Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Writing About The Process"

You may think this is a “Filler Posting.” It may actually be a “Filler Posting”, I can’t say for sure, I haven’t written it yet. However, if the judgment as to whether this is a “Filler Posting” is based on the writer’s intention, let me assert forthwith that this is not in any way intended to be a “Filler Posting.” Understanding that if “intention” is not the criterion for whether a “Filler Posting” is a “Filler Posting”, then it may, in fact, be a “Filler Posting.” This opening paragraph is certainly a “Filler Opening Paragraph.” I am just clearing my throat.

The idea for this posting came to me in the car. I’ve been thinking for weeks about writing a story entitled Great Moments In History (That Almost Certainly Never Happened). I was imagining it might develop into a series, though at the moment, I have only one Great Moment In History (That Almost Certainly Never Happened, and for a series, I would probably need more.

I wanted to write about comprise in government. To me, that’s what government’s all about – getting something done by having the opposing sides give and take on their positions, until a mutually acceptable compromise has been attained. This issue is current, because, given our highly polarized political landscape, compromise’s reputation has been blackened, resulting in the fact that nothing important is getting done.

The problem is, contrarian that I am, the first issue that came to mind is one in which compromise is entirely out of the question.

This self-sabotage occurred, because the “funny” part of me took charge and said, “Compromise, shmompromise. Important but dull. Now, wouldn’t it be funny if I took an issue that was entirely uncompromisable, and treated it as if it were?

This led to my idea for Great Moments In History (That Almost Certainly Never Happened) wherein I imagined two emissaries, one representing the North, the other, the South, who meet secretly in an Eleventh Hour effort to avert the Civil War.

Their discussion involves a compromise over the issue of slavery. The Southern representative proposes that, to prevent a disastrous civil war, the South will agree to free the slaves

One day a week.

Does that make you laugh? It makes me laugh. Why? Because it takes a reasonable concept – compromise – and fills that concept with Silly Putty, by applying it to an arena in which, due to the specific nature of that situation, it cannot reasonably apply.

(It is always risky to explain why something is funny. The explanation is invariably boring, it could possibly be wrong or at least a less likely explanation than another that has not as yet come to mind, and thirdly, the funny thing whose ha-ha inducing quality you are trying to explain may, in fact, not be funny, at least not to everyone. This is why I generally avoid explaining comedy, this being a notable exception.)

Why does this concept interest me? Because I like writing about ideas. I have fun writing dialogue, which the proposed posting, after the introduction, would include nothing but. I enjoy the Comedy of the Absurd – exemplified most sublimely in Monty Python’s classic “Argument” sketch. This idea has it all.

And yet, for the moment at least, it must be filed under the category:

Postings I Can’t Write

Yet.

Why?

Setting aside the taste issue – whether writing about slavery with even the most benign intentions would be okay – and the fact that I believe in compromise and it might be counterproductive to heap satirical derision at its doorstep, the main reason I am currently unable to tackle this posting is because it’s hard.

There’s a legal-argument-level logical clarity required in writing a posting in which the two opposing pre-Civil War factions debate freeing the slaves one day a week. (I just like saying that. It makes me giggle every time.)

If you’re writing something silly, it must make indisputable internal, logical sense. Otherwise, it’s just stupid. Any sloppiness in its execution can send it careening off the rails into disreputable Goofyland.

Think of Alice In Wonderland. The rules in Wonderland are different, but they are inviolably adhered to. Consider Catch-22, a masterpiece of a specific kind of logic – military logic – turned against itself, until it is entirely and murderously illogical.

“I’m want a discharge from combat, because I’m crazy.” “Why do you think you’re crazy?” “Because I think the war’s going to kill me.” “If you think the war’s going to kill you, you are not crazy, and are therefore not entitled to receive a discharge from combat.”

That’s some catch, that Catch-22. Sublime logic. And you’re dead.

And why does a posting’s difficulty to execute trigger my decision to temporarily put it off? Because, at the moment, given the demanding requirements of the undertaking,

I simply haven’t the strength to pull it off.

(Making this vulnerable to the charge of “Filler Posting.” I am writing about not writing something.)

For the past three weeks, I’ve been fighting a cold. Or an allergy. Or an upgrading of my acid reflux condition. Or something else. (House has affected the way I think about illness. One symptom – five possible causes.)

Whatever it is, and this is what I really wanted to tell you, though there is no heavy lifting involved, an explanation for why many writers become writers, the process of writing, the rigorous demands of focusing and concentrating, thinking and revising, evaluating and improving, this process takes an unbelievable amount of energy.

And though I have enough of it to write this, I lack the sufficient amount of inner “go juice” to write what amounts to, if executed successfully, a Socratic dialogue on the subject of freeing the slaves one day a week. (There I go again, though not quite as enthusiastically.)

Consider the well-oiled machine. That’s a writer at full strength. Anything less – a proverbial bug in the system – and your performance is thrown off. Can you write when you don’t feel well? Of course, you can. When you’re under a deadline, you have to. Some athletes have even reported playing better when they’re sick, the illness requiring them to intensify their concentration.

I can’t do that. I never could. If there was any wiggle room at all, I made a point not write when I felt crappy, as I knew my condition would diminish my sharpness, and my diminished sharpness would produce a script that was fighting a cold. (Or whatever it is was I actually had.) So I didn’t do it.

And I’m not doing it now.

When you notice a posting that begins with two pre-Civil War negotiators sitting down at a conference table, you will know I’m at full strength.

Till then, the oppressed people of my story will not be enjoying “No Slave Tuesday.”

3 comments:

Gnasche said...

I think I know the fix for you slavery compromise idea: It should be the slaves themselves compromising with the slave owners. Consider if the slaves unionized and elected a representative (Cleavon Little?) - and he and two of his advisers met with the slave owner representative (Mel Brooks?) and his advisers.

diane said...

It may have been filler posting, but it was funny all the way thru.

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; very funny, but a lot less filling than I thought it would be.

-Z