Archive for October, 2010

It turns out you can make the writing process into performance art.  Very very bad performance art.


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No, readers, I am not trying to break into show business.  My wife turned me on to a set of podcasts that generally involve one working comedian interviewing other comedians, talking shop, etc.  One thing that comes out in these interviews is there are apparently all these comedy wannabes hanging around the clubs, waiting to ambush the headline act to ask this very question.  The host and his guests always dis these losers — the correct response, apparently, being, Just get up there and do it.  All the time.  Every day, if you can. And get the fuck away from me.

Since my thing here is to relate everything on earth to writing (specifically my own writing, and hence myself), I find this resonating with my own feelings — I am not writing enough.  I need to be writing all the time.  Every day, if I can. But there’s something that separates a performance, like stand-up, from writing.  Call it the Tree Falling In The Forest Rule Of Performing:  if you are performing, then someone sees it.  If no one sees it, you aren’t performing; you are practicing.  There is no performative aspect to writing — I challenge you to inject one* — and no practice.  If you are sitting down with pen and paper or at keyboard, you are writing, not practicing. You aren’t getting ready for anything, you are doing it, man.

And here’s a paradox:  you can write (and write and write) and be the best (or the worst) ever and no one will know unless you manage to get published.  If you are the best comedian in the world, people know it — they see you in theaters, clubs, on television, in movies, in the inevitable sitcom.  To get better at comedy, you have to … do more comedy.  To get your comedy seen in the world, you have to … do more comedy.

I don’t write enough, but I’ve completed enough projects to know that there’s more to be done. There’s yet another hoop to jump over, and it is one that is not directly related to the ability (or discipline) to write fiction.  I’m proving to be pretty mediocre at selling myself, both professionally and interpersonally.  That’s got to change.  I’ve either got to get better, have a lucky break, or  content myself with working away in permanent obscurity.

*I guess you could wear a funny hat.

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Lately, I’ve been writing long emails late at night before going to bed.  While I haven’t written anything too objectionable — or unintended, anyway — I wake up in the morning with a start, thinking, “What did I write?  Oh my God, what did I write?

It’s distressing.

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I had dinner with an old friend the other night.   As old friends do, she asked me what was new.

“Uhhh, I have this book that I wrote?”

“Is that the same book that you had before, the one you wouldn’t let me read?”

“No, that one before was the BAD book.  A pile of shit!  This one’s really good.”

“What’s it about?”

That, gentle reader, is the question.  I then gave a rambling, disorganized five minutes on my book, with lots of wait, I forgot to tell yous  and uh, yeahs and, I’m sorry, I should really have this togethers.

It’s embarrassing — I’ve written query letters about my book, I’ve read parts of the book over and over to my class, but when put on the spot in front of a friendly audience of one, I didn’t have anything to say.  In all fairness, I was a bit drunk.   But still.  If George Jones could sing “He Stopped Loving Her Today” when he was riding a wave of uppers and scotch, then I should be able to at least describe my book in fifty words or less.  So I’ll have to work on that one sentence description — watch this space, because I’m going to post it here.


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At least I’m trying.  That has to count for something, right?

Speaking of work as I was in the last post, something really remarkable is happening at my job.  Not to get too specific about it, but my office has an extremely complicated and arcane project that has recently gone public,  that lots of people in the world are interested in — for some, you can substitute “panicked by” for “interested in.”  We published something, and in the publication there’s a telephone number and a person’s name — the person who has worked on this project for about two years, and who knows everything about it, but who is no longer in our group. Lots of people are interested in this, and lots of people have been calling the number.

If you call that number —  the number we gave out to the GENERAL PUBLIC to call with questions —  MY TELEPHONE RINGS.  And when it started ringing, I had LITERALLY NO IDEA WHAT THESE PEOPLE WERE TALKING ABOUT.

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Apologies to my millions of readers about a couple of days with the lights out — we had visitors.

I finished Down and Out in Paris and London — it was quite a good read, although not at all what I expected. I mentioned below that the book (or the first part, anyway) is quite funny.  Wikipedia calls the Paris portion picaresque, which word makes me think of something to drizzle over tacos.  The London part is less droll, though still sharply observed.

I didn’t expect for it to be what it is, an itinerary, case study, journalistic documentation of a certain slice of poverty in the two cities.  I was affected by two things: first, Orwell’s reflections on the type of work that the two groups – the French plongeurs (dishwashers) and the English tramps — undertake.  In both cases, it is atrocious and difficult and long, and in both cases Orwell concludes that the work is for nothing.  The restaurant worker is victimized by an inefficient system, while the tramp is victimized, period.  The tramp’s work consists of traveling through the country from bed to bed, and is driven by laws that will not allow him to stay in one place for more than one night at a time in a month.  Thus his “work” is wandering the country and trying to find enough food to survive.  His time is deliberately wasted by the authorities, and Orwell concludes this can only be on purpose.

Which, of course, leads me to wonder if my own work is a waste of time.  By this I do not mean my writing, which is of course a waste of many years of my life , but I refer to my day job.  Some people would say it’s a waste, of course, and that the entire enterprise is a drain on the system that should be abolished and the building burned.  I don’t agree, but I can’t be trusted to give an objective opinion.

The other thing that struck me was Orwell’s expression of interest at the end in the lives of the poor, that he feels that he has just started to know them and would like to investigate further.  This can only be a  direct lead in to The Road to Wigan Pier, which should be familiar to reader of this blog.

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A lesson from The Social Network: If you need something to motivate you, an inconsolable resentment against everyone you’ve ever known who seems to have something you don’t works just fine!

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