventing this loss is an immediate comfort when I am writing. I often have the thought, while sat at my desk; that I could lose all my memories in the next instant, but something would survive, it doesn't matter how small. Something would survive – there, that's proof of concept. Proceed.

***

* The only reason I am on this track, annoyed with academics/writers, is that I have been researching the kind of graduate studies that I would like to complete. This meant a careful reading of the statements and interviews given by the staff and the writers who lead these programs. In each case, I found the same kinds of statements in their interviews and speeches, and the same basically unpopular brand of writing once I looked at their work. (One story featured "lemony yellow" in the first sentence. Basically, as usual, mistaking mindful for rational; attempting to innovate at the level of the sentence, rather than beginning with innovative ideas. Somehow convinced that the everyday is just way too boring. If any of these people had an ounce of William H Gass' talent, maybe it'd be easier for me to take them seriously. But this is just naff, difference for difference's sake, like eating a steak through a straw.)

One writer said they wanted to see stories where "everything had been worked over." Are they aware of what "being worked over" means in the rougher part of town? Because that's how it read, like someone had written a story and then beaten themselves AND their story up. Same kind of people who analogise writing to sculpting something from a block, using their reason as a chisel, their emotions as hammers, and their experience as... whatever. We're almost back to Woolf's "picks up words as if in sugar-tongs." - (that is the Aristocratic rendering, where words are precious because they are civilising elements, and the more civilised you can make language and society, the more entrenched you and your aristocratic friends will be. See the unabashed teaching of The Queen's English for further details.)

Anyway, to conclude, I will be doing an M.A. in English Literature instead, and giving this whole sideshow a miss.

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