Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Writing Process

George Orwell and Joan Didion both wrote short essays entitled "Why I write." I am not really sure what wisdom was in those pieces but I do very much believe the secret to writing is to put a really famous name in the first sentence. Muhammad Ali and Piers Anthony also work here. If you have a particularly long and vague essay, it is the best to start with De Tocqueville - preferably in the original French. This can be accomplished by putting an "ez" at the end of most words.

I often get asked about my writing process, usually by the same voices in my head that give me an Oscar every year for best Supporting Actor. I tell those voices that I start with the all of the verbs. This makes the piece move. I list them off in order (wrote, sure, believe, embezzle, etc...) and stick in simple ones in case I want to write a boring paragraph or a shopping list.

Next I add the conjunctions for structure. Most great authors like George Orwell, Joan Didion, and De Tocqueville talk about structure. The important thing I gathered was that you should have a good structure. No one really talked about a bad structure or whether it was supposed to be sturdy or moist.

Sometimes I get comments that I have no structure or stuff like "what is this shopping list doing in the middle of your piece?" But if I tell them that it is a neo deconstructionist style, they usually just leave it there. The key is to put the "neo" part in, because even if the person you are talking to knows what neo deconstructionist could possibly mean, they will be worried that your "neo" might be even more "neo" than the one they have.

Finally, I sprinkle in the adjectives and nouns like toppings on a salad bar or a make your own sundae bar if you aren't dieting. I find that caramel really goes well with chocolate ice cream, but you know it is a world class one if it has Heath Bar shavings.

Closing an essay gets tricky. Usually I just cheat, look what I wrote in the first paragraph, and just use it over again. So, in conclusion what George Orwell and Joan Didion must have written at some point:
Heath Bar

Spiderman, Too

The first time I asked a girl, Natalie, to marry me, she immediately said, “Yes.” Then again she might have been the one who proposed. I can’t remember exactly whose idea it was and have forgotten several other major details like the time of year. I want to pretend that it must have been summertime, the lush season with plums, nectarines and blueberries, and the long day’s light that gives everything such warmth that the universe seems endlessly ripe and tender even if it is tempered with the reality of sun burns and insect bites.

I do remember the place. We were at my parents’ weekend home in a hammock underneath the redwood deck. From the deck you could see patches of Tomales Bay through scraggly oak trees, but underneath there was just our own little world in a section that my mom decided that she did not need to garden, and the deer tended to avoid.

We were wise enough then to know that there would be difficulties. All relationships have those obstacles, not so much of late night shared insomnia but the questioning on the ride home on a Tuesday "is this really the right thing" as if it there could be an answer for something like that in the back of a teacher edition of life’s little handbook. Still we knew we could handle these things because we had such bravery then, and we would face together the major dilemma that we were eight years old.

She must have been the one to propose as a way of getting me to place some kind of ultimate version of the game of house. It might be fine to have little teas with stuff animals, but if you really wanted the ultimate domestic experience hold out for an actual boy.

Most change when wandering into a relationship, but there is a part of you that you want to hold onto. Not so much your soul because that is the first thing that love takes, but your desires and sometimes your toys. A friend of mine was upset that in order to get her boyfriend to move in she had to agree to DSL, a plasma screen TV, and a leather recliner. I wish that I had told her that soon after he moved in that they would start to use the “we” word consistently and spend more weekends together going to Beds, Bath and Beyond than he would get to go surfing. However, I also knew the ability to watch Sports Center is a right that we, men, are not going to relinquish whatever the odds.

On the hammock the deal that I ultimately pitched to Natalie for our great future is that if we were to be married then I got to be Spiderman.

She thought that this was a fair trade and said okay. She also wanted superpowers and I think we came up with the name Queen Spider for her. This was all before we had gone to the class where we learned that from a guy’s perspective the spider marriage is not really a great idea. But we were strong enough then to hold off on any biological urges. It would be years later before I had my first kiss.

She said we would have two kids - first a girl and then a boy.

I thought that was fantastic as long as they both were radioactive.

Of course, she insisted and we wandered off to tell our parents the good news. Mine gave me the same look that they had when I kept on insisting that we did science projects like baking mud in the oven just to see what would happen. Unfortunately, I lost interest in that after a while and the great field of microwave geology was never created.

Natalie’s parents, I think, were friends of my mom, and they were visiting from someplace like Kansas. I know that it was distant and had to be in some far off exotic world like one of those planets in Star Wars. Perhaps Nebraska or the East Bay. I never saw her again after that day.

A few years ago my mom softly told me, in the way that I learned that our goldfish were gone, that Natalie had married somebody else. I still remembered her, but less of an actual being and more as a concept of that one great afternoon when you really made a wonderful discovery even if it did not involve a nuclear reactor.

Spiderman Two is opening up across the country right now and I think of all of those children going see it. I hope it catches them in that twilight time before the reality of fractions enters in when they can believe for just a few years that the best thing in the world is to have a girl look longingly at you when you tell her your hopes for super powers.