Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Point of It

Yesterday, I took back a book, very much overdue, to the library and then killed a little time by looking over the books they had available at the annual book sale. I came across a book of roughly a zillion pages called An Introduction to Literature and leafed through a few pages. It will give you some idea of the size of this book if I tell you that it contained all of the plays Hamlet and Death of a Salesman and twelve other plays, as well as a two complete short novels, plus essays, poetry, commentary, discussions of each of these entries and a good deal more. And pictures! I spotted the lyrics to Dylan’s Times They Are a-Changin'. I also noticed and was a bit intrigued by a short story by David Leavitt, who is known for, among other things, having published at the age of 20 in the New Yorker that magazine's first openly gay short story. I read a line or two of the short story of his which was included in this book (It was not the one from the New Yorker) and was somewhat intrigued – it just looked like it might interest me. As is my custom, when faced with something I should read, and which will forever after clutter my already filled-to-bursting home mostly untouched ever again by the warmth of a human hand, I purchased this book for a mere fifty cents - only 15% of the fine I had just paid for my lack of vigilance in the matter of the due date of my returned book.

I didn't know if I would even read this enormous tome beyond perhaps dipping into the Leavitt short story that had caught my eye and maybe one or two others but already this morning, worn by the elections, I sat down and started off at the beginning of the book for the hell of it and on page FIVE it has already earned back its cost by gifting me with a quote that says EXACTLY what I have come to feel about blogging - MY blogging, not other people's. It took a while to realize what I was doing for myself with this plebian form of writing – though only sometimes and only at the best of times. I had actually realized some time ago that it seemed to be giving me that awful word "closure" and allowing me to let go of times and places that were long dead. In regard to saying farewell to individual people, I had previously discovered a description that was emotionally exact in describing my feeling in a quote from Death of a Salesman, where the wife says of her failed husband, "Attention must be paid!”, because I feel exactly as she did, that neither my life nor that of a person who is subject of my writing, can be allowed to pass unmarked - even though she and I both know they will. But they will not go unremarked by ME. I, at least, will say, "Thank you" as best I can, even though in haste and poorly, and on the spur of the moment - or at least the spur of the hour or two.

The quote that rocked me with its exact perception as to what I feel and what I want (when I think about it - and I nearly always have to see what I have said and work back from that to discover what I feel or want), was from, of all people, a Japanese courtier named Lady Murasaki and she wrote it a thousand years ago about literature:

"Again and again something in one's own life or in that around one will seem so important that one cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion. There must never come a time, the writer feels, when people do not know about this."

So many people feel something of this nature; in its most mundane and annoying form it is that late night conversation (or monologue) after way too many drinks, where you hear some asshole saying of some song or writer or NASCAR winner, "But you gotta understand what this is about!" to the unmoved or uninterested or contemptuous.
When I think about writing something, I almost always forget this. And when I know what I am going to write about, I get caught up in facts and outrage and opinion and attempts to DO something or get to some thing or to make some point. But when I have just written something without thinking, and on re-reading find that I still like it, I get that this is what I was doing.


  1. And, even more, you make us care about whatever you are writing about, be it people or events. That is part of the magic of your writing. When you write, I can "see" the people and events you write about, even if I have never seen or heard of such a thing. I think that is the hallmark of someone that "should" write.. I not only read about it, I understand and care about it. Not to make your head TOO much larger, that is why I love to read your blatherings. It is a rare gift to have that talent of involving people in just what you're writing about. Must be the Irish silver-tongued-devil in you.. :)
    Hope you're healing apace. I cannot imagine why I have so few comments here.. I know I read every one. Getting forgetful in my dotage.

  2. Jeankfl - Good god, Jeankfl, you make me glad to be alive. Thank you so much - truly - for your kind words. Because you are saying of me the thing that I always tell people about the New Yorker's articles and why I read them. Even if I have zero interest in the subject about which an article is written, the skills of their writers is such that for the duration of the article (at least) I AM interested and I DO care. You capture implicitly my objection to all Twitter and most Facebook entries - there is nothing there to give me a reason to care. "I went to the beach" is not, contrary to the write's conviction, interesting at all. I long to be told why I should care, or better yet, to find I am so swept away by the writer's tale of the day at the beach that I feel sun-burned and that I am heartily glad that he or she went there and gifted me with the recounting of the trip. Skill is helpful, but the generosity of including me in, rather than just giving me the facts, is essential if you want to say you are a writer. And I do think there is something in the Irish - very good at telling and not so good at doing - that I draw from. And everyone should have such a dotage as yours. (I looked up the etymology of the word 'dotage', hoping that it was something about loving something, but it is from a word meaning 'to be foolish'. Oh dear.)

  3. Hi David, I wondered what had happened to you. On WLS we shared a mutual friend, Stephen Kent.
    I love it when the library has book sales although I don't buy any that are that large.

  4. Beth - Hey there! Ah, Stephen - I miss WLS, but it became a strange hybrid of fake social network that drove me crazy, and then I couldn't seem to navigate it - so I left (it was kind of like the New Coke). But don't you think when all the books are fifty cents, that this is the best deal? I have read several more pages and have encountered two short stories that have blown me away - Updike's "A & P" and Dark's "In the Gloaming" - the latter has had 2 films made from it (it was written in the late 1990s) and made me cry. I figure the book's value at LEAST at $1.50 now - pretty good return, eh?

  5. Somehow I'm reminded of "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber".

  6. It is an extreme "rush" to be able to write exactly what you want to write in the way that you want to write it. You have certainly succeeded here.

  7. (that's my dad's comment right above mine - how cool!)

    I agree it's a rare gift, being able to combine interesting thoughts in a well-crafted piece (which you do). I love when I read something, and a seed is planted, which causes me to reflect about something the writer has shared. Or, maybe I'm just nosy!

    It makes me feel a little ashamed because I use this medium mostly as a way to let my family know I'm doing okay, without having to send multiple emails, or have phone calls filled with small talk. It makes me feel less alone.

    Whatever the reasons, thank you for sharing your life with the rest of us!

  8. I want to thank you for your comments on my blog. I am not sure how to describe it, but when I log on and see new comments like yours, it makes all the difference.

    It makes me feel like someone *hears* me, someone KNOWS what happened. I guess that is what I really hope to get out of this. Not that it will change anything, but it helps.

    Honestly, the feedback I get is more helpful than the blogs I post themselves. The stories I write, I have already lived. I guess I have to feel like people know, like I am not hiding it, that it is real! And the only way to do that is for people to hear me.

    So again, thank you for such thoughtful feedback. I also read about your surgery. I certainly hope it takes care of the cancer. There is no such thing as "hardly" cancer my friend :-) Take care of yourself.

    We are given one life, one shot, and others may do their best to screw it up for us, but we must do our best to make sure we make the most of it

  9. By the way, thank you for the recommendation about writing good memories as well. While there are not many, I do have a few.

    One in particular is something that I have carried on as a tradition with my children as well to this very day as do my brothers with their kids.

    Check back in a day or two, I added a new blog tonight, but I will add one about the fun times soon. While the fun times may max out in one blog, that is ok, I think you are right, it is important to give those their due time as well.

    Again, I want you to know how much I value the time you took to respond to each of my posts... you have no idea how much I appreciate it.

  10. David, you most likely won't know me from Adam (or Eve), but I was an occasional visitor to and lurker in your Space a lifetime ago. Sadly, I didn't always leave you the comments your fine writing deserved, a situation I intend to remedy this go-round.

    You never failed to capture my imagination; your words always played like a movie in my head (my best sign that a writer has done his/her job), and that is the case again, now that I've found you here on Blogspot.

    (I should mention that this discovery happened entirely by happenstance, after I noticed a comment you'd left for my friend Toodie, and followed the link to you here.)

    I feel that, in finding you and your unique style of writing again, I have happened upon an old haunt, familiar, friendly, and welcoming. It's good to know that in visiting you, my mind will find nourishment, and my spirit will enjoy the glorious belch of satisfaction following the feast.

    In the past you have made me smile, then you made me think; to this day I haven't decided which is more important...doesn't matter. The result is the same, and I am grateful for it.

    I offer greetings, my best respects, and my hopes that we may become friends in time.

  11. Wow - A Super Sunday with a host of comments!

    Gael - Hmm - I responded to you, but it s lost. I recall having read "Macomber" in school, but all I remember is that it is by Hemingway (If I remembered this wrong, I WILL look the fool!) Now I am going to have to go find this story again. Thanks (I think!)

    TQ - You are exactly right - it IS a rush! I don't know why so many people - those who do not use blogs as a 'family letter' - actually use their real names. The freedom to be oneself without the family and friends waiting to correct, argue, be hurt, be indignant is a mega-rush!

    Colleen - If I understand what I see over your way, you have a sort of 'to the family' blog and then another that is more 'general interest' - right? I have been known to rail at what people write, but the mission of each blogger is different. Mine, I guess, is to AVOID the family; although I am coming to realize that they probably wouldn't read it anyway, even if they knew of it. As to 'nosy' - whyever else does anyone read blogs?

    One Girl - I plan to follow your blog, and I am deeply glad if any of my comments help. I thought, when I started, that I wouldn't care about people reading, but I must admit, the comments are deeply important to me. Although you think now that just letting people know what happened is the main thing, I think that about three years from now (give or take) you will find a slight sense of having laid some things to rest. The thing about writing the happy stuff too is that not only is it good for you to lay at the memory of those who were kind, but also, remember that people ARE reading this and it is a little gift to them to share some joy with the pain. I am happy for you that you discovered writing as a way to deal with things. In a world where no one seems to want to listen, it is the one way to get out your side - and be heard - in a way that is satisfying and completely under your control.

    Marge - I actually DO remember you - maybe because one of my aunt's best friends was a lady named 'Marge', so your name struck me - not many Marges anymore. You can spend the whole rest of the week kicking puppies and small children because the good work you have done in making me feel so good will balance the scale! Thank you so much. Despite the evidency of my rare entries to the contrary, I love to write. One thing that keeps my blog so fitful is that I tend to answer letters (i.e. emails from friends and family) at length and I am guessing that I have got to cut those short sometimes to safe some fire for the old blog. I hope you will stick around, I get mighty lonesone out here! And I am headed your way this very morning. If you keep up this kind of sweet talk, we may end up not only friends, but married!

  12. Good God, David; I came back for a quick visit and to touch base with your wonderful clutch of friends and discover I am nearly betrothed--in the finest sense--to a kindred spirit!!! Thank you for the lovely thought!

    In a world in which substantial intercourse between human beings is declining (and I KNOW there are readers who will automatically equate the word intercourse with procreation...sad thing, actually, because it is a very fine word...) my blessing and my curse is my longstanding love of the English language. It is an elegant and nuanced means of communication which is woefully underappreciated and much-abused in these days when a few letters and numbers may replace entire words.

    Yes, I intend to stick around for the long haul. Perhaps in time you'll find more inside yourself to share with your friends who come a-visiting. It's amazing what a writer can come up with after the line: "I really haven't anything to say..."

    We know better.

    8 )

  13. OK - First, I naturally (snicker, snicker) thought of the intercourse thing in passing, just as you suspected. I wonder how people who live in Intercourse, PA stand it? I also love language (even the little I know in non-English areas) - there is something so evocative in language well-used. It is much like music. Jeankfl said she liked best my posts where I started with the 'nothing to say' line or a variant thereof. Me, too - for the most part. Tell me, do you secretly love re-reading your own better entries? Yeah, me too. Our secret.

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