Thursday, May 21, 2009

Authoring: Musings from the Gym

I'm currently reading Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Today I realized I had the bare minimum to become a writer: I'm not normal in any sense of the word. Moreover, I'm emotionally and mentally unstable, which is good news for someone who wants to be an author. Of course, authors recognize "normality" doesn't exist. It is a farce, a tool of the bourgeois, which is why literature is a method many use to stick it to the man.

After I got done with my cardio, I put the book down and went over to the weight machines to work my muscles. As long as I work my muscles, I don't have to worry about my weight. Since muscle weighs more than fat, I can constantly tell myself any increase in numbers comes from gaining muscle, not fat.

Bird by Bird is about writing. Anne Lamott has taught some writing classes in the past and has put a lot of her advice into a book that carries her wit, humor, and personal life with it. Even in didactic prose, she manages to speak with a beautiful and laid-back voice and tone many people miss in their day-to-day life.

After reading about fiction-writing for 35 minutes, I sat down at a machine I use to work my chest. At this particular gym, the chest machine sits you opposite a large mirror, almost forcing you to watch yourself workout. I don't like to watch myself to much of anything, let alone struggle to push a few bars connected to weights.

Still in a fiction-author mindset, I started to describe what I saw in the mirror, imagining myself not as myself, but as a fictional character in a book. Since I'm not always terribly creative, I imagined the fictional me as a person who just read 35 minutes of Anne Lamott in the gym, a person who then sat down to use a machine that works his chest muscles, a person who then saw himself in the mirror and started to describe himself as a fictional character in a book.

As I am writing right now, I realize I didn't do what Anne Lamott suggested. She described imagining and describing the whole picture in a very imaginative way. Had I listened to her, I would have mentioned the girl behind me using one of those "ab balls." She was doing some sort of sit-up with the ball between her ankles. When I was distracted from my description I looked at her image in the mirror and thought about how I don't know how to do those exercises, but want to. And then I remembered reading some article on-line that gave me different ab exercises to do. I do the bicycle exercise, because that particular website said it was the best exercise for your abs.

Instead of looking at her or anything else in the mirror, I looked at my t-shirt. For some reason, I am interested in looking at the sweat patterns on my t-shirt. I'm positive my sweat doesn't randomly soak different parts of my shirt, but it often looks pretty random. Sometimes it reminds me of those Rorshcach things. You know, the inkblots psychiatrists show crazy people, asking, "Hmm, tell me what you see here." I thought about how I am crazy enough that a doctor should probably have a wealth of information if they showed me such inkblots.

Of course, I promptly began to see something in the sweat on my shirt. I didn't do very well. Then again, I don't know psychology (or is it psychiatry? I don't know either), so I don't know if I did a good job or not.

I thought maybe I could make out the fat legs of a kid, swinging his or her legs over the side of a wharf. The legs were mostly extended and I was looking from beneath the wharf, at an angle. Then I noticed the kid must have a few oddly placed claws on his feet. I figured the child must be a chubby little monster, like the kind you find in hiding under a bed. But, the monster image couldn't take into account the little blob of sweat where my belly protrudes.

So, maybe I saw a close up of someone's dreadlocks, hanging over a table where the person with the dreadlocks was lying. The little blob would be part of one of the dreadlocks falling to the ground after being cut.

I wanted to see a butterfly or a dog, like in Alan Moore's The Watchmen. I didn't.

I never thought about what meaning I could attach to what I saw. I knew I could think of something, though. In the narrative in my head, I skipped the doctor's interpretation of what I saw in my Rorshach sweat. I just assumed it happened and started to think about how much nonsense my analysis was. I don't know psychiatry (or is it psychology?). Instead of analyzing anything intentionally, I was making things up. Sometimes I wonder if analysis and interpretation are anything more than making things up, anyways.

And then I remembered I'm not a novelist, a poet, or a short-storyist (is there a word for a person who writes short stories?). But, that fact doesn't mean I'm not an author. I still author--I create. I just happen to create through reading and interpreting what other people "write." And in my interpretation, I take what they say and do and use it to mean something else. Some people might argue I make it mean whatever I want, but, like a fictional character in a fictional story, what I interpret has a mind of its own. I don't make it mean whatever I want, it means and as I try to mold it to what I want, it becomes something else. I create, but creation has never really been about ex nihilo. Creation is about taking what is and working with it--cooperation--to make it something new. Creation is communal and cooperative--isn't that part of the mystery of the trinity?

Then, as I was walking home from the gym, I started to think about how some people want to write to be understood. I share this desire, but it isn't why I write or my main goal in writing. I want to write something so beautiful that people need to talk about in order to appreciate it and understand it. In their conversation, they end up finding two different meanings from what I said, which are two different meanings from what I meant. And even if they never discover what I meant, then I will have achieved what I wanted: beauty, which is truth.

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