Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bore-Us Lessing and Other Lore from Last Week

After this weekend, I need to write a postscript to this post about reading. I need to make a correction: sometimes I do read in order to conquer. Because I'm 400 pages into The Golden Notebook and I'm determined to finish it - not because I'm enjoying it, but because it will not defeat me.

It's boring. It's astoundingly boring. It is this boring:

It combines endless self-dissection of a dull and pretty pathetic woman with political philosophy that has all the maturity of Objectivism with bold pronouncements about how women in general feel about orgasms and menstruation that bear little resemblance to how I (a woman, last time I checked) feel about orgasms and menstruation with UNFATHOMABLE BORINGNESS.

The edition I'm reading is 666 pages long (not a typo). For the first 150 pages I kept going because I was waiting for it to get somewhere, and for another 100 pages I kept going because I couldn't believe it really wasn't going anywhere, and then for another 50 I kept going because I marveled at how the book was almost halfway done and it was still as boring as counting rocks, and for the last 50 pages I've been fueled by vengeance. I insist upon finishing it now. It shall not triumph.

On Sunday I picked up This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which is a book of shortish essays, just to read a few as a break. I laughed, and nearly cried, hysterical with relief at Patchett's fluid, pleasant prose, her wit, her utter lack of clunkiness and her ears not made of tin.

How did The Golden Notebook ever win such a respectable place in 20th century literature? The more pages I stack up behind my bookmark, the more I find that Lessing really doesn't write well. The structure of the book is postmodern and interesting, but the content sucks. Her word repetition is not a style (like Saunders or Wallace) but just poor editing; her prose is flat and lifeless; her head-hopping and interminable psychological speculation betray an inability to convey character information in subtler ways, not an Auster-like multilevel approach to human behavior.

Well. Now that I've complained at length about an experience I could theoretically stop having at any time, here's what else is up.

Last week felt like a big writing week. I wrote about 5,000 words, which is not actually much when I hold it up next to productive weeks of times past, but it felt like an awful lot. On Thursday morning I set out to do this week's writing exercise for my workshop class, because I had volunteered to share the exercise with the whole class on Monday and I wanted a decent amount of time to get it out. I wrote 1,000 words, but in writing I abandoned caution about how close to my own life I hewed, and I realized in revising that I could not possibly read this 1,000 words aloud to 15 people who do not know me.

So I started over. I had a handful of ideas that stuck to the exercise's parameters, and for two hours none of them worked. I wrote and crossed out, wrote and crossed out. I did finally eke out 1,000 words by thieving part of a friend's stressful job situation to write about. (She was fine with it.) It turned out funny and largely okay; I don't think I'll be submitting it anywhere, but it was competent and it did not embarrass me to read it to the class, which is all an exercise really has to do.

The class liked it. They thought it was funny and they said I read it well. Now I have only to wait and fill my stomach with adrenaline for two weeks more.

See, I signed up for the first workshop slot in mid-October - that is, my story will be one of the first two longer pieces we'll be workshopping in class. (I usually volunteer to go first in a workshop class not because I want to, but to cut down on awkward silence. In my experience no one ever wants to go first.) The story is to be 2,000-2,500 words, and I've had an idea kicking around for several months that I thought would be good for around that length. I intended to write it last week so I'd have two weeks to let it ferment before revising and bringing it in to class.

I set to work on it on Friday and managed 500 words before I ran out of gas. After a long break, I worked for several hours on Friday night, and it was hard, harder than writing has been for many months. I finished a draft (too long, of course), in enough time that I can give it two weeks before I revise, so technically the session was a success. But it was a terrible time. My desperation to walk away and do something else, anything else, was at DEFCON 2. Still, I sat and did it. Because that's the only way it gets done.

I think it's okay, this story. I planned it partly as an opportunity to revisit first-person plural, which I used for this brief story and which I just love. It's limiting and generous in such unique ways, and it's so rewarding to find the right situation for it. I got really interested in the characters as I was writing, and I think that means I'm on the right track.

Is there a situation that can't be covered by a gif from Easy A?
Because if there is, I don't want to know about it. 

In non-writing news, I got a new job, which I start today. I've been working at home for almost three years and I'm frightened about going into an office again. I loved being a copy editor, but the work has dried up as dramatically as California has, and a girl's gotta live. Wish me luck.


Tiffany said...

Good luck with the new job! I hope it goes well. How were your first couple of days?

Katharine Coldiron said...

Thanks, Tiff. I think it's going okay. Nice, easygoing people, or so it seems at the moment.