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ME AND WILL HUNTING
August 18, 2014
Whenever I tell my mother about a review I'm writing or an article I'm working on, she will think about it and always asks me "how long does it take to write your thing" (because she can never remember what you call that thing I'm doing).
As she's proud of not using assistive devices to walk and not socializing with those other people at Atria, she is also coyly proud of not being a writer. It tickles her that she has never written anything (I may have received one or two letters from her in my life). She's proud of her failure to communicate with anybody about anything by writing. I don't understand that, but...whatever.
When people talk to me about being a critic, they often say to me "I don't know how you can do that." I am reminded of Good Will Hunting, where everyone was so impressed with Will's ability to solve complicated problems that stumped even the best mathemeticians. He says something like "you can't do this, so you don't know how easy this is for me. Do you have any clue how easy this is for me?" He doesn't intend to lord it over anybody, but is just trying to let them know that they may have a talent in one direction and his lies in mathematics, he doesn't know why he has that talent, but he does, and it just is, not because of anything directly that he has done.
That's kind of what it's like for me with writing. I have always written. I come from a long line of writers. My great grandfather started a newspaper and was its editor, and columnist for many years. My great, great grandfather wrote eloquent letters from Iowa to his children in California. My aunt was a wonderful writer. I aspire to be as entertaining as she was. It's not because of anything directly that I have done, it just is.
I'm not a great writer. I'm an OK writer. I'm a sloppy writer who has never bothered to study writing, but who can put my thoughts on paper. Occasionally I research something, but basically this is just verbal diarrhea put on the page.
My journal entries, like everything else I write, kind of grow organically. I may have an idea in mind where I think an entry (or an article) is going to go, and as I start writing it, it veers off in directions I had never expected, planned, or anticipated. I don't write fiction. I'm terrible at fiction, but I hear fiction writers talk about how the characters they create take them in different directions and insist that they be written in a certain way. I understand that.
And so it has been with my project today. I can't tell my mother how long it has taken (or will take, since it's not finished yet) to write the article I'm working on, but I've pretty much been at it for the better part of three days.
I always thought my writing process was strange, but the more I read things from other writers, the more I discover that I'm not so strange after all. I write a little bit and then I have to leave the computer. I eat, or make something, or clean something (rarely the latter), or I might go to sleep for the night. While I do this, thoughts percolate around in my head that I'm not even aware of. When I finish my break, I come back to the computer with renewed thought energy.
Today I am working on an article celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Davis Musical Theater Company (DMTC). This group started in 1984 (see? I'm a math whiz) with a production of Peter Pan that both Walt and Jeri worked on. Its next show was The King and I, where Jeri was one of the king's children, and had dyed black hair and darkened skin. Walt was the company's first set builder. So we are part of the history of DMTC.
Five years ago, I wrote an article to celebrate its 25th anniversary and I went back and reviewed that article as I prepared to write the one for the 30th anniversary. It seemed that I'd said it all then. I figured my approach this time around would be to rehash the old article, intervew a couple of people who have been around for a long time, and the article would pretty much write itself. But no. My brain doesn't work like that, even when I want it to. Ultimately, I used almost nothing of the article from five years ago.
I first interviewed Steve and Jan Isaacson, the founders of the company, people we have known since before there was a DMTC. It wasn't a formal interview. We just sat around and chatted while the tape recorder ran and I figured I'd pull bits and pieces from that.
But I had forgotten my aversion to transcribing. Something weird happened to me after 30+ years of being a transcriptionist. I literally could not STAND the thought of transcribing anything ever, ever again. So I kept putting off this transcription. Fortunately it wasn't going to be a literal translation, but just playing the audio and picking out salient pieces for the article. But I put it off for a couple of days and had to actually FORCE myself, by reason of a looming deadline to actually sit down and just. do. it.
As I transcribed, I got an idea of how to start the article and wrote that...or, more accurately, copied it from five years ago. With something on the screen, I began to fill in. The article grew like Topsey. One thing would suggest something else, an incident would suggest an interview subject whom I would then call, something totally changed my mind on how to start the article and I rewrote the beginning. Things that seemed to be in the right order suddenly were out of order and I had to move them around (thank God for computers!).
I did phone interviews (I don't mind doing them because I can transcribe as the person talks and I don't have to listen to it a second time to transcribe...thank God for learning how to be a fast typist!)
I got far enough in the article and it had taken such a different path than I anticipated that I was able to write the closing paragraphs, which I really like. I still needed to fill in some stuff, but if I can't, for whatever reason, the article is good to go as is.
I'm waiting for 3 people to call me and if they don't I'll live without it, but I really would like their input. When I got up this morning, the "thing" (as my mother would call it) loomed threateningly over me, because I knew it had to be at the newspaper office tomorrow, but as I've worked on this, pretty much all day long (with those busywork breaks I mentioned), I've become familiar with it. I've read it dozens of times. I've tweaked it, I know what I want to add, but if I can't, because I don't hear from the people I need, I can work around it.
Like Will Hunting, I don't know how I do this, I just know that I do it and that for me, it is an easy thing to do.
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Day 49: This is a sight to make anybody happy.
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