Foto by tgw, "A Tabletop in NYC," New York City 2011
The Burden of a Compulsive Writer
"Conformism, imitativeness, submission to rules and to teachings is the writer's capital crime. The work of a writer must be not only the reflection, but the larger reflection of his personality. The only excuse that a man has for his writing is to write about himself, to reveal to others the sort of world that is mirrored in his own glass; his only excuse is to be original; he must speak of things not yet spoken of in a form not yet formulated. He must create his own aesthetics - and we must admit as many aesthetics as there are original spirits and judge them for what they are, not for what they aren't." (Gourmont in his introduction to the first Book of Masks, 1896-98)Remy de Gourmont is right. If you are a natural-born writer (I am), then his statement is what you are bound to--the only thing anybody really and truly knows is himself--you know who you are just like I know who I am. This knowledge coming from down deep. Like you are lying on Freud's couch [never lie on Freud's couch, by the way] and Herr Doktor is taking you back, back through the veils of your ego and superego and libido and right into the Holy of Holies that is your Id. Your being. And my being arrived on this earth at a place referred to as the "Lone Prairie." A flatter-than-flat space on this round earth. A place so flat you can't see any curve to it. You have to use your imagination to curve the horizon--to even curve the vertical. That's why focusing is so hard for us--like focusing on what we're doing or what we're going to do--we're focusing on a flat screen when we need to focus through the convexed eye onto a curved screen. [You don't think we live in an upside-down world--study how the convex lens works--the lens in your eye same as the lens in your camera. Upside-down reflections.]
I seriously know myself through a character I designed through years of experience, a character called thegrowlingwolf --a play on words reflecting the original me's hang up on the music of Chester Burnett whose stage name was The Howling Wolf. And we all first of all have to have a stage name. All writers are playwrights. We are writing "novel" plays is all we are doing.
As thegrowlingwolf, however, I am not really a real person. Explanation: see if you can think of The Daily Growler as a Work in Progress. A novel being written on a daily basis. A novel like Joyce's Ulysses. One day in the life of.... And there are many novels that are one day in the life of.... A newspaper is a journal. Bon jour. Diurnal reporting.
The Daily Growler was originally conceived by a schizophrenic whose two personalities really like each other--why, they are the best of friends: one the Perry White of The Growler (he sometimes appears as Austin Highchew under the guise of Managing Editor) and the other the main character, a man conceived when George W. Bush announced he was against stem-cell research because he could foresee mad scientists using this unGodly research method to create what Georgie Porgie called "human-animal hybrids." Now, come on, folks, since we are all a part of what we call the Animal Kingdom (I call us all Jungle Aborigines--Children of Nature), we are all animals, then the phrase "human-animal hybrids" is kind of charmingly nonsensical, though to a natural-born writer it's a chance to write under a perfect pseudonym or stage name: thegrowlingwolf, the human-animal-hybrid son of Karl and Maria Wolfe of a place in West Texas called "Who Knows Where" out on that Lone Prairie.
The only excuse that a man has for his writing is to write about himself, to reveal to others the sort of world that is mirrored in his own glass; his only excuse is to be original; he must speak of things not yet spoken of in a form not yet formulated.
I suppose all people compelled to write feel the same way about it as I do though I'll bet you they're not as purely improvisational as I and my alter-ego are.
Writing like music is based on time and measures and sequences and beats. When I write on this blog it's the same way I write when I write a song lyric. Something just pops in my head and I film it through my convex lens and focus on how I as a character in a novel experience will handle it--let it pan out, evolve and grow, or peter out, wobble, and eventually drop dead in the middle of a paragraph (a road).
Handle it real. You must write what is real. The woman who writes the Harry Potter books is a fairy talest and not a novelist. Children's books are pathetically badly written. Whether the Harry Potter woman is a sincere writer is not my argument--no, her sincerity I'm not putting down, what I'm putting down is when you write fabulous stuff you must in your own make up be lost in fantasy. Like devout Christians who totally believe in the fabulous tale of this Jewish reformer who history doesn't know at all but who Dark Ages writers personified in their unspooled tales in the form of this Jesus, a man of childish parables and Yahoo adventure stories.
I can't write fantasy. I haven't lived, no matter which side of the schizophrenic fence I'm on, a fantastic life. I've lived a full REAL life. I have survived as my genetic make up has let me survive. A part of my survival depends on my writing. Cathartic writing. Yes. But then all writing no matter who's compelled to write it is cathartic writing. That's why when the well runs dry, as Hemingway always suggested and then ended up doing himself, there's only one thing to do: shoot yourself. Dr. Hunter Thompson came to that conclusion, too. As a writer he found himself that one day sitting frozen over an empty page--not even able to write nonsense--and then he began to contemplate shooting his own failing brains--blowing them out of his head--the same as Hemingway did. And I suppose it's why Faulkner drank himself to death. I know it's why Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. Maybe it's why Ambrose Bierce disappeared in the Mexican desert--he was down covering the Mexican Revolution looking for a story, looking for a book to write. Jack Kerouac hit the skids when that one day in Florida he woke up to the realization that as a writer he was burnt out--I mean his last stories and books are embarrassments--that's why he ended like Elvis, with his head buried in a toilet bowl.
I'm blessed in that I have music to fall back on should I find one day I can no longer fill a blank space with words strung together in such a novel way they tell a real story of human-animal-hybrid evolution and development.
An improvisationalist writer has a tendency to ramble. To find it hard to control the brain as it writes on ahead in the direction his or her intuitions are showing it the way to go.
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing
Back in the spring, our old pal, L Hat (www.languagehat.com) , sent us this Guardian article on Elmore Leonard's 2010 book entitled The 10 Rules of Writing.
Good advice from a fellow writer, though I've found most fellow writers don't often take fellow writers's advice seriously. Why do I need Elmore Leonard's rules; hell, I already know them, otherwise I'm not a writer...huh? And I admit, I am one of those writers that sometimes uses "suddenly" like an exclamation point! Scott Fitzgerald settled the case of exclamation points back in the 1930s when he said a writer using exclamation points was like a comedian laughing at his own jokes.
Writers are among us. I used to work for a vanity publisher. One year I edited over 300 manuscripts for this company. These were all, without exception, badly written; yet, you could tell from the writing that these people really thought what they were writing was literature. These people really believed they were writers and that their stories were so unique--as a real writer, I edited them lightly--left their worst in--I mean their worst writing was ironically their best writing.
for The Daily Growler
A Little Taste of American Art
Approaching Juneau, by Eddie Applegate.
There is no reason for you to recognize Eddie's name--he's now a Southern California artist--but his fame came as an actor--especially as Patty Duke's boyfriend on "The Patty Duke Show"--back in the early 1960s--as television was evolving into the world of color.