Halloween, Day of the Dead, and Thanksgiving have passed. Because you are reading this, you have survived. I am writing this between All Souls and Thanksgiving, so I cannot speak for Thanksgiving and myself, but it has never taken me out yet. Still (and here I will employ a favorite phrase followed by a digression as to why it is my favorite and then resume, hopefully -- I'm using the word in an acceptable way, I believe -- this column along the lines of thanking God or goodness that it is Friday, as if it were not really Thursday morning) a far greater horror looms. Yes, that's the phrase, "A far greater horror looms." Originally it was past tense, "loomed." Those five words were the title of an essay on writing by Ursula K. LeGuin and concerned a short story submitted by a student in the Clarion Workshop group, now legendary in the field of fantasy and science fiction. The story was a short short, as I recall (maybe wrongly), written from the point of view of a piece of fruit bobbing in a bowl of milk, sugar, and breakfast cereal. The far greater horror that loomed, the reader was left to understand after that final line, was a giant child wielding a spoon.
The upcoming horror for me is, naturally, Christmas.
But this column is not about Christmas (not yet, anyway) but writing. Writing about writing is like rock and roll about rock and roll. ("Another day on the road, baby/ Being a rocker is such a drag"), and that is often self-indulgent tedium. Luckily, self-indulgent tedium, some would say, is right up my alley.
It has been more than 26 years since the first professional sale of my work as a writer. In all that time, a certain horror for me has loomed and that is the famous "writer's block." It has never really happened, and I wonder now if it isn't something else that has taken its place, something I'm experiencing now that, as far as I know, has no name. It is a kind of typing equivalent of aphasia. Instead of hearing language that is disjointed and nonsensical, periodically (usually after long periods of productivity) I compose sentences with tortured syntax, long parenthetical asides that may or may not return to an originating point, mix metaphors like nuts and bolts in a fruit salad, and in general come up with tortured, circuitous nonsense that has, at best, the illusion about it of comprehensibility.
"It is an indication that you write too much," my friend Owen has said to me. "You should go on Maury Povich or something: All this week! Men Who Write Too Much."
That may well be true, and I attribute it, not blame it, mind you (that would imply a wrongness, and I see it as a valid departure from what one might call Euclidean prose) to the fact that there is no such thing as a Friday night (much less weekend) for writers; if you manage to get to a point where you are routinely paid for the task, you are always doing it; there is no turning it off. I will leave the above sentence as is to demonstrate the other above thing, if you see what I mean. And I can now hear the internal editor, the cigar-smoking Lou Grant/Max Perkins combo who presides over the editorial committee of my literary super-ego (what Stephen King calls the "Boys in the Boiler Room" -- though he may be talking about a kind of panel of muses, now that I think about it, and not an editorial parliament or "Murder of Editors" in the collective noun sense used for crows, yes, a Murder of Crows, really, a Murder of Editors, heh, heh) -- and where was I? Yes, I can hear Lou Perkins or Max Grant saying, for example, "No one is going to know what you mean by non-Euclidean prose." To which I will respond with nothing.
Yes, no time off, and I'm not complaining. (The grammar and spelling sub-program on my computer indicates to me that the previous sentence should read, "I are not complaining." See what I mean?) It is not by accident that I chose a profession where I can stare out the window, ostensibly doing nothing, and in fact doing nothing, and tell myself, the Boys in the Boiler Room, or anyone else who asks, that I am working. The end result or byproduct is stretches of writing not unlike this one (though it will undoubtedly be patched up, cleaned up, decoded, whatever, by a competent, professional editor) and might be considered a form of industrial waste, the gritty and murky residue after running on fumes, the dregs of the week's work where I have dreamed as much word count as I have actually written and they have blurred together at the edge of sleep.
An acquaintance once said to me, "I read your column yesterday," leaving it at that. (What is one supposed to do with that? Say "Thank you"? Apologize? Ask "What did you think?" -- because really, who cares?) Eventually my silence prompted him to ask, "What was that all about?" To which I could not help but answer, "About $300." Cynical, maybe, but no better an answer than the question deserved.
And I see at 890-plus words I am about out of room and will let you get on to used auto parts; but next week -- or sometime soon, anyway -- more on how to write good.