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Monday, May 29, 2006

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Pinning it Down

I will be surprised if any of the four or five people I know to regularly visit this blog had the fortitude to read my 2,500 word essay on wealth (below) all the way through even one time, let alone go back and notice I keep revising and reworking it. I'm getting closer, but am still not satisfied. It's preachy and pious in places. There's a paragraph or two that needs to be cut altogether. There are gaps that need filling. Writing about such a (ha-ha) loaded topic makes it even more strenuous, because I am having to weigh my anxiety over pissing anyone off (if it ever sees the light of day) against my need to write with honesty and integrity.

Lately it seems like the harder I work on my writing, the harder it gets. The bar keeps going up.

And this year, I have been working hard.

I was at a particular stop light one day last spring where I seem to come to a lot of critical junctures in my life. I was at one then. I remember realizing I was thirty-five years old and I had spent enough time being afraid of becoming a writer and what that life might demand of me. Somewhere recently I had hear the quote, "Don't die with your music still in you," and I couldn't seem to make it stop echoing.

I gripped my steering wheel in both hands, and said, "Okay. Bring it on."

Shortly after, I was invited to work on an essay collection with a group of friends that has been like what I imagine boot camp is for the Marines: gruelling, bonding, exhilarating, muscle-building, ego-crushing....hopefully, better smelling. Staying with it has really tested my commitment to writing. How badly do I want it? What am I willing to risk for it? How tired, how selfish, and how honest am I willing to be for it?

Sounds joyless, doesn't it? It's not. Along with all the blood, sweat and tears, it's been immensely rewarding and even (at times) fun. This weekend we are going away to try and whip a final draft into shape, and if we never find a publisher, I am proud of the work we've done.

But it's an odd craft, this work of trying to pin words onto ideas and feelings. Sometimes you get it right, and the finished product captures what was fleeting. Sometimes you butcher it all to hell.

I've been reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, which led me to read her brother-in-law Dominick Dunne's new book The Way We Lived Then. Both books are almost painfully candid, but not tainted by exhibitionism, like so many contemporary memoirs. That's a pretty good trick, to hang your stuff out there, and not leave your ego out there with it. That takes real discipline and craftsmanship, and I wish there was a way to acquire those skills without the process of trial and error.

Until last year, I guess I was still thinking there might be; that if I just hung out in my cocoon long enough and did nothing, the music in me would just burst forth fully realized someday, and I would never have to risk making mistakes, never hit a sour note, never mix and mangle my metaphors. :)

Perhaps I should I avoid that stoplight from now on.



Blogger becca said...

I for one definitely read the last post in its entirety, and now I've read it again! It's a great piece - you write some very thought-provoking stuff. And the longer, the better, in my opinion. Thanks for the link to freecycle - I'm going to start using it here.

12:43 PM  

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