Yesterday I drove over a screw while driving in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was about 89 degrees, 110 % humidity, my wife and son were both with me and both have a cold, it was my son’s nap time, it was my nap time, and thunderstorms were approaching. To top it all off, neither my wife or I had our cellphones, we don’t have AAA, and I’d never changed a tire.
After some quick walking around looking for either a phone number, a garage, or a tip on where to go I finally sent Wifey home with The Little Man via the “F” train. I then walked around wondering how I would deal with going into the local “Pep Boys” garage and saying, “I just got a flat, and I’m too scared to fix it.” As the saying goes: time to put up or shut up.
I went back to the car and fixed the flat. I got rained on, sweaty like a railroad worker, hurt my back, ate an overpriced sandwich from the Barnes and Noble entrenched Starbucks, but in the end: I did it.
That is the day I became a man.
Same building, two different perspectives. Makes a lot of difference, doesn’t it? I thought of how much point of view affects our view of something, not only a place or a thing, but our self-image, while sitting in my office yesterday. I blame the interns.
My company has summer interns this year. They are students from around the country, probably juniors and seniors mostly. My department doesn’t have one, but the department upstairs does. I have a feeling that the people upstairs don’t have a whole lot for these young women to do, so they make them carry files back and forth. They carry reams of paper, folders that would probably not even be moved if they didn’t have interns, I imagine. These three young women march past my office, then up the stairs. Then back down. Then up. Then down. Two of them. Then one. Then one. I felt so bad for them, they looked so tired already and it’s not even noon. And here I sit, with a computer and a cup of coffee and a window.
Then I think of the job I had at a hardware store when I was 20. My boss made me repair cracks in the parking lot with crack-sealer during a 90+-degree-100%-humidity-heatwave. These weren’t actually cracks, either, they were gaps, huge missing chunks of macadam and I had a tube and putty knife and heatstroke. I did it for four days, seven hours a day until I finally had enough and quit.
Within weeks the guy replaced the parking lot.
I think about that, and then I don’t feel so bad for the young women in their high heels and new suits marching back and forth in air conditioning with a cafeteria on 11 with 1/2 price deserts at 3pm.
That’s when subtle changes in personal perspective hit me. I’m the same guy, but not. My perception of these young women isn’t what it would have been 16 years ago (good God, 16 years…). I began to think about how I do this in my fiction. I’m planning on going through my recently finished first draft of my second novel carefully, looking at how the main character’s perceptions, both internal and external, might change throughout. How might he look at an object, a room, himself, and see many different things. There are some flashbacks and some locations are revisited a number of times. These are my opportunities to avoid using a narrator’s voice to tell about changes. These are my opportunities to show a shift in my main character’s perception that conveys the sort of change, the growth of wisdom, that I’m seeking.
It’s another instance where life intrudes on a writer’s happy little cocoon. I was going to post today about fear: how it can drive or bind, how it is not only incorporated into writing by experienced in the act of writing itself. I was going to post that. But, yesterday during rush hour a steam pipe blew up about 2 blocks from where I work and I thought, that’s for another day.
The pipe which blew sent steam and debris into the air. One person was killed, many others injured. Dust has settled for blocks and they are now concerned about asbestos. I work in a building near the East River, we have recycled air and I’m really not concerned about the air in here. What is remarkable is how much work is going into fixing/finding the problem. ConEdison crews are literally tearing up every corner for three or four blocks in every direction. It’s as if they are trying to remove the top layer of the city so that they can peer underneath it. The NYPD has nearly every street in the area closed off. My walk from the subway usually goes from 6th Avenue and 42nd Street to 43rd and 2nd Avenue. It’s almost a straight line. Today, I had to take a bit of detour. It was interesting having to walk around inside Grand Central until discovering that everyone (and I mean several hundred people, and that’s only those who were there right at that moment; thousands come through Grand Central every morning) were all going to have to leave through the MetLife building. It was interesting to see what’s in the MetLife building. It’s not all insurancey in there. There’s Godiva Chocolate shops and a deli. It’s a little oasis.
Most everyone on the street was taking the strange commute and massive excavation efforts in stride. It’s hard to complain when you’re safe and unhurt and so many people are working so hard to keep you that way.
I know just how he feels.
The bull, not the runner. The runner I can’t relate to. He got in the way of a bull all for the chance to say “I ran in front of a bull.”
The bull. I relate to the bull because I’m now about a thousand words away from finishing my current work-in-progress. I relate to the bull because this effort has been terrifying, full of obstacles (both in my head and on the page), and in the end, after all my running, I’ll probably be killed when all is said and done. That’s not to say it’s been nothing but work. It’s mostly work, mostly effort with little idea if it’s a success for this novel or only a success because of the effort itself. Yet it’s also had moments of joy – I’ve surprised myself with moments of what feels like truly good writing, images I’ve enjoyed, phrases and paragraphs that capture exactly what I’ve been looking for… well, almost exactly. I’ve never gotten the words in 100% the right order. Still, I have had those moments, and I’ve enjoyed them, and they make me feel the way I imagine the bull feels at that moment when its horn catches just enough of a runner to say “Okay… if we’re going to play this game, at least I got that much.”
You have to hand it to him. Stephen King knows how to write a book jacket description. From the inner flap of “Blaze”:
A fellow named Richard Bachman wrote Blaze in 1973 on an Olivetti typewriter, then turned the machine over to Stephen King, who used it to write Carrie. Bachman died in 1985 (“cancer of the pseudonym”), but in late 2006 King found the original typescript of Blaze among his papers at the University of Maine’s Fogler Library (“How did this get here?!”), and decided that with a little revision it ought to be published.
I also think it’s awesome that he’s giving money made by the sales to a charity for artists.
My father has recently retired after over three decades of teaching theater arts at the college level. In the flurry of cleaning out books and papers from his office a 1966 edition of the book “Playwrights on Playwriting” turned up which my mother grabbed and suggested he keep to give to me. I’ve been going through it and have enjoyed reading it. While it is about playwriting specifically, writing is writing, and story is story and so I’m finding a lot of it very interesting. And, while many of the names of those included are theater names, a few are names I’m familiar with outside of their playwriting: Anton Chekhov for instance.
An excerpt from his letters on writing:
To A. P. Chekhov, April 11, 1889
Try to be original in your play an as clever as possible; but don’t be afraid to show yourself foolish; we must have freedom of thinking, and only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things. Don’t round things out, don’t polish — but be awkward and impudent. Brevity is the sister of talent. Remember, by the way, that declarations of love, the infidelity of husbands and wives; widows’, orphans’, and all other tears, have long since been written up. The subject ought to be new, but there need be no “fable.” And the main thing is — father and mother must eat. Write. Flies purify the air, and plays — the morals.
The NYTimes has an interesting article about the uproar following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses.” Given that his recent knighthood raised a strong response from Muslims it’s important to remember that there were plenty of critics here in the West as well. Most important, irregardless of how I may feel about Rushdie’s work or of “Satanic Verses” in particular, I think that the article raises serious questions which writers should consider about freedom of speech vs. self-censorship. Where is the line you won’t cross? How did that line get there? Why won’t you cross it? Asking ourselves these questions may benefit our reading and our writing.