Post No. 25: Powder Burns and Uncertain Terms

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This is a delicate subject to talk about, because my writing is so personal to me. It always has been. Even if I’m telling you Aliens is not (quite) the exception that proves the rule about sequels being inferior to classic predecessors, or reporting that band X didn’t play my favorite song live, there’s still passion at the core of almost everything I write, or express. It’s a personality quirk that filters down into my writing, both in its content and homegrown style. That’s why I never really considered becoming a reporter, in spite of my Journalism degree. I often find it hard to view things in purely objective, dispassionate terms. I only started on that educational track in the first place because of my longstanding love of words, of writing, and of the English language. I spent my entire childhood reading and listening to music and watching movies, and now here we both are. I got bored with conventional toys so quickly. 

Since I launched this blog in January, some of you have read my posts with semi-regularity. I appreciate it. Some others have tried once or twice or maybe more, but have either gotten bored, restless, or flustered. Maybe the subject matter didn’t grab you. Maybe the writing was hard to follow (I originally thought to call it “obtuse”, so, yeah, exhibit A), or needlessly showy, or punishingly long…or all of the above. I appreciate that too, and I get it. I love describing things, to a fault, though I try to never use the same words to do so. It’s kind of a personal rule. English is an incalculably deep language, with such potential for beauty (nowadays increasingly untapped), even in the hands of an amateur. Blame my teachers for encouraging me. Enough people tell you’re a decent writer over the years, and it starts to take on its own prophetic air in your mind. But I get it. It sometimes seems I never met a sentence I couldn’t “improve”. The things I’m excited about are not necessarily anything everyone else would or even should be excited about. What a ridiculous world that would be.

I can retain some measure of objectivity about my writing, I think. I can try to put myself into the shoes of a prospective reader. It’s a helpful mindset to fumble about with occasionally. But this is still my writing. However imperfect, however admittedly improvable, my writing is, right here and right now, important and interesting to me…if perhaps to no one else. That is perfectly fine, proper even. What is the internet but a vast ocean of like minds in fitful search of connection? Maybe someone will find my site by accident and really respond to what I’m talking about that day, or see in my torrent of words 1/100th of what I get out of an article by Nathan Rabin, or Tony Karon, or David Shoemaker (look ‘em up), or a chapter of Tom Wolfe, or Tom Holland, or, lately, George R.R. Martin. First and foremost, I like reading people who I personally like to read, regardless of the subject matter, and I aspire to one day be that type of writer – the kind, for better or worse, you can’t easily mistake for someone else, or for someone generic.

I had drinks with a dear friend the other night, someone I love and respect and whose opinion I value highly. It was the opening Friday night of March Madness at a noisy sports bar and everyone’s brackets were already so much confetti, so the crowd was awash in an unfocused sort of general revelry. This friend and I don’t see each other nearly as often as we should, so when we do get together the night tends to intensify as it goes along, in that, by the time things are winding down physically, the conversation is getting progressively deeper and more interesting. He has been a fairly avid reader of my blog since its inception, and is one of the encouraging types I alluded to above. He had, in fact, recommended the blog to others, some of whom apparently had less kind, though still not particularly unkind, opinions of it. This inspired some heavy mixed feelings in both of us, and the final part of our night became a referendum on my blog and impromptu writer’s workshop. How could I get more readers? How could I appeal to more readers? Should I particularly care if readers liked it, even though, despite my perpetually shrugging shoulders, I so obviously do?

He challenged me to think and take stock. It was a slightly uncomfortable conversation. It’s a rare man who can be both pretty sauced and highly articulate, and how the words did flow in both directions. He was concerned afterward I might have taken personal things that I knew were motivated purely by friendship. It touched me, his consideration for me, both Friday and as I write this now. Then, as now, I was keenly aware of a few things. My writing is singularly mine, thus it has inherent value to me. I’d like others to value it as well, but I recognize that’s a process, one I’m just now beginning. My tendencies as a writer are to overdo things rather than underdo them. I know this, and I’d like to work on it, up to a point. I use “big words”, mainly because I know what they mean (I use them off the page as well), but also because I think they enhance my writing. This is not everyone’s cup of tea, I recognize. My writing can suffer from bloat, and often does, or from an abundance of descriptors that sometimes step on communal toes. It can also lack focus, because I haven’t been writing in this manner, with this color palette and with this kind of regularity, for very long at all. Habits can be forged. Gaps can be bridged. Brevity is a virtue, though not the only one. Nor is it absolute. I do have some things I want to try going forward.

I have a vivid memory dating back to grade school, in whatever grade (2nd? 3rd? Possibly obsolete in the internet age?) cursive handwriting is taught. I remember our teacher patrolling the aisles like a prison guard as we did our clumsy initial writing exercises. When she reached my desk, she looked down and stopped, aghast. I imagine she already knew I was left-handed and thus sinister (if not she might have fainted outright), but the problem ran much deeper than that. I had never learned the “proper” way to hold a writing utensil, see, or, rather, how to use said utensil while holding it in that proper manner. I’d been uncomfortable as a younger child with how I was taught (or had been expected to learn through osmosis, or whatever), and so I conceived organically my own way to hold a pencil and write, with the end balanced between my second and third finger. For a child of seven or eight, I had pretty impressive penmanship, clipped and neat, though I occasionally smudged the lead as my hand moved across the page.

It was an affront to this teacher, who did everything but stop class in response, hovering over me like the alien mothership that destroyed D.C. in Independence Day. She grabbed my hand, sometimes forcibly moving it, and constantly fussed with the pencil, repositioning it as my underdeveloped brain tried to balance her proprietary fervor against its own instincts. She loomed above me, radiating heat and pressure, for what might’ve been five minutes but felt like forever. In essence, she was calling me out as very, very strange at an age where otherness and quirk is not exactly encouraged and is hardly celebrated. I just couldn’t write that way, I wanted to tell her. It didn’t feel right, or natural, or, hell, even plausible. Every time my hand made a reflexive protestation, she mauled the pencil back into the correct position. Finally, I wrote my name in the shakiest cursive script imaginable and we both exhaled, her in triumph and me in minor humiliation. She strolled on up the aisle, a bit too satisfied. When I saw her exit my peripheral vision, I returned to what felt natural in one deft motion.

This blog, in all its excess and pretentions both borderline and outright, is similarly a manifestation of what feels natural to me. I am a writer, and have been almost as long as I can remember. I am also a collector of passions, many related to art. I like to write, and I enjoy writing most about the things I am passionate about. So here’s a messy, multi-faceted blog for you. Henceforth, I’ll do my level best to edit with a bit more of a critical eye. I’ll try to err on the side of brevity when it’s possible (he said, 1600 words in). I’ll try to not love and cling to all of my words quite so desperately, not because I’m trying to pander, but because I recognize it as an opportunity to grow. I’m not for everyone, happily, and I never will be. I’m not going to stop using big words, though I may choose them more carefully. I’m not going to stop piling clauses on top of each other like I’m constructing a skyscraper instead of a basic sentence. I won’t write like “normal” people do. That wouldn’t feel natural. I’m not ever going to stop being myself.

This has been an interruption in our normally scheduled programming. Thanks very much for reading, whether this is your twenty-fifth post or your first, whether you follow my blog, are maybe thinking it over, or are already looking for a quick exit. The internet is a vast ocean of like minds in fitful search of connection. There’s somebody out there for you.

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