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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Editor's Dream Revisited

Matt Anderson

(First Edition: July 2010)

Image Courtesy of its rightsholder(s)

Image Courtesy of its rightsholder(s)

     If you find Hemingway and Dylan great golden DreamChasers, you're getting somewhere. You could argue the masterful Ernest Hemingway inspired most of this piece. Dylan’s The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan gave rise to the rest.

     —A profoundly literary gentleman I know sent me this. Told me it was utter trash. So I thanked him very much, explained to him that of course I didn't have a million things to do, and I'd find time to slap it up here for you.

      There is a species of composition writers call Editing. Upon conception, plan, and initial creation, Editing rounds the experience of Writing. I have not yet spoken with Michael Chabon, but maybe that extraordinary storyteller can work his way to brilliant at his current vessel's helm with the ease of a Sunday morning drive through wine country, and without a whole hell of a lot of second looks. I would probably buy that from him, or another a writer of his caliber, if we can find one. I'd accept it the way you do Tiger Woods leading the Masters after a season in hell. And if Mr. Chabon does decline to self-edit during initial composition, he may be the only Writer alive who can. But I wouldn't bet all of my net worth—not very much—that such an artist ever would.

     The great E.B White said, “The best writing is rewriting.” There is no doubt. For my money, though, and with all well-due respect to Mr. White, it is the only writing. You won't see it till you dive into the words—all the way in—and even then it's buried way down deep. Not in the oceans of college or grad school or that second-grade book report on Komodo Dragons that you summarized entirely because you drew last at the encyclopedias that day. This is when you figure out you're in love with it—head over heels—for this writing art, linguistic science, these precious human considerations. When you know you were built to swim and drink and play with them. That's where this lives.

     There's a reason it does, and it's nature. I'm no guru, nor do I claim to be. I wouldn't disrespect the great men and women who are. Can't even rightly say First Captain DreamChaser. Haven't yet earned the stripes. But for now, wordsmith feels just fine on me. 

      When you're starting out as a writer, you come from somewhere. That place buried in the dark and dank of Abilene or Allegheny or Amontillado, where you first find the time to dream about all the good stuff you could be. That place is not a passion-pure circle of writers, at least not one in the Hollywood or Tin Pan Alley sense of the word.

      No doubt, you've lived among Directors and Actors and Writers all your life, of course—even good ones. But, if you haven't spent four weeks or six months or thirty years with life-thinkers who believed in themselves long and loud enough for consummation—Doctors Heller and Wolfe and Joyce or Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner—maybe you should. You may find it infinitely worth your time—if you're thinking you might climb in the ring with these gents, I mean. It's a good gambler's bet, right? Sure. Eye the table, spot the play, sit—then mop up. Won't be long before you're rounding like a pro. You certainly don't wanna be the guy who turns the corner, wipes his boots, and slaps his stack on sticky green velvet, smiling like the theory he doesn’t realize he’s just disproved is law. That will not go anywhere good. I know a bit about it, and perhaps you may read about it sometime.

     But I understand. I get it. You went to college. You did a little work. But, if you're a hell of a DreamChaser—someone who can feel the sting of soul or faith or guidance, body and mind, for the whole of your existence—maybe you didn't do all the work. Maybe you had some Thinking to do. And I genuinely hope for you something in the vast, magic ballpark of that truth really is the case.

     Maybe when you did do all the work, you did it with half the passion. And should I hear that proud and solemn confession breathe faintly from your direction, I will empathize, and you will have earned my respect.

     If you were beaten back ten or twelve times asserting you before everyone who thought they knew you thought you should, then tried to push it all away but lost it and you and all you once believed about where you thought your one, big life could go—to the darkest corner at Nothing and Forever—okay, I'm with you.

     That whole forever part? In case you're not quite there yet, you learn that it must be the best lie you ever choked down with your green eggs and ham. It's what it has to be—it must be—because that one fights back hard when you try and push it all away. You learn that too, but Vegas odds of accepting it at first blush: three hundred thirty-three million to one. 

     If you do the math and proof it—Actors Studio, Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, plain old Hard Rock Cafe—I think you might find those figures spot-on.

      And when you do it's all Acceptance, and no other way; this is Key. Clearing Rural Farm Route 63 and Routine, bare cow pastures every bedroom window, raking up rotten apples for holiday pie (good, brave folks you know) I promise you; it is the right first step. 

      You find out when you're hiding all your cards so long you can't read them. You learned it wasn't good when anybody saw you had trip aces, and you'd hide them in your lap and ante always, just to try and fit in, stay the game. If that's the secret you're sharing—if you've ever played that hand—then yes. Some nights I know that sounds familiar.

      But till your fairy-tale forever dies from constant stabs by your own hand, that's the rigged goddam game you're playing. 

       It's a truth that stalled me longer than a few fine folks I know: House Game; House Rules, always—Your Honors, let the record show.

And I would like to think that in some soft enchanted moonlight in the brilliant, bare bosom of Starland, summer breeze meets grand Pacific, starshine cast just right, and a DreamChaser in solitude on sugar sand so white it blinds the non-believers says, “Piss on Forever for good. And bring the House—I'll Beat it.” And I will always hope to hear that.

     If college didn't just waste your time, and you learned other than on cramming sprees of early test-day mornings, maybe you at least picked up on Procedure. And it's true, that whole professor-student thing, that epic You talk–I listen—that stuff works. It does. But what you don't know when you're reading books on ancient native tribes and econ. graphs for GPA-approval is that you won't retain a name or date or number you'll think useful, till you're designing your course catalog.

     Best piece of advice I might have ever gotten: A literary gentleman I used to visit on occasion, right outside my door, actually, little town east of Hollywood—very east—used to tell me his secrets. 

     He'd say, “When you get older, you start to learn about every, little, inkling of chance you might've ever had. You know, you can just feel it. You don't need to look. It starts out simple. You start saying, 'shit, I have kids to feed.' Then it's, 'I can't possibly write that book with three kids of tuition and this goddamn ball-chain mortgage. It's just not happening.' And you start thinkin', I got a wife who's tired of the once-a-month laundry because she saw Hillary speak last week, and then . . . you don't do it. And you respect and respect and you give and you give, and pretty soon it doesn't matter anymore. And then, it won't take much for you to pack it in altogether.”

     Then this literary gentleman, he turned to make sure his machine was still breathing, hiding it so I don't know how much he hates he can't stop checking. He drained and refilled and continued. “Couple hours here, few million hours there of ugly black buildings and commuter traffic and goddamn airmiles from places you can't even remember, and you wake up dead. And when you know it, it's bullshit, because you're already dead.” 

     “It's not that you don't need to write that novel or that screenplay or that memoir or that story or that poem. You still do. But you can't, 'cause you been living that way so long you can't help it.” 

     “These guys I see at the Vee-Dubs used to say, 'Johnny Boy, you gotta git atta here, and go. Take the wife and go somewhere, John . . . y'oughta get on nat cruise next month. We did it last New Year's. Oh, my Gawd—beautiful.' Then they turn to their buddies and say, 'Yeah, you know what, boys we oughta git outta here an' head up to A.C., you know, for the weekend sometime. We should go fish Big Blackfoot. It’s time for a golf week in N.C.”

     “And, I'm gonna tell ya, son, I hear this bullshit every single day of my life. 'You're gonna be dead. Go do it now, while you still can, you know. Make the memory.'” 

     “You'll be dead, yeah, and that's true, you will. But I tell ya what, my young friend: most people—most guys I know—they've been fighting it, didn't know it, and now they're already there. But, hey, you know, you seem like a smart kid. You do, you know. Maybe you already know about that.”

     I think this gentleman was right. I guess you probably should by twenty-two. May just help you get somewhere you'd really love to go . . . before you wake yourself for breakfast in the haze of all Johnny's can't one day, finding out just how right one man can be, think about that man on the sands of paradise in starshine spotlight. Maybe, just maybe . . . you should grab yourself a pen for that lesson. 

     Sure, I agree, maybe you shouldn't feel it quite severely or often at fourteen years old as the man now with his heartbeat in the case in the corner, but the end of all that innocence—if you can find some left—and all that passion, all those dreams. It comes. It does. For everyone.

     It comes quickly, violently, and it sparks without warning at the gas line to the powder keg, the one that's primed to scatter scraps of your love all over DreamChase Avenue. And you can watch it all melt into ash in front of you. 

     But you could be the savvy sort, an explosives expert, and handle it before the big, bad fuse ignites, save the Day. You could do that. And if you do, you will have unlocked a coveted, prized power of the golden-starlight DreamChaser. Pin the merit badge, Life Editor, when you know. You will.

      The catch is you won't have all day to find out if you can hack it. That high-school curtain falls well before you even thought about taking your bow. If it's too late, God help you because you'll be very, very lucky if anyone else will. You'll need Angels to fly you back from there.

     In those darkest places, when your gambling game's up, you learn that only Angels come and only . . . when you really need them. If you get so lucky at the tables that your skin starts turning gold—if your Angel gives much more than any mere mortal could, you might even see him sometimes.

     The gentleman next door told me, “That dead nonsense—right?—it's true. All of it. But listen to me right now because it is true but just in this one, little, tiny baby sense. Universal application, right? All that fancy Plato bullshit. Well, it doesn't and never will exist. And I know you know that by now.”

     “This is it right here, and it's no joke, son. Ahhh  . . . you just don't give a shit anymore. Nope. Doesn't matter. My back hurts. I have cats to feed. I wake up and walk to the john and walk back and type my memoirs for—well, they call themselves my friends—ten people, okay, who couldn't give a shit about my work.”

     “They just don't get it. They don't. They don't care; and they won't even skim.” He shook his head and sighed the most defeat I've ever seen for the longest of naked moments before he said, “Ahhh . . . it's all bullshit. All of it. Whatever—piss on them, you know?” He looked to the hillside beyond his cramped concentration camp of a one-floor apartment at Nowhere and said, “Oh well, right? Can you imagine how empty—how painful that is?”

      In fact, I did know. I may have read that sorta thing somewhere once. That's why I toasted him when he said it, and I'm not sure he really got that part or even wanted to know on the roll he put together that day, but it was there for him from me, wide open. I wouldn't have let him down. 

     Teenage dreamers get good at the fake-till-you-make scramble. If he didn't get it, and, now I'll never know, call it DreamSmith's compunction and we'll toast him again. 

     He continued after a good, long draw from his traditional afternoon beverage, the same one he thought Hemingway used to drink, then he turned to me, licked his lips, and said, “The point is that because I waited for forever, I lost my now forever. And so, now, I have an email group of nurses and barmaids who watch Oxygen every night and Tivo “Friends” reruns instead of reading my writing.”

      “I know they don't read. But they're real good at telling me, 'I really like it, Johnny. Wow. How do you do that?' And I give 'em a hug, and I say my horseshit thanks, and I walk away reminding myself not to paint them liar to their faces.” John returned to the glass.

     “Now, pay attention son, because if you leave here with nothin' else, here's the money ball.” 

      “All that stuff you spent every night of your life dreaming about and perfecting and loving on till you got it just right—that stuff that kept you up nights wondering what New York City looked like in October or San Francisco Bay in the crisp chill of an August night. That album or your book or the stage or the goddamn movie set—whatever. That stuff will rip and tear and cut at everything you ever were till you drop to the floor and clutch your chest 'cause all your sand's spilled over. And hey, that's no bullshit, kid, it happens every day. So, do it—whatever it might be, and do it till you can't do it anymore—swear to God—because one day soon it's gone. And when you do, just like they tell you: Don't ever come back.”

     This friend of mine was a deeply literary man. When you look for it, you can see like minds all over. They've busted their clouds and sowed their oats and stared down their distant horizons. They've set out on their first adventures in the bustling halls of DreamChaser University. And the men and women of the great long form especially, Wordsmiths in their perfectly distinct way, every one of them.

     But you can't get to the sugar sand in that place bathed in moonbeams at that moment . . . without the gold of an Editor's Badge. And the best Dreamers—those for which dreams are but great plans—know exactly where to find it. 

     Truth is, when you hear good people talk about writing, about living, about life, they love to tell you it's all just about the story. As an artist has noted: "They love to tell you/ Stay inside the Lines." Write the story, kid. Don't bother mixing paint. Slap it up there. Let's go! Write it well. It's Story time—get a job. Hey, there's Story here, all right? Get married, get divorced. C'mon, this is Life, dammit. Story stuff—go, get to it. Pay the bill; Write the check; and Carry your humble pail back home after graveyard shifts. And when you do it, don't you dare let anyone see you don't love every minute. That stuff—it's just fine. It is. In fact, it's great; it's life. It is . . . a living. 

     But the thing that those on the brink at the shores of Forever and Happiness, the DreamChasers—what they know and want to tell us all is never easy to say. And it could be because they know we Love a few of those good people who only ever see the Chase in their mind's eye and need what the Dreamer sees; but they just can't get there anymore. Or they think they can't and convince themselves they can't be one of those few who drives and digs and claws and bleeds until that golden moment on the great blue horizon.

     But if he could tell us what he knew on that perfect summer evening in the Stars, the message might sound something like this: If you never stop to look, to see, to Edit, your story goes places you'll only get to share with those almost-friends of yours, the ones you make at seventy, not far from the cozy little town where you grew up.

     And it is sad, and it might be true. And it happens . . . because they never could either.


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© 2010 Matthew D. Anderson; 2010-2012. All Rights Reserved.

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