The Honest Tease?

Imagine an ironic love machine. In private, I tease you. I mean all the off color things I say about you. And, depending upon the kind of person you are, you love every word, not because they are complimentary (often times they aren’t and when they are- completely double edged and ambiguous) but because I couldn’t have made these contentious remarks at all if I wasn’t completely and utterly fascinated by you. And ‘fascination,’ you might come to realize, is a far purer ante-cedent to affection than simple ‘approval’ or ‘agreement.’

On Writing/Reading: Why I Haven’t Written on This Blog. . .

 

Ever since My Gal Friday, Stella Glass, first bullied me into setting up a blog, I’ve had one lame excuse after another for not writing on it. Of course, for awhile, I was studying for the GRE in LITERATURE. This, to be fair, merited a lot of time and concentration. I had to skim and cram somethin’ like the curriculum of an Undergraduate English Major in a self-study plan of my own haphazard and under informed design, but, this being said, even while I was studying, I always seemed to make time to work out (It’s not optional, where I live and, besides, the voices won’t let me stop.) and keep up with each week’s new comic books (GREEN LANTERN: THE BLACKEST NIGHT is getting hot, y’all.).

And even after the test, my first exercises of freedom were not to blog or even write at all. Instead, I found myself re-vamping, re-invigorating and re-fitting my job search (A resume-a-day, keeps the recession away.) and, well, reading even more (I finally had to time to sit down and finish Charles Dickens’ A TALE OF TWO CITIES and George Eliot’s ROMOLA). And, presently, as I am finishing the research for and beginning to compose my all important PhD application writing sample, there still seems to be a hesitation to write. This stands in stark contrast to my tendency to read which I can almost describe as increasingly compulsive (That copy of Jonathan Franzen’s THE CORRECTIONS my Grandma gave me keeps LOOKING at me.)

My relationship to literature, if you couldn’t tell, is important to me. And ideally, I think, at least for me, there should be a sympathetic or positive feedback relationship between reading and writing. Reading should fuel, inspire and teach me how to write, and writing should give me perspective with which to read. Reading should give me new “raw material” in the form of novel concepts, ideas and thoughts, and writing should refine my understanding of those concepts, help me re-conceptualize those ideas and, hopefully, strengthen my own thought. Reading should be a part of writing and writing should be a part of reading. So, it stands to question, if my theory of reading/writing is, to pick a droll metaphor, ideally versatile, how did I become such a literary bottom?

It wasn’t always this way. When I was 12, I wasn’t much of a reader. Although I read super-hero comics faithfully, I was too engrossed in kenpo karate and Final Fantasy to pick up a book without pictures. Who I was in seventh grade gave little presentiment of the voracious literary omnivore I am today. But, interestingly enough, apart from my undergraduate career at Sarah Lawrence where I was practically typing on the toilet, seventh grade was my most prolific writing period. Although I read nary a book at all and hardly did homework, I was religious about writing a journal, spent interminable hours at my brand-new IBM writing dozens of pages of plots for my thinly veiled “X-Men” knock-off, “The Neo Men,” and kept a pen pal in Colorado my correspondence with whom quite cannily tracked the intricacies of The X-Men’s time-travelling, paradox ridden continuity. In Science Class, in lieu of a research paper, I wrote a monstrous 15 page sci-fi story that spanned from the Triassic period all the way to the far flung future. [Spoiler: Dinosaurs ruled both!]  Looking back, I was a promiscuous, vigorous creative and expository writing top who-would-not-stop.

It was at Sarah Lawrence, really, that I was trained to read at the rate that I do now. Every class required read at least a book a week, sometimes two. And it was at Sarah Lawrence that I struck the greatest balance between reading and writing. (Go Gryphons!) The academic curriculum there was simple; gorge on literature, philosophy and theory for two weeks and then write a 12-15 page paper about it. The rhythm of it was intoxicating. My time at Sarah Lawrence defined my ideal of reading/writing as positive feedback. Add to that, my creative writing class, where I wrote obscenely self congratulatory bio-fiction about the life of “a young gay intellectual, college co-ed finding self” and you could pretty much see how I was achieving the versatile ideal with sweaty, concupiscent zeal.

But this is where things changed. After graduating Sarah Lawrence and going to NYU for grad school my curriculum shifted. I was called upon to read essentially all day every day for a semester and then spend two weeks doing nothing but writing.  A similar turn of the screw happened in law school where I read even more (or maybe it just seemed like more) and wrote almost nothing at all.  Looking back, I can see that my conditioning changed; changed past any sort of balance between writing and reading. This trend of the shifting ratio of writing to reading is clear enough.

Less clear, are the subtle ways my writing, irrespective of reading, has changed. From Sarah Lawrence, to NYU and, even through law school, I have found that my writing process has become increasingly rigorous and meticulous. At Sarah Lawrence, my literary theory teacher broke me down and built me back up in terms of composition. Papers were to be written according to a clearly defined structure. Thoughts were to be controlled and given expression on the page with a sober pen. In law school, my legal writing teacher performed a similar process wherein my writing was refined in such a way to make my ideas as clear and unencumbered as possible. My tendencies for baroque language and circuitous sentence structure were dismantled and replaced by a system of seemingly endless drafting that widdles down my language to the perfect edge of meaning. As a result, I think, I have a more controlled, puissant, forward moving style of writing. But although my writing is, perhaps, as a whole, clearer in elocution and more dexterous in style than ever before, the process of writing has become torturous. It is as if every time I write, I bring to bear every strata of my development. The structure and expression I learned at Sarah Lawrence, the intellectual bravado I developed at NYU and legal writing’s philosophy of clear, plain speech and meticulous editing all make simultaneous and vociferous demands resulting in a writing process of Sisyphisian re-reading,  innumerable drafts and endless re-writing that I pursue with a dogged, exhausting compulsion.

Towards the end of law school, my Catholic Social Thought teacher, Amy, let me know how much she enjoyed my writing. And I thanked her, but took the opportunity to finally express my frustration about writing to another person. “It’s really hard for me to write,” I confessed. “It takes me a day or two to do a 5 page response. And the hours I spend doing it are agonizing; going over the same thing over and over again.” Amy frowned in sympathy and said: “That’s what makes it so good. But you need to learn to relax.”  

Now, having been thinking about my blog, and the long term development of my writing, I see how Amy’s advice to relax isn’t something I need to learn for the first time. In 7th grade, I knew that not everything I wrote had to be perfect. I did it for fun. The sad irony is how the better writer I became, the less I enjoyed it. This blog is not only the realization of Stella Glass’ ceaseless demands, but my attempt to re-establish a balance between writing and reading without Sarah Lawrence’s academic structure and, what’s more, make writing fun again, 7th grade-style.

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