Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Critical Mom Writes

"Writing is easy," Robert Benchley remarked.  "You just stare at the blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."
Or you escape to your blog, slap up a recipe or a cute thing one of your kids said, and call it a day.  But the thing I've been writing for so long keeps vaulting into my head and giving me nightmares.  Unless it's the diet that's giving me the bad dreams in which someone is being chased or terrorized or drowning.  Computers make you lose track of revision.  Writing the whole thing longhand might be the way to go . . . writing it out by hand slows you down, although it doesn't necessarily make you think more clearly.  The story shifts in your head.  It makes no sense.  It was never any good.  It's ridiculous.  Tear up the printout and toss it over your shoulder where it lands on the other balled-up papers and makes no sound.  
It seems less awful than yesterday's version, but it ain't there yet.
I am not as funny as David Sedaris, whom I once met before he was David Sedaris, in a humor-writing class at the 63th street Y--the old McBurney Y.  I sat around a table with smartly dressed women who had just come from work.  In crept a dishevelled guy with a three-day growth who seemed peculiar.  I sat at the opposite end of the table from him.  The teacher--a jolly Englishwoman--asked everyone to read something.  Four people read highly forgettable things.  A serious woman with a deep voice read a parody of Sylvia Plath that made me laugh out loud.  She looked disgusted.
"That's the crowd-pleaser," she said, radiating disappointment.  
The disheveled guy read.  He read what soon became known as The SantaLand Diaries.  He was riveting.  
"Can I touch the hem of your garment?" is what I thought.  He left and never came back to class, but I remembered him when I read his wonderful description of being a Santa's elf at Macy's.  Last year I assigned that in a class on dystopias in American literature. 
If only I could be as funny as Sedaris.  If only touching the hem of his garment could transfer his brilliance, and make it all easy.
I like the story in Bird by Bird, Anne LaMott's guide to writing.  Students sit in a writing class clamoring for the trick to getting an agent.  The speaker just picks up a legal pad and pencil and starts writing.  They ask again.  Mutely, she picks up that pencil and that pad and writes.
Write, write, write.  Maxine Hong Kingston talked herself into it with the idea that no-one but she herself would ever read it. 
That is, of course, my greatest fear.
So once in a while my husband reads some of it.  He, too, finds it less awful than it used to be.



  2. Thanks, anonymous: I also find an attribution to Gene Fowler:
    I'm sure I read the above as Benchley's wording in some biography, but it sure is the case that after you sit and try to write, and try again, and realize what you have is GODAWFUL, and try again, that you do feel drained by the vampire . . .