The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Identity

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I pose a question to my Creative Writing students at the end of each semester:  What is your identity as a writer?  They have the option to respond to it as they compose their final exam, which is a reflective essay on their creative writing experiences over the previous eighteen weeks.  Not many have ever chosen that avenue of exploration because I offer other options that are easier, but my writing identity is something I consider regularly.  Having had my latest story published last week at Knock Your Socks Off Flash Fiction, right now has been a good time to consider all things identity, but more on that later.

I’ve been a William Kennedy fan for well over two decades, ever since I read Ironweed.  That novel only has only a little to do with my fandom, the strongest roots of which go back to meeting Kennedy in 2011 while attending the writing institute he established with some of his earnings after being awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant.  I saw the man most every day for a month, and enjoyed a reading he gave from Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes before it came to publication.  Since then, I’ve been a casual consumer of anything I could find about Kennedy—reviews, critiques, interviews.  A few years ago I read an article titled “Still Bill” that I can’t  find just now on the Googles.  Nonetheless, the writer, who was a friend of Kennedy’s, related an episode he witnessed in which someone told Kennedy about a real-life young politician who asked where one gets the money to run a political party once one takes it over.  This was in some way related to the infamous Albany Democratic machine.  According to the writer, Kennedy busted out a little notebook and wrote down the episode, and then stashed the notebook in a box.  Some time later, the episode appeared in Kennedy’s 2002 city hall political novel Roscoe, with the quote and context pretty much verbatim.

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William Kennedy, about whom Jack Nicholson said, “That man can drink.”

I’ve always remembered this because I love to see a professional writer still adhering to the basic steps of writing and turning them into great reward, especially when I have direct experience with that professional writer.  To me, that episode stands as a great endorsement to keep your feet on the ground as a writer and to keep practicing the scales, as a concert pianist might say.  The idea of that simple journal notation is something I’ve talked about before herein, and without my adherence to it, I couldn’t have written “Last Time.”  The story started in part with a wiseass comment I made to my girlfriend last fall about toilet paper usage.  The idea of a person asking someone to bring their own toilet paper when they visited struck me as hilariously absurd.  What kind of person would ask someone else to do that?  I grabbed my bedside seed journal and took a few quick notes on the notion, and those notes sat there for nine months.  It wasn’t until I mistakenly thought I saw hairs stuck in my copy of The Paris Review that the story dropped in my lap (it wasn’t hairs, by the way…  it was pine needles in a picture TPR published).  This will make some sense if you check out “Last Time.”  I paired some thoughts on pine needles with the previous irreverence about toilet paper, and the story fell out of my head onto the paper.

I’ve also remarked to several friends that I broke an important writing rule with “Last Time.”  Here’s the thing:  Nobody looked at the story before I sent it off.  One dude looked at it for shits and grins, but I didn’t ask for any feedback.  So there were no editorial comments from anybody.  No feedback.  No edits.  I wrote a few drafts, felt good about it, and shotgunned it to several different publications.  The editor from last one I queried replied the next morning:  “Got a kick out of ‘Last Time,’ which is a great way to begin my day.”  From start to finish, the whole thing took about a week.  I was stunned, and quite pleased with myself for finding a home for the story while working on instinct 95% of the way.  I mentioned in a previous blog that, like most stories, there came a breakthrough moment.  It wasn’t all about juxtaposing pine needles and toilet paper; when it was at first, I figured the story would just be practice.  But my prior experiences with publishing flash fiction told me that a compelling final image would help take the story where I wanted it to go, and that image came to me when I was doing yoga a few days after writing the initial draft.

So I said “prior experience publishing flash fiction.”  Yeah.  I’ve said that to myself a lot the last few weeks.  Enough to think that flash fiction is where I am as a writer.  I started that way as a fiction writer seven years ago in Imitation Fruit, and over the last two years my three publishing experiences have all been flash-related.  Why is that?  Poetry, methinks.  I write nothing more than poetry these days (and have a damn fine poetry workshop member, by the way), and I think the greatest Bennett-fit has been how practicing it has informed my other writing to the point where I can flesh out singular episodes, or make apparent the underlying ideas behind unusual and absurd circumstances, while trying to work on a subconscious level with the reader.  You know what writing so much poetry is not doing, though?  Making me a poet.  I can’t get that shit published to save my life.  But that’s okay.  I was heartened by what Percival Everett said in a recent interview:  “I write poetry to prove I can’t write poems.”  Does my experience tell me that I should focus less on verse and more on prose?  Hell no.  It’s the verse that got me here, and I’m happy with where I am.  I’ve got to keep practicing the scales, just like a concert pianist.  What about writing a novel?  Don’t I want to be a novelist?  Fuck that shit.  But I used to say the same thing about poetry.

 

 

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Written by seeker70

August 8, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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