Monday, May 6, 2013

Between Me and Embellishment

I revised the boy-and-mom crisis story, and really it turned out much better than I thought. I think the ending is too obvious, though, not obtuse and literary enough. I don't know how or whether to fix it.

On Thursday I started on an essay that's partially about a continuing low-level struggle I've been having with the property management of my apartment complex, but to paraphrase Adrian Mole, it's not really about that, it's very deep, it's about life and stuff like that. It seemed to be going well, but then I accidentally got too drunk to keep going. Kids, don't drink vodka cocktails on an empty stomach.

I've been struggling for years with the essay form. Historically, more of my essays have been accepted for publication than my fiction. I used to think that was because I wrote good essays, but now I think it's possibly because my opinions are potent and I can argue them reasonably well, rather than because my essay writing has any intrinsic merit.

The thing I've been wondering is whether I'm approaching the style of my essays all wrong. When I'm on the writing highway and I decide on an essay topic I want to explore, I usually take the exit for straightforward, Wurtzel-type prose. I'm happy with it when I'm writing and revising, but when I go back and read it later, it lacks power, and it lacks me. Maybe the thing to do is keep driving until I find something that's between this blog voice, right here, and my more decorative, more subtle fiction voice. I don't rightly know what that would sound like.

And I am apprehensive about an essential task for a good creative nonfiction writer: eliding incidents and dialogue in order to tell a better story. The world always seems to slip sideways when I think about that. If I'm going to make up dialogue for her, since I can't remember exactly what she said, why not fabricate other stuff? I can pretend I was addicted to crack while I struggled to quit smoking. It'll punch up the whole experience considerably! I know intellectually that it's not all or nothing, but in practice...for me, there's the truth the way my brain recorded it, and then there's everything else. The line sits there, and all else is shades of fiction. Anything that goes on the page aside from the truth the way my brain recorded it feels dishonest, even if it's in service of the piece, or if it's harmless, or if it's a might-as-well-be situation, or all three.

When I began work on this essay, though - which uses the issue with my apartment complex to get at the problem of who's responsible for a woman's safety in public - I decided I'd try to tell it as if it was fiction. I determined I'd discard what didn't work in those parameters and sub in the closest truth I could. So far I think it's working, but then I really was quite tipsy when I left off in the middle. The alcohol helped me tie in an incident that I doubt I'd be brave enough to include when sober, so that particular brain damage is probably for the better.

I wrote another poem recently. I was doing yoga and I had a very particular sensation, and while in years past I would have rushed to my anonymous blog to describe it, I can't do that anymore. I could have recorded it in my paper journal, but I intuited that exploring it sideways, through the bits and pieces of language that writing poetry necessitates, would yield more interesting results than the narrative version I'd compose in a journal.

I'm very pleased with what came out. I still don't know what I'm doing writing poetry - I don't understand virtually anything about the mechanics, and I can't distinguish a good poem from a bad poem or understand why I like one and not another. But the revision is a bit more fun than with prose, because it's a lot less work to try six different synonyms and see what works than to rewrite entire pages or chapters. And I have pretty much no ambition at all with my poems. I write them to record and express, rather than to communicate or profit. Kind of a steam valve.

In reading news, I read 100 pages of Soon I Will Be Invincible and gave up. I don't know if I was misreading or if the editor was sloppy, but after the second really confusing situational hole - and when we were still doing flashbacks and backstory and totally static exposition after 100 pages - I couldn't hold any more faith with the author. I feel bad about this assessment, because the book was highly recommended to me, but that was what I read. If you are just desperately aching for a comic-book world in prose form, you'll probably see past what I saw, but Ready Player One did much of this better, if in a neighboring solar system.

And I read just the very first few pages of House of Leaves. Dunno. I'm withholding judgment for the moment.

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