gall and gumption

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Shiny Things

The old Karl Bohm recordings of Mozart's operas are still my favorite. All the time I spent with them really paid off in the pleasure I get from them now. This trio is such a pretty thing it could be a piece of pop music--and probably is in some mashup with Julio Yglesias or Sting and one or more of the various tenor triplets, perhaps in the cheap CD bin as "brunch music" or "music to get over romances with." What I got from the time I spent with Mozart's operas, listening to them over and over and over like an obsessed person, is having all the context around something like this, so that it comes at me riding the big wave of the story and all that the music has been sort of building and working the whole time. And that's what I want: the whole thing. It's this huge complete, full experience of feeling, and with Mozart the feeling is just never wrong. If it seems wrong, it's because the stagecraft or the diction or the acting is wrong. But the feeling in the music is never wrong. It comes at you with this generosity, so alive, so agile.

The more I write, the more it becomes apparent that the only reason for me to do it is to do it as I want. I mean, not all that long ago I used to envy people who had cool writing jobs. Oh wow, you travel to tourist destinations and write about luxury hotels? How come I could never find some such gig as that? It took me a while to notice that while I envied them the fact of being paid to write whatever they wrote, I didn't envy them what they wrote. I didn't read Miss Thing's luxury hotel blurbage and think, "Gee I wish I'd written that." I just thought it might be nice to have a free couple of nights at some hotel and spend the time writing. It took me a while to notice, too, that what I wanted to write on this imaginary fabulous gig was my own stuff--which no hotel would pay me for.

Movement is freedom for me, and when I get a taste of it I could probably spend my whole time just writing. In fact some of my best journeys are those I've made alone, like my trip to Dominica, in which I just wrote indiscriminately everything. And that's the kind of travel writing I like to read too. A friend today asked me if I had read Lawrence's "Sea and Sardinia" and in answering him (yes, often) it occurred to me that Sea and Sardinia was the most perfect travel book. There is such a long drop to the next travel book, it is really incomparable. The best of the ones at the bottom of that long drop are clever, or competent (defining "competent" very loosely) but they are not a sustained work of heightened passionate attention of a genius at the peak of his literary (read: perceptive, expressive, combined). Sea and Sardinia is genius. It's proof that genius exists and doesn't always look like Einstein. I envy that. And so I've learned to let the lesser temptations of writing go. I did not become a magazine feature writer, turning out smart things for the New Yorker.

In the lonely hours of yesterday morning when the Yogi Bedtime Tea wore off (4 a.m.) I woke up and was chatting online with a close relative on the West Coast, who keeps strange hours. He's figuring a lot of things out and he sorta wants to write, because when he talks with people about them he makes them uncomfortable--he's driven by an appetite to figure things out and to get it out and put it in play. This scares people. I encourage him of course. Anyway he asked me if I'd ever started writing and then got scared of where it might take me. That was making him hesitate, he said. At first I didn't understand the question and then I realized that that fear kept me from writing and made it painful and humiliating, for years. And I had forgotten how huge it was! That was when I was very much inside of the belief that I was somehow obligated to write things that other people had already imagined. And hearing someone else speak of that fear, that balkiness at the mind's desire to go where it wanted--I was able to look at it with some detachment. When I was younger it seemed like stupidity--my stupidity and incapacity. In him I see it as intellectual honesty and a prudent fear of uncharted territory. But I've been hanging out in that uncharted territory for some time now and I don't find it scary at all. I wade out into those scribbled-up notebooks and I haul something up onto the beach that doesn't look half bad. I have to accept that it's a slow business, that I write some things over and over again, that I could die and leave this big mess of ink for someone else to deal with, whatever. I don't care. I just go on. It's the medium in which every night I try to put myself right with the world, and the end result, I hope, is just a smidge more wisdom and some writing that I can respect. I say that now; when I'm actually writing I don't even think about that. I just think about what I'm writing about. Jesus, what a relief!

Out of the process, and sometimes even to order, I find I've produced something that I can share, and then I'll see what happens with that if I move it out into the world. But I'm not trying very hard to move it out. I should try harder, probably.

Who cares about this stuff anyway? Who wants it? How can it change anything? That's what my relative asked me, when I told him it stopped being scary after a while. I told him that the timeline for change by art is longer than the one for other things. You put it out there so that it can create the desire for it. You do not dispute with the rest of the world whether you have the right to create what you created. You just assert your right by letting this thing walk around on its own and live its own life, let it create the space it needs. And that does make a change.

There is no setup for the good; if you want it you have to make it. And you have to be unafraid of solitude. Not solitude as in no mate or pet or relatives, but that other solitude; the one that makes you retreat from the path your own thoughts want to take because you don't see anybody else already there.


At 11:47 PM, Blogger Leslie said...

I still find it scary sometimes. Not the work writing. The other writing.

At 1:44 AM, Blogger Kia said...

Yeah but what's there to be afraid of? OK let's see. Oh look, Leslie! I found my well-thumbed Note to Self cards.

1) That way lies madness. Well, madness will find some other way to get you if it really wants you.

2) I'll write something that embarrasses me. You can burn it, though I agree, you won't get the time back. Seriously, what did you have planned for that time instead?

3) "Who do you think you are? Einstein?" "No, actually, but I--why do you--oh, wait, wait, no, I can explain. Fuck you. That's it basically."

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous max said...

this hits home

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