Most mornings when I wake up, I sit in bed and read my email on my phone. It helps with the adjustment from blissful slumber to the painful reality of motherfucking daylight. Nothing manages to crank my eyelids up a few notches like that thought that maybe somewhere, while I was sleeping, somebody thought about me enough that they wanted to write to me.
And sometimes in that half-awake state, the emails blur together in weird ways.
This is part of today's Daily Rumpus from Stephen Elliott:
It made me think of this guy and girl laying next to each other. He was a musician and she was in love with his music. She wrote for a magazine. He told her he was married and she said that she'd been married once but it didn't work for her. Then they kissed. Then they stared at each other for a while. He said, It's not that I don't love my wife, whatever that means. Then he said, This has nothing to do with my wife. She asked if this happened to him often, girls going back with him after a show. Not often, he said, but probably more often than for most people. He kissed her again and she pulled away and he apologized. I should go, she said. Do you want to go? he asked. She said she didn't want to go. He took a call from his manager. He held up a notebook for her where he'd written, Please stay. She liked his music. He liked the boots she wore, the way she crossed her legs...
And right after I read that, I got this one from my girlfriend:
now i'm interested in seeing black swan. margaret was bitching that she went to see it with a friend who's in the joint anthro-history program, and he annoyed the shit out of her by analyzing it based on freud and foucault. i told her that i irritated you by talking about how inception was cartesian and freudian when you just wanted to talk about the story. she thought that was funny--she said her friends in belfast get pissed at her when she goes anthro on them. anthropologists annoy people. we can't help ourselves.
And then this one:
i dreamed that i suddenly realized that i hadn't seen the child i had with the ex for years and felt guilty. isn't that weird? and you what's weirder? my second thought in the dream was that my body didn't look like i had had a child. i thought, wow, i have no stretch marks or loose skin or anything.
And I thought, what wonderful stories these are. (OK, the capper to the second one would be that now that she's seen Inception, all she wants to do is talk about how well-crafted the story is, but still, you can see where she's going with it.)
The thing I like about this writing is that on the surface it is so straightforward. Short sentences. Simple constructs. A vaguely clinical distance from the subject matter, even in the first person, like the writer is not so much putting their inner turmoil on the page as much as observing somebody else's, and writing what they see.
And yet underneath it, there are layers and layers of feeling. There are deeper meanings that are buried there, that the reader can excavate only if they bring their heart to the reading.
I like to think my writing is like this. And I have trouble figuring out who would want to publish it, because it seems to me that so many lit mags these days are interested in the exact opposite kind of writing. Play games with language. Be ambiguous. Be internally inconsistent. Obtuse. Opaque. The best way to spot good writing, it seems, is to read it and not be entirely sure you understand what it's saying.
I read some lit mags and every once in a while will be blown away by a story, so I'll submit something to them, and I'll get rejected, and when I go back and reread everything they've published recently, I'll think to myself, "I don't really like most of this." And then I have to wonder, do I not like it because its style simply doesn't appeal to me? Or do I not like it because I don't understand it? Because maybe I'm not a smart enough reader, because of all the people who are trying to make something literary out of their writing, I alone don't fucking "get" what most literary fiction writers are doing, or what most lit mag editors are looking for. Because I don't have an MFA. Because I haven't read enough, I haven't written enough, I haven't got enough school, I'm just not all that smart.
And then late at night when I'm kinda cheesed off and/or depressed, I will think that lots of this writing that gets published is actually not very good, and the people who publish it are publishing it because they don't know how to tell what is good and bad and when in doubt, they err on the side of writing they don't understand, since at least there is the possibility that something good is there that they can't quite describe.
I have this about David Foster Wallace. I don't fucking get him. I push my way through his stories and they leave me feeling dead inside, and pissed off that I had to work so hard just to feel nothing. People talk about reading Infinite Jest and brag about how you need strategies to deal with the footnotes and you need to have a dictionary at your side at all times and I'm thinking, "why?" Obviously I don't mind being challenged by writing, by vocabulary, but if I have to literally bring a dictionary to be able to cope with a book...why? I'd rather bring my heart.
When I tried to describe the story of Inception to my girlfriend, and she started into Cartesian this and Freudian that, it pissed me off a little. Because it made me feel stupid. I was a math major; when I think "cartesian", I think of x,y coordinates. I don't know fuck-all about Freud. I feel like I know a lot about storytelling, and that was how I wanted to look at the film, and when confronted with a way of looking at it that I didn't understand, it made me defensive. Why do we have to do this? What is wrong with a story being just a story?
We didn't stay mad long. That's how you know you're in love. You're like magnets. You get turned around wrong and something makes you push each other away, but it usually only takes a little while for the ends to match up again the right way and then you thwack back together and hang on tight.
I'm into my second semester of screenwriting, this time a workshop, and the script I am working on...it's good. I don't think I realized how good until this week. My classmates are picking up on stuff that I thought was pretty buried, and they're finding themes and metaphors that I didn't even put there but that are brilliant enough that I wish they had been intentional. The instructor is finding little subtle bits of dialogue and writing "Lovely!" and "Nice!" next to them. It feels good.
What is cool about screenwriting is that all that literary crap about "interesting use of language" is useless. Strip the language out, ruthlessly. Tell a story. You want to be creative? Tell a more interesting story.
What is not so cool about screenwriting is that you can't publish a script. I never thought I was capable of writing a full two-hour 115-page screenplay, but now that it's within reach, I find the whole idea of shopping it around kind of intimidating and very depressing. Once it's done, I can't just email it off to PANK or The Collagist or The BlahBlah Review and hope they like it. I have to get it made into a film. A script is not the creative end result, it's merely an invitation to others to collaborate on a creative endeavor. It's actor bait. It's director bait. I am creating the most awesome bass lure ever, but I don't really know how or where to fish.
I wish I could just write stories like I write a screenplay and see them published somewhere. Just tell a good story, maybe make somebody cry. But I don't know where people go to read that kind of story.