Tonight, I attended a Jonathan Franzen event, where he spoke for 90ish minutes about his new novel “Freedom,” as well as “The Corrections” and various other topics. I’ve seen him there before, on the same stage, talking about similar things.
It is always an interesting time, watching our leading man of letters gasp, exhale, and gesticulate so often, and often fall into a tug of war between two tangental thoughts, while he flits back and forth, from phrase to phrase, as if his thoughts are being carried by a breeze only he is aware of, and then tries to circle back around and answer the question. Sometimes, he ends by defeatedly asking whether he answered the question.
I remember having a conversation, or maybe just getting a vibe from some writer friends in SF, about my habit of going to support the authors who need no support, write books that sell, and are reviewed and featured in all the biggest and most prestigious publications. My bookshelves will indicate this pattern, with signed books from Stephen King, David Sedaris, way too many Chuck Palahniuks, Bret Easton Ellis, Douglas Coupland, and on and on.
But, at the same time, I’d likely skip some local independent author who works the spoken word circuit, and is part of the local community of writers, of which I’m barely (if at all) a member of and, if I have their book at all, I’ve probably not read it, and it wouldn’t be signed.
There’s an easy conclusion about why I go to which events to be made here, which is so obvious I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to piece together yourself. I’m not saying there is no truth to it, but that is such a minuscule part of the puzzle to be the uninteresting part.
The real reason I go to these events is to tear these people down. I don’t deny their talent, or the work they have put into their craft, but that for the longest time I saw them as possessing some amazing skill, or knowing some cosmic secret.
Going to events shows they are not divinely inspired, or savants, but just people who sit down, shut out the world, and put in the work. Seeing my idols as human was a huge step. It freed me to see myself as someone who could eventually join the club. They were just guys who took an idea and forged it into art, often messy art. Often art they saw as flawed that they wished they could go back and improve upon. It was a lesson that wasn’t necessary with my friends and peers.
It is also why I am so intrigued by Broadway performers. Unlike writers, who just need time and a blank screen in front of them to fill, the people I know who perform are in a constant state of readiness. They are taking classes in tap, jazz, you name it. They monitor their diets. They are attached to a dozen shows in various states of moving toward appearing onstage someday.
Whereas writing is immediate, and you can sit down and create something, they work in a field of preparing for the unknown. If they go into an audition, they may need to call on an entire arsenal of skills they have built up in anticipation of this moment. And all of this training, conditioning, dieting, exercising, and skill coming together over years of practice, yearning to be expressed.
I’m constantly inspired by the discipline it takes to learn something with no immediate, practical purpose except for the idea that you might need it someday. And here I just need to launch Word, and I can express myself immediately. It is similar, in that my writing still needs many hours of refining and practice, and I’ve wasted a lot of precious time, but I am able to sit here and do it. I just have to carve that time, and fill it with things that will propel me forward as a writer and artist.
And, over the years, I know that is what Chuck, and Jonathan, and all of these other people have done. Faced with a world of constant distraction, they shut it off, stared at a blank page and did the work. We all start with the same raw materials. And, sure, they have spent a lot of time building their toolsets, but my blank Word document is the same as theirs.
When I read and refine my novel, a process that will begin one last time soon, it is like some weird found object. I know I wrote it, but it also seems impossible that I wrote it. Because it is so hard to imagine clearing enough of life’s timesucking out of the way to have done it.
Which makes it even harder to imagine that I’m about to work on both my novel, and new writing, as the fall TV season starts, and while I have concert and play tickets booked, and all of these things clamoring for my attention.
I have no choice but to shut the world out, focus, and build myself a ladder that will get me closer to the life I want for myself.
In lieu of Facebook, which I’m going to try and relax on, I plan to blog more. I like my words staying on my site and not just churning into the Facebook abyss over time. There’s an unsettling permanence to Facebook that I feel lately.
I also plan to read a lot more, despite it seeming impossible to be writing new material, editing the novel, having a full-time job, walking to and from work as exercise, and still finding the time. But, writers need to be readers to improve, and I need to focus on the skills that point toward the future I’m trying to create, so there will also be reading.
I look forward to seeing what happens with all of this.