I heard a woman stand and say this to August Wilson at a Q&A with the legendary playwright back in the 90's. His response was as brief as it was perfect: "No they don't."
There's a maxim offered up by theater maven Stella Adler, that she wishes the stage was as thin and dangerous as a tightrope, so only the most truly qualified would dare to trod upon it. Alas, though, the stage and the page are wide enough for the unskilled and the unnecessary. I often wrestle with my own worth as a writer, wondering how I can dare put words on the page when they seem so imperfect, so trite. Then, I realize most writers - even the finest - feel this way about their work at times. They cover it up with bravado or alcohol, or in Hemingway's case, both. But, the muse perches on one shoulder, and on the other, sits the weight of one's own insecurities. So, the balancing act of art begins.
But, whenever I've really felt discouraged as a writer, I don't turn to Updike or Carver for inspiration. They make me feel all the more unworthy at times. Instead, when I shudder at my own artistic inadequacies, I turn to a document I found back in 2001. It features excerpts from a book that was going to publication. These passages were from the author, before the proofreader or editor got a hold of them, I presume. Either way, as I understand it, this work was published. That's all I need to keep going, because I know I'm better than this.
Behold, excerpts from an unintentional tragedy (or is it a comedy?). These are VERBATIM, exactly as they originally appeared in the initial draft, so I have been assured:
*Riva reached the desk with Lance behind her and told the officer she wanted to speak with an officer, informing with the officer her reasons for needing to speak with an officer.
*She somehow knew this, deep in the cervix of her mind.
*She pushed her fork into the juicy slice of yellow mellow on her plate.
*"I see," said Paula, rubbing her thumb over her flesh-colored manicured forefinger nail.
*Dark eerie fear gripped Lance and seem to creep at snail pace around the center of his stomach, and finally to his throat.
*Cedric was man was average height with lemon complexion and looked as if was serious about his work.
*Riva gave Lance a wicked sexy smile as he continued to stroke exclusively.
*"I'm glad to see you and know you are well, Jasper," Riva said, really glad to see Jasper, and know that he was alive and promising to do well.
*(this is at a pool game) He racked the balls and split them, scattering a hue of round colors across the table.
*Riva surrendered to to black strong rippling hot iron, that seemed to spur every ounce of her blood to a bubbling boil. dy. (That 'dy' is part of the manuscript, as if the author got so turned on, she had a petit mal at the end of the sentence)
*Philip moved as swift as a feline cat through the study. (as opposed to a canine cat, I assume?)
*The easy-strike matches in his pocket would strike on anything, since the matches were easy to strike.
So, there you have it - a dozen reasons to keep writing. August was right, not everyone has a good book in them, but as long as people who don't have one in them keep publishing, I'm going to be here, typing away...just in case.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I picked up a copy of "Eat This, Not That" from the library last week, and the supermarket edition of the book at Borders as well.
The premise of the book, published by Men's Health magazine, is to guide you toward what your best choices are at any given restaurant, from branded fast-food establishments to generic ethnic eateries, as well as helping you navigate through the supermarket aisles with an awareness of what to gravitate toward and avoid.
I've long been intrigued with the food industry - how it markets to us, what people believe is healthy, the success stories of people who have won out over disease and obesity. I'm the guy who owns a copy of "Supersize Me". It keeps me from veering off the rails on days when I am tempted to revert to my two childhood mantras: Food = Comfort and Food = Love.
I'm also eager to learn more about what food choices do to our kids. I watched over the holidays as the annual onslaught of baked goods, sugar-laden treats, and stockings full of candy began to pile up like reindeer poop at Santa's stables. For me, it meant an extra five pounds, for the kids, it meant mood swings, energy bursts, and occasional crashes and comas. I can make allowances for such a ride once a year, but one of my resolutions is to assure that what we all put in our bodies in 2009 enhances our energy and wellness rather than railroads it into a ditch littered with Ding Dongs and Dilly Bars.
So, thus far the books have been quite an education. There were obvious nutritional Napalms I was aware should be avoided. For example, if you go into KFC and order one of their KFC Famous Bowls, you really deserve the arterial shutdown you're about to experience. Not only does that meal scream 'danger', it's also the laziest fricking menu item I've ever seen. To quote Patton Oswald, it truly is a failure pile in a sadness bowl.
And, really, the pages for Hardees should read as such:
Eat This: blank page. Not That: The Hardee's Menu.
Outback Steakhouse? You know those long, sharp knives they give you to cut your steak with? You'd be healthier if you used said silverware to become a cutter than to eat even half a Bloomin' Onion (1155 calories, 67g of fat).
And those Chinese Restaurants in the Food Courts? It's a kamikaze mission, really. And you'll die with a sample toothpick in your heart, a spork in your hand, and a hint of glazed orange sauce on your chin.
But who knew that the Quarter Pounder from McDonald's was a better choice than, say, their chicken sandwich? Or that Chick-fil-A's wraps aren't one of the best options? My wake-up call was my very favorite eat-out meal. I order the Vegetarian Tacos from Chipotle all the time. It's black beans, shredded cheese, salsa, and lettuce in three soft shells. I have them hold the guac and sour cream. Still, they say most everything at Chipotle manages to leap over the 800 calorie zone. DANG!
As for the supermarket edition, it mainly points out the various foods that have managed to disguise spoonfuls of sugar into the mix and what the most processed foods are on the shelves.
So, what's the absolute worst packaged food in America? The dubious honor is awarded to Marie Callender's Creamy Parmesan Chicken Pot Pie, which boasts 1060 calories, 64 grams of fat, and is the equivalent, in fat content, of 23 strips of bacon.
Next, a friend is letting me borrow the Eat This, Not That edition for kids. I look forward to becoming uber-angry at the food industry when I read about the nuances of the messages they send our children.
Now, I do take all of these books with a grain of salt. Ya gotta allow yourself a guilty pleasure now and then, and one man's Varsity hot dog is another man's steamed broccoli. I get it. All things in moderation, and common sense often beats statistics. But, good to have the information at my fingertips. At the very least, I'll start making my own vegetarian tacos, and I'll know that if Marie Callender ever wants to schedule a meeting with me, it's likely because she plans to kill me.