11/13/07

The anxiety of albatross.

I'm drinking a Budweiser to reward myself for a day of almost sublime mediocrity. English students, students of language, traffickers of ideas know these days well. There is a chance -- it is a slim chance, but it's real -- that what you've done over the course of the last 16 hours will change the way somebody thinks about something. There's a chance it's a legitimate contribution to the history of western thought. There's a chance it thinks something nobody's ever thought to think before.

But there's a much, much better chance that what it is is a very average recapitulation of something that's been done to death and then recapitulated to death and then done to death again. There's a much, much better chance that what you mistake for inchoate greatness is just the albatross of unrigorousness your writing wears around its neck because you're not actually talking about what you're writing about -- you haven't really read what you read -- you don't know what you're in dialog with -- because you didn't understand it. You're on a date, at the movies, and she says something, and you say what, and she says it again, and you say what, and she says it again, and you don't want to say what again, so you say, "that's so true!" And you chuckle. Like a fucking asshole. Holy shit, look at you chuckling like a fucking asshole saying "that's true!" and you have no idea what she even said. You want so badly to get in some chick's pants that you can't even risk asking "what" three times.

Except instead, you can't risk three hours -- three Salon-reading, head-hanging, Hot Fuzz-watching hours to actually get your bearings -- so you say, "that's false!"

You say, "Clearly, what this distinguished professor whose work on this subject has been ensconced into the canon of contemporary criticism has failed to understand about Walt Whitman's poetic voice is that..."

And all that really needs to be done to topple that Jenga tower is to say, "actually, he does understand that." You pull the stick, and all the marbles rush out. What a mess.

And, of course, sometimes that's the very best thing, a little bit of creative misunderstanding. But very rarely does a creative misunderstanding line up smoothly with a simpler, messier, more economical straight up failure to understand. An instantiation of your own intellectual apprenticeship, and, even more, laziness. Because the criteria by which I measure what I've done is not whether or not what I've done is good. It's whether or not it's good for the amount of time I put into it. But that doesn't mean I'm not swinging for the fences every time.

Here's the pitch. "Clearly, what Professor Endowed Yalechair McHarvardson has failed to understand is that I wrote this annotated bibliographical essay over the course of eighteen hours that weren't nearly so frenzied as they'd need to be to get the job done right -- though they were fraught with anxiety. Yea, if he understood that, he'd understand that I've debunked not only everything he ever thought, but also everything he ever didn't think he thought but actually did think because he's a repressed, sexist, racist, priggish, whiggish, piggly-wiggly crypto-Tory of an unfeeling schoolmarm with no sense of magic, no common sense, and not a drop of logical rigor. That's why he got his PhD in 3 years. Cutting corners. Me, I'm going to take the whole 6 because I like to get the job done right."

When I actually thought I could be a writer -- before the fact that I haven't got anything like the discipline to be a writer without the unforgiving overlord Deadlines
cracking at me with his outsized, phallic whip, making me want to cry or quit writing for the greener pastures of Best Buy retail or landscape engineering -- I had this idea for a story. I wanted to write about this guy who hires a bodyguard, eight hours a day, to beat the shit out of him any time he's not sitting at the keyboard, writing.

I thought that would be a good way to solve the problem of discipline.

Surely, I've got a great novel in here somewhere. If only I could get it out.

I've got it! I'll hire one of those bouncers you see on Girls Gone Wild infomercials to en-force me to write a novel.

Since I was very young, I've been very smart. I know what art is.

That's why I can debunk Emeritus Professor Leviticus Goodlongfellow Higginsnodgrassingworth III, whose highly influential book on paradiddles in the jazz drumming of Horatio Alger has created a whole new sub-discipline in literary studies.

He just doesn't get it.

I'm gonna go far.

3 comments:

Sisyphus said...

So, is it paper-writing time over at your place too? Must be why our new grads are extra jumpy right now.

It's nice that they issue you an actual Albatross of Unrigorousness --- sounds very literary and classy. Over here at Cheap Public U we have to construct our own by stapling together various flocks of Sparrows of Infinitesimal Meaningfulness and chain them around our necks with paper clips.

Good luck with the paradiddles,

paradiddles,

paradiddles.

D said...

Here we have a whole flock of albatrosses (albatri?) in all the fashionable colors for fall. You can wear them like fox skin tippets over your shoulders. But that doesn't make them any more fun.

Papers aren't DUE for another couple weeks. But the anxiety is building, steadily, steadily.

I thank you, and good luck yourself, with more meaningful endeavors.

sun light said...


You’ll also notice that the “Pa-ra” is the single stroke part and
the “did-dle” is the double stroke part.You could also set up your
metronome at this stage and have a go at locking in with a click
track.

paradiddles
paradiddle book
paradiddle exercises