Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Write For Ourselves

From one of my comments on Monday, Paulie K., asked me about the new/old drafts of Raymond Carver stories now being published, showing exactly where Gordon Lish edited them, how severely. Amputation would be my word. Carver, like almost any writer I know, accepted publication at all costs. While a few people I know contend that they "write for themselves" (I've still never figured this one out -- while I do many things just for myself like stare into space and eat copious amounts of gummy worms), I cannot imagine spending the back-breaking, soul-draining energy of writing for "just myself." I am lazy as hell -- I would be pleased with something far less strenous, say an Air Supply latch hooked rug or some pages of a Snoopy coloring book, provided I tried to stay in the lines. And Carver was no different -- he was broke, run-down, and afraid of never seeing his dreams come true. This is not a simple matter, though; Lish provided great, albeit controversial, teaching and editing for many great writers. He composed my first rejection letter (for the now defunct Quarterly Review) which said, "This is all interesting and a tad witty, but not interesting enough to write about." I suppose he had a point with me.

But not with Caver. I read both drafts of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and admit to a preference for Carver's original. Not out of some rabid, Carver is a saint mentality (he is, but that's besides the point). I prefer the longer version, the many more moral complexities, the insight into the garden-variety horrors between men and women. His life, to quote a Langston Hughes poem, had not been a crystal staircase, and he understood how fast promise could turn to complete shit, how faith could be eroded by poverty and violence, and how we can get somewhere we'd never wanted to be. When I need a good laugh, I imagine his fictional couples being treated by some douchebag like Dr. Phil. And to top it all off, Carver's beautiful stories got hacked to death for years. Of course, he was complicit in this and eventually he ended his relationship with Lish in a slow, tortured way, similar to all of my romantic break-ups. But I think it was even worse than that -- Lish gave him a break, showed him a way, introduced him at the ball. A fairy godmother of sorts. But a scary, terrible, exacting one. So even Carver's Cinderella moment, well, was very Carver. It's hard, as he himself knew so well, to get away from ourselves.

Michelle' s Spell of the Day
"Sometimes if you want to get rid of the gun, you have to pick the gun up." Huey Newton

Cocktail Hour
Drinking New Yorker article suggestion: "Beginners, Edited" (New Yorker, December 24, 2007) -- Check this out -- it's very eye-opening.

Bendedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday! Thanks again for all the well wishes! Starting to pull out of it, thank the Lord. And much love to Cheri, who also has this straight from hell flu. Please try your best to stay out of this wretched flu's path. I have not been this sick in years!


Anonymous said...

when i think of all the education that i missed....

Cheri said...

Aw Michelle, you're such a sweetheart.

And my boyfriend and parents told me that I should just go to work tomorrow and get everyone else sick, just to spite them. Hah! I'm thinking about it.

Glad to hear that you're getting better.

Sheila said...

Sorry you have been sick! I miss you! Feel better soon

Anonymous said...

Rodney Dangerfield said: I'll come right out and say it: I write for your white nightie!!!if you know what I mean.

jodi said...

Girl my 12 hour bug sounds like a cake walk compared to your suffering... Welcome back to the land of the living--no matter how flawed it is... Luv, jodi

Michael Hemmingson said...

Carver owed much to Lish -- withoit ish, Carver woiuld have remained in the small press and never got the intrnational attention he did, and he would have been a footnote in 1980s American lit.

I am writing a book on Gordon Lish that will be out late this year or early 2009, from Routledge, as well as a biography of Carver (the first, I guess) for a certain university press I can't mention online yet because a solid deal is not in place.

You might be interested in a short monography I have cming out in a few mnths from Borgo Press called THE DIRTY REALISM DUO - CHRARLES BUKOWSKI AND RAYMOND CARVER ON THE AESTHETICS OF THE UGLY.

Raelin Brianna said...

And someone gave me the frickin flu as well...*sighs*
*hugs* I hope your feeling better :)

Pythia3 said...

Hi Michelle!
Glad to hear you're feeling better. I had that awful flu myself - for days! I went to LA to help a friend move into her new home and came down with the worst of it for five of the ten days of my trip: The first two days it was coming on. Five days were pure hell. The remaining three days were spent in a delusional recovery mode...delusional because I was pretending I was well enough and strong enough to go out and eat and drink in the LA sunshine and warmth before I had to head back to this ice box.
All that being comment on your post:
I think there is a fine line between writing (or doing anything, for that matter) for oneself versus for others (i.e. an audience).
I write for myself in the sense that most times,I write what I feel, when I feel. When I don't write for any stretch of time I feel the 'negative' effects of the 'not having written in a while.' So, in that respect, I write for myself because the writing feels good and right; healthy and therapeutic in many ways.
But, that kind of writing (purely for oneself) doesn't usually sell (although, when it does - it sells more and sells bigger. I's a gamble)
Writing for others - an audience - is more of a sure thing, but not always a quality sort of thing. There has to be a balance, I suppose.
I read that Picasso destroyed many paintings after he completed them because the act of painting was to him more valuable than the end result - the painted canvas. So, all that remained were considered his masterpieces.
I know I should destroy much of my writing for those same reasons...
Take care.

Charles Gramlich said...

A similar thing has happened with Robert E. Howard. We're getting Howard's orginal stuff back into print finally after many, many years of it being mixed with the work of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, and almost routinely the original has more passion and fire than the "edited" versions.