Sketch of character

If I’m going to write I’d better do it. (It’s easier to steer a moving ship.) I might make a series: people I have known. Character sketches. I’ve never liked the idea of writing about people. It seems somehow disrespectful. People are large, and mostly invisible. How can I claim to know them well enough to represent them? They could always come back at me and deny my representation: I’m not like that at all. And then I’m exposed, as arrogant and deceitful.

I don’t think that fear is grounded. (It’s a cover [attached only at some edges, with thread – the wind picks up, it billows out, you can see beneath it].) I don’t mind writing about: my state of mind, which is complex and which I’m constantly misrepresenting (except of course I’m in collusion there); what people do, actions being just as complicated as the actors, and just as misrepresentable; or books, which ditto with a multiplier effect.

They say one way to defeat a fear is to confront it. That’s the source of this idea. I thought I might coordinate it with my poor premature project, the book about my travels, such as they are. The happy suggestion was to write short, separable pieces about people I have known. (To be added later: stuff that happened.) Toss them out onto the graph paper. Let them define a field between them. Then try to navigate within that field. One’s in the works. (Really, I need to use this blog for something.) Feel free to comment on them as they come. (You should always feel free to comment, unless you are spam.)

4 Replies to “Sketch of character”

  1. Yet again you speak my thoughts more eloquently than I could. Often I read things you write and feel a pang of recognition, but I don’t say much because it seems superfluous. You’ve already said it. But on my more foolishly impulsive days I think, “If it were me, I’d like to know.” And then I comment with something that starts out, “Me too!”

    Seriously, though, I have been think more lately that I need to write, and need to stop running away from writing the things that intimidate me. I so often end up with hollow things because I am afraid to show myself, or offend or what have you. I have been gearing up to change that in the past few weeks, though I have yet to open the floodgates. We’ll see if I ever actually do. I am scared most of all tof myself myself. I am scared I will put all of myself into some piece of writing and upon completion know that it is still devoid of real value. It’s terrifying.

  2. Wait.


    If y’all put all of yourself into some piece of writing, it will have real value, by definition. Because you do. (This is not a postulate, but an axiom. And it is self-evident that you believe you are valuable. Because if you did not believe this, you would have already committed suicide – by your late 20s, you’ve had plenty of chances. But you have not. And it is evident that you will not.)

    It might not win someone else’s beauty contest, but their rules can only touch you if you reach out to let them.

    Even if you do, and are judged unworthy, and take that judgement for the truth, yet you are still whole, still untouched in essence. Because your self is not what the John Nashes of the world call a zero-sum entity. If you put all of yourself into a piece of writing, once you have put it ‘out there’ in the world, still, all of what is you ‘in here’ is yours and no one else’s.

    “One night I was layin’ down, I heard Mama and Papa talkin’

    I heard Papa tell Mama: ‘You let that boy boogie-woogie
    It’s in him, and it’s got to come out!'”

    If you have something in you that must come out, get it out! Not for me, not for your friends, not for your lover, not for some theoretical future self, but for yourself, as you now are. You are the only audience that is worthy of the effort.

    (And don’t confuse this compulsion to get *it* out of you with the desire to be someone who makes money writing. No inspiration is needed for that. Do a little research, start a blog, put up some ads. You’ll be a paid writer with nothing like the effort required to write something that has you in it.)

  3. FInding “real” value in writing was always difficult for me. I was usually writing for a “theoretical future self” as Mike said. And then I would expose myself as arrogant and decietful.

    I liked to write about people, and much of the difficulty came with not being able to find the self that wrote it, nor the subject who I wrote about once I read it over months later. Both had changed in the time since I wrote, and always I would regret writing it.

    Having said that, I feel like you would be a great writer of people, one of my favorite posts was the one about the guy you kept seeing. Also, you have always seemed to have a good handle on the nature and movement of people. More than anything, you have spent a great deal of time with people whether you like it or not. Even when you are cooped up with a book, you are with yourself, the only standard by which to judge others.

  4. I am scared I will put all of myself into some piece of writing and upon completion know that it is still devoid of real value.

    Julia – yeah, that’s pretty much what I wanted to say. It’s icky. I used to throw away bank statements without opening them, for the same reason. (“I’ll just guess,” I would say.)

    Mike – it’s true. The center fielder on the office softball team doesn’t need to feel like Kirby Puckett to enjoy themselves. Why does this hobby have to bear so much of a burden? (And who wants to read anything by somebody who has so little grasp of reality as to think they have a chance of being Kirby Puckett? and is so spoiled that they’ll give up playing if they can’t?) Unpleasantly, that’s how it is. I’m struggling for a sense of reality, but it is a struggle.

    Pete: thanks for the encouragement. As far as the theoretical future self goes, I’m managing pretty well to avoid reading anything I write, which helps make me less anxious. Next step of course, is to learn to assess it realistically.

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