When the child came in from the garden for breakfast, he was talking to himself. It was unclear to whom he was speaking but he didn’t seem to need an answer. His family was used to this, but had various reactions. His mother wondered whether this were a normal stage. His brother wanted him to talk to HIM, not some imaginary entity. His sister thought it was stupid. His father had gone to work.
“There was a unicorn in the tulips this morning and it glittered, but the tip of its spiral horn was blood red and I thought maybe it had killed something. I hoped it was the dog in the next block that bit me last winter, but then the dog came and the unicorn spread wings and flew up in the air and over all the housetops and trees. I don’t like that dog.”
* * *
These new writing platforms and blogs allow anything legal and intelligible (maybe not) to be posted for anyone to read. They are what used to be “slush piles” in the offices of proper publishers. People go through them — if they can stand it — with the idea that there are hidden diamonds. But all these writings are meant to be read. Maybe not published, but read. Most of it isn’t read past the first few sentences.
But I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about writing that was never meant to be read, writing for its own sake which was at first talking for its own sake, an equivalent of an infant’s babbling, ideas and plot lines that are just asking for expression, which is enough. Maybe it’s a kind of sorting, or maybe it’s idea-mirroring.
Once in a long while a person comes across innocent writing, most likely one’s own from long ago in hand-writing one hardly recognizes, but possibly even stick-and-ball printing on rough lined-paper. Maybe an overflow of emotion. Possibly an attempt to reason out a problem no one wants to hear about. It’s self-doubling into being both the writer and the responder.
But no exploiter. The internet writing platform is an exploiter. But it does provide a cloud of responders. In fact, some of the responders will be non-writers whose metier is messing with other people’s lives, either trying to flatter and support them, attaching oneself as a character in someone else’s life; or trying to rock and shock them in hopes of a raw impact; or proving one’s superiority by instructing the unknown author in the Real Truth. Thus the cloud of responders is also exploiters for their own ends. There are advantages to never allowing readers near one’s work.
Many writers ARE writing for readers, hungering for response. They want contact more than they fear people who want to nest in their hair. They are not usually the best writers, but if they can resist the confusion, they may be those most open to improvement and those most likely to make money, because making money is conforming to other people’s goals and preferences. Otherwise it’s all chance and Darwinian fittingness to the situation.
People say something is “well-written,” and I deduce they mean correctness more than inspiration. They’ve gone to classes and understand the rules of conformity, which are necessary for intelligibility. It’s a secondary symbol level, signalling oral signs we learn with ease as infants. Bad teachers — or at least teachers who can’t support originality — are fond of this "weapon" system because it can be used to murder.
* * *
The junior high kids were lucky because their small town still had a café with booths with high partitions around them, shelter for their talk about big ideas, about sex and power and the future. It was all nonsense, derivative, but earnest and electric. When they got to class, they hid all these ideas for fear of being mocked. They became predictable, to the frustration of their teacher and the relief of all administrators.
For class they wrote conventional stuff. But once in a while they explored their true feelings, too explosive or fragile even for a café booth with peers. When they found it decades later, because they’d shoved the loose pages into a book to hide them, it was better than anything else they’d ever written. They had no memory of writing it.
* * *
It’s a strange dynamic (meaning atypical in our current climate) that I love theatre, which is maybe the most exposed kind of writing — even communal, since staging is according to the ideas of a director and interpreted by the cast, but I refuse to let anyone edit my writing. (Only one person and that’s not really what he did. It was call-and-response like an African American church service.) That means it won’t sell, but selling is (aside from buying groceries) only willingness to be interpreted and edited.
Today that means that someone who “buys” your writing is entitled to completely rewrite it — which is one thing — but also to then represent what they have rebuilt as your writing. Yet they accede to critics who object to an author using an alias or letting the public think they are something they aren’t. In fact, one publisher who had bought and already published several similar books chopped them up and reassembled them as one new book. It sold well. The readers didn’t seem to notice and there was no illegality — just moral and aesthetic objections that were waved away.
Print is understood now as something “owned.” Not by the writer, but by the publisher. That’s why their sudden concern about copyright. Even if the writer holds the copyright, the publisher controls it. This is the same diminishment as ministers being told (as I was more than once), we pay you a salary, we employ you, therefore we control you. We “own” you.
This is far different from the original idea of “professions” which were called professions to honor passionate belief and study that earned both stature and any rewards through the skill and meaningfulness of what was professed. This is considered grandiose narcissism today, and a form of self-deprivation to not work for money, not quite sane. Making oneself a burden on society. Unless there’s a jackpot payout as a best-seller.
Publishers in public are full of praise for authors because that sells writing, but in private they are torturers, putting idealism to the rack and wheel. No wonder most of what there is out there is pretty flat. The great techie wave rolls over us and reduces writing to a well-designed screen.
* * *
The woman sat down with her cup of coffee and a handful of notes. She chose a title and clicked it across the screen. It wasn’t really a title, just a point of departure and hopefully a reference point if she forgot what she was writing about. Not for the first time, she wished she were a smoker — but then simultaneously was relieved that she was not because of the mess and smell. She thought of chewing and that brought up spittoons, which were irrelevant.
Back to the title subject. “Writing not meant to be read.” Is that a stingy thing, not sharing? Or is it simply private for good reasons, like not shocking people? What IS it meant for? What ARE good reasons for not sharing?
The voices in her head were all chattering now. She had never learned how to shut them up. It would be helpful since they contradicted each other. They misunderstood almost everything she wrote because they each imagined themselves writing her words and that skewed them right into the ditch. They were so uneducated, so blithe, so convinced they were entitled to meddle. And so wrong. She certainly didn’t want the task of setting them straight. It would be endless.
* * *
What about writing as . . .breath. Blood flow. The stuttering of the nervous system as it knitted sensory felt meanings until they became some kind of garment.
Is that a unicorn in the tulips? Whose blood on the end of its twisty helical horn?