Friday, June 18, 2010

White Castle and the Art of Writing




I spent part of tonight at the SE Wisconsin Festival of books (http://www.sewibookfest.com/) in an attempt to stay in touch with that closeted part of my life (my writing). There was a keynote tonight by A. Manette Ansay that was really good. I haven't read any of her work, but will give it a try after hearing her tonight. She gave some great stories on her struggles with writing and making sense of the voices in her head.

Which if you get right down to it is every writer's cross to bear. To get the voice in their head down in written form, partly in the hopes that it will shut up. Sometimes it does for a short time, but it always seems to come back to haunt. Some people make a living out of giving voice to the voices, others it drives mad, and still others (me) do a little of both. Actually, it's more the ongoing tinnitus in my head that's making me mad, but the writer mumbling up there ain't helping either.
She talked a little bit about the evolution of her work(s) and how you start a project with one thing in mind and sometimes it takes you places you had no intention. In an artistic sense it means you can sometimes set out to mold a piece to look like a sculpture of say, a horn of plenty, and come out with a product that looks more like an ash tray from 1971.

I can relate to that because this whole memoir thing started out to be such a simple, compact collection of stories from the good old years of canoeing, and now it's starting to take on depth and metaphor and place and personality. Now, these are all admirable and desirable parts of a story, in fact anything without them isn't much of anything, really. It's just that what is becoming glaringly apparent is that writing is far more work than I originally thought.

For instance, people have always said I'm a great writer and specifically when it comes to writing letters. What does that mean though, esp. in this day and age of e-mail and the eventual, inevitable death of the written letter? I'll tell you what it means. It means I have a decent ability to relay a story while capturing the interest of my reader. It means I have a gift for short bursts of humor that engage the reader and do not annoy or bore them.
The downside to this gift is the fact that it reads a bit like a White Castle hamburger tastes. It's good, but not good at the same time. Good in that it gets your attention and kind of melts in your mouth to start with, inundating your taste buds with salt, protein and grease all at the same time. Yum!

It's bad in that you need a whole bag of them to get satisfied, and then you end up with a gut ache and no idea how many you've eaten. You gorge yourself on my delicious, non-nutritious little tales, in the end coming away satisfied, but longing for something more.
The something more is the detail, and the dialogue, and the metaphor and the scene. Stuff that I typically leave out of my other writing (including this blog) is the stuff that HAS to go into a book. My instructor once said my initial writing took the form of me sitting on a bar stool and telling her a story. She wants to know more about the room, the time of day, the look on the face of the person in the story.
In other words, she's looking for a Big Mac and I'm giving her Whiteys. (Or at least was...I'm working on that.)
Not that Manette Ansay talked at all about White Castle, but that's what I took away from her talk. That works evolve, and as a writer, we have to accept that and either evolve with it or try and wrest it back under our control and end up disappointed.


So there you have it. You've just heard the voices in my head, and evidently they're hungry. They must be drunk too if they're talking about White Castles.

Tomorrow is the Lombardi Classic 5K Run Walk. The whole family plus Mark and Jill K. are running or walking in it. It should be a great time. The weather looks to be good, in the low 70's at race time.

Donna is a bit apprehensive about running the entire thing, but I think once she gets in the "pack", she'll find she has reserves that she never knew she had. I think back to my first race, Al's Run in September of '88 or so. It was a 5 miler, and I made it the entire way. It wasn't always that easy. I remember the first time I trained for it, I could barely run 1/2 mile without getting a side stitch and being gassed. After 60 days of training, you'd be amazed at what you can do.

In any case, I'm proud of her and will be there to see her cross the finish line. I asked if she wanted me to run along side her and she says no. I can totally relate to that as a runner myself. It is an individual sport and everyone has their own pace. I want no one talking to me, I just want to hear my own labored breathing and footfalls on the pavement.

As I've said before, this race was not a slam dunk for me either. I have not run competitively since 1991. I tried 8 years ago, but encountered such severe heel pain, that I HAD to quit. It turns out it was a lack of stretching and bad shoes, because I had none of that pain this time. Yoga has helped with the stretching, and I would strongly recommend Asics Gel Running shoes to anyone. Great stuff.

So sitting here, I'm getting all puffed up about how great running is. When in fact, every time I run I have this conversation in my head saying how much I hate running. It's likely the same voice that causes me to write, so I can't just murder the voice, or I might never write again. That would suck.

Seriously though, if you don't know what I'm talking about, I challenge you to lace up your sneakers, no matter how old you or the shoes are, and run around the block. The conversation you have in your head will be very similar to that in mine.

"What are you doing? Are you nuts? You know, this is really stupid. Tired yet? I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now are you tired? How about now. Knees hurt? Yeah you're getting old. Too old to be doing this, stupid. Wow, you've only gone a block and a half, tired yet? Watch out for that poop. You're starting to sweat already, that can't be good. You hot? You're running too slow. You're not even close to 1/2 way yet. You're running too fast."

It's a battle the WHOLE way people. Jim vs. Jim's Voice. The good news is that I always win. My way to beat the voice is to TRIUMPH over it. This I think is what drives marathoners, 1/2 marathoners and Triatheletes. That stupid voice.

Right now the stupid voices are telling me to go to bed, because they've got a long day ahead bothering me during the race at 8:15 AM tomorrow. I think I'll listen to them tonight, so I can defeat them tomorrow.

The voices and I are Blogging Off...

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