Monday, March 07, 2005

Typing on your laptop and watching the texts of Marcel and Leo appear on the screen

In a New Yorker tribute to Hunter S. Thompson, it was stated that Thompson’s “true model and hero was F. Scott Fitzgerald. He used to type out pages from “The Great Gatsby,” just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way.”

I tried it this week-end. Aim big, I told myself, staring with total admiration at two favorite classics – one of Tolstoy, the other by Proust. Did I feel flooded with greatness as I set out to do this? No, I felt like their secretary. I felt like I was going to be admonished for using the wrong language by both and that Proust would invariably call out to his mother and tell her to fire me. Tolstoy would be more forgiving, I’m sure. Didn’t I read somewhere that he was scorned and rejected by friends and by women while at the university (his bushy eyebrows and full lips making him feel terribly self-conscious about his looks)? Surely he, the dispirited and disinterested academic that he was, would understand why this typist wasn’t doing justice to his Anna K.

Maybe the problem was that I did not use an inkwell and pen. I’m familiar with those. We actually used them in my first grade class back in Poland (that’s how old I am – or, how behind the times Poland was). Or maybe I should have selected a female author. Maybe I’ll rub nicotine stains on my fingers and stick rocks in my coat pocket and hack away at the Waves when a slow day next comes around. But honestly, I just don't see how I could ever, even momentarily, take ownership of someone else's text. Thompson's imaginative stretch (or audacious presumptuousness?) must have been far greater than mine.

The last trolleybus

The title of the previous post made me think of the hours upon hours of my youth spent on guitar playing. If someone were to ask – and how did you waste your high school years? I’d have to answer “staring into space, strumming my guitar and wallowing.” My guitar playing, which thrived at a self-taught level of not good but not god-awful either, is possibly not something I want to brag about in public.

And yet…

I was in love with the ballads, mostly those of the Russian, Bulat Okudzawa.

He was a poet (in the 1950s and 60s) and he used music to add even more lyricism to the beauty of the Russian verse. The lines are laced with what my friend here has once referred to as the typical Eastern European angst: living in the shadow of World War II, Okudzawa wrote mournful poems (filled with innuendo) about the brutality of war, about loss, about displacement.

I should remember to pick up my guitar at times when the Maiden of Nuremberg threatens repeatedly to close the lid on my insides with her sharp spikes. This song would be at the top of the list of wallowing-in-angst song moments:

the Last Trolleybus (crudely translated by me)

And when it is impossible to float against the tide
Impossible to pull out of despair
A blue trolleybus takes me away from here.
A blue trolleybus,
the last one.

My midnight ferry, you sail through the night
Not caring whether it is deep, whether it is shallow,
You collect all of us who are hitting rock-bottom,
From the boulevards,
The fallen ones.

Oh, open your doors: a passerby, a guest,
I know that for those sinking through the night --
Someone from your passengers, from your crew
Will get up
Will help them.

Many a time I fled with them from despair
I felt their shoulder against mine…
And yet, really, there is sense in silence
There’s goodness
In silence.

A release for the downtrodden, your doors beckon
Moscow is like a swollen river,
And the pain that has made itself felt from morning
Leaves off

By morning-time.

Chipper little piece of writing, isn't it? To be savored and deployed as needed, accompanied by the strum of a few minor chords.

Killing me softly with my own words

As I read through yet another stack of Law School Admissions files, I am struck by how neatly I can group candidate statements into three: those with passion, those with adversity, those wishing they had one or the other.

What would I write were I applying someplace now? I’m not one to dig into chapters from the past laced with drama (in the “I almost lost everything” sense, even though I did, several times). Then would it be the positive, up-beat statement about passion and commitment? Not likely. I noticed separately, in another writing project that is under way for me, that I do not like writing about the achingly benign character traits that push toward good behavior and excellence. Lost and displaced – I’m fine with that. Well-adjusted and pushing ahead in life – I just can’t embrace it on paper (maybe not in real life either). And so my statement would, most likely, fall flat and sound like it was ripped off the Internet or something.

In other words, were I applying now, most likely I would be placed on hold, with a post-it inside (I put numerous post-its myself into files) saying: appears to lack ambition, passion, no adversity, nothing stands out.