We were double guarded today. One guard watches, the other cleans. Kind of like life in Thunder Dome only without the fight to the death.
I chose to clean scum line. Bottle of Dawn. Tooth brush. Towel. You go the length of the pool, soaping and scrubbing the oxidized pudding of human skin, oil, lotion and aged cowstess urine that collects on the tiles. It’s hell on the knees, but good for the soul.
So, I was thinking, as I was scrubbing, about writing. Deep point of view in a cage match with authorial distance. DPoV was first introduced to me a few weeks ago in my critique group. It's such a simple concept, really, but a real mind blower nonetheless.
Seemed sort of alien and against everything I was taught way back in the days of fancy book learnin' in Miami. Then, the idea of having an emotional inner life in your work was treated quite gingerly. Even in a first person narratives, you weren't supposed to give too much away, delve too deep into a character's head.
To be literary, the good writer had to step outside their characters, their situations, and keep them (and the reader) at an arms’ length. We writers were to observe and editorialize like some sort of literary Jane Goodall. Least that was the flavor du jour back then.
“The root word of Art,” my friend M said while we traded bong hits and watched golf one rainy Sunday afternoon in his Hollywood apartment, “Is Artifice.”
M went on to explain that artifice was good. All good fiction was skilled lying, and our job as writers was to present a perfected reality, an idealized truth free from messy human emotions. We were to present the salient truths of reality in concise narratives; to educate, to provoke, and to challenge the 'human condition' -- however, we were also to do this in such a subtle way that our readers wouldn't notice.
Anything that didn't accomplish these very narrow, lofty goals was deemed "not fiction." Keep in mind, this conversation took place back when there was still a big rift between literature and genre. There was just high end and low end, with nothing in between.
Personally, I was ambivalent about the distant narrator. I thought it had its uses, but I was the workshop oddball back then. I didn't want to be distant from my characters. I craved connection when I read. That connection was important. However, at the time, any form of emotional angle was deemed sentimental.
I went in wanting to write the lush, personal landscapes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, A.S. Byatt and Oscar Hijuelos. Take the divine Mambo Kings, the book that's right up there with Great Gatsby for me. It drove me mad with its music and passion and fire. I was alive in those worlds, not so much in the worlds presented by the likes of Raymond Carver, or Denis Johnson, Richard Price -- or any one of those hard edged, minimalist, intellectualists that my classmates strove to emulate.
But, what did I know? I was the student, so I sucked it up and got to work and eventually got pretty good as the airy, removed observer. Then I presented The Great American Punk Rock Novel to Mr. Big Shot Literary Agent from New York. He read it. He wasn't in love.
My manuscript was too cold. He couldn't connect, and "all the flashy, rock star writing" wasn't doing it for him. But... he said, it would be great if I could just connect with the main character. Make me care about him. Give me some emotion, please. Wait a second -- I thought this was literature? This was what I was supposed to be doing. But, then there was part of me that felt
He must have misread the expression on my face, because he said, "I need to start a twelve step group for MFA survivors." He then said, "The next time you see your hero Richard Price tell him to kiss my ass..."
I didn't have the heart to tell him my hero is actually Winston Churchill, but that's really beside the point.
To be fair, I don't hate the more removed, intellectual stuff as much as Mr. Big Shot seems to. It's just a different approach to creating art. It might not work for me -- in most cases -- but I can't dismiss it entirely. It can be fun to read and write. For God's sake -- is he telling me that something like The Wanderers isn't a great book?
But he's right. The distance doesn't work with the GAPRN. A book about punk rock simply can't be intellectual and airy. Punk is raw, vile, profane emotion. It's chunky power chords and bad refrains, cans of Aquanet and graveyard picnics.
In practicality, it boils down to world building. Even a familiar world like 1982 -- you've got to go deep.
it boils down to world building. Even a familiar world like 1982 -- you've got to go deep.Anyone who straddled the 70s and 80s remembers the significance of 'punk' in those early days -- especially in Florida, when a glimpse of bright blue spiked hair and wrap sunglasses walking down the street was something exotic and frightening. Now Punk has become a virtual Baskin Robbins with at least 33 sub variants-- and not one of these wayward stepchildren have any connection to the originating movement.
Personally, the grimy task of wading through the psyche of my maladjusted teenage protagonist is kind of exciting. The poet in me is itching to try to take on his emotions -- explosive, raw bursts of feeling.
In fact, it's a lot like cleaning scum line -- and I'm not being sarcastic here. Apply the Dawn, suds it up, let it do its grease dissolving magic. Brush each checkerboard tile until the scunge dissolves. Marvel at the beautiful, true tile underneath. Move on to the next.