Saturday, December 1, 2007

Le procès

When learning a foreign language, one inevitably discovers the joys of faux amis. These false friends, words that are similar in spelling but do not share the same meaning, spread their own special layer of difficulty over the fossilizing bones of so many grammatical errors. Because of their close geographic proximity and centuries of political and familial ties - just for starters, 1066, anyone? - English and French have, I would wager, more faux amis than any two major world languages, especially given my mother tongue's proclivity towards outright theft. But I'm not a PhD linguist, so I could merely be talking out of my inflated, yet completely false, sense of expertise.

Le procès n'est pas la même chose comme 'process.' En français, our 'process' can be le processus, as in 'le processus consistant à faire,' the process of doing. Or, le procédé, a method. En anglais, process has come to us from, you guessed it, the French. Or, to be more specific, the Latin through Anglo-Norman and Middle French. Mais, un procès, though not this 'process' in the most general sense of the term, is certainly a process of a sort: a trial.

Why do I bring up this shallow yet charmingly convoluted etymology lesson? Because what is writing but a trial, a process, un procès ?

Please don't misunderstand me. The furthest thing from my mind is to cast the creative, er, process in such a dismal light. What greater joy of the non hanky-panky variety can there be but in the expression of one's innermost thoughts, feelings, desires and fears through a poem, a story or a song? What finer artistic example of the human condition is there than the revelation of what moves us the most, than donning the guise of Prometheus to steal a piece of the constantly burning fire and imprison it, through our meager alchemical gifts, within feeble language as best we can, as inexpressible as that fire truly is? Though vigilance must be maintained lest we become Pandora to the world's Epimetheus, but that's another story for another post.

It is an ordeal of love. And each word is not only judged by the creator as right or wrong, out of place, deserving of being excised - or exalted - but also as a self-judgment: is this my true self, am I saying what I want, nay, need to say? I place myself on trial every time I move to write: me as the judge, myself as the jury and I as the - let's hope he's not needed! - executioner. The ritual has remained unchanged for years: a glass of wine, the initial spark of music to set the creative process alight, a pen and one of a series of soon-to-be-filled notebooks, this one not so worn as of yet, desperately hanging on to the last remnants of factory-fresh sheen.

I press play, uncap the pen and begin.

Or rather, I think, I allow the mind to become the wanderer, for I'm coming to the communion naked, empty-handed. There are no previously hatched plans to write on love or loss or pretty flowers or the weather or fuzzy little bunnies or death. I simply felt like writing. Sometimes our best work can spring up unawares, not from a grandiose design, laid before us with the most gentle, thought-out care, but merely from the alluring cacophony that is our interior life. I'm merely being prepared. Just in case.


brilliant initial idea


rays of inspiration duller than I had seemed at first glance

further dismembering of the text

read and reread the leftovers

[nearly directionless arrows vaguely pointing above the bland, scribbled and scratched-out remnants in wistful hope of resurrecting the brilliant initial idea in a new form]

This is looking less like a determined work in progress than a tattered map of troop movements along the Russian Front. In Cyrillic.

[turn the page to restart]
"Not now kids. I don't want to play Gran Turismo. Isn't it past your bedtime anyway? I don't care that you don't have school tomorrow."

[another time and place]
a cherished memory
[a sip of wine]
the right words unable to be found
dig a little further
[that beautiful motif, just before the molto moderato softly fades into the ether - let's replay that one more time]
allez, ce n'est pas assez profond !
[corrections smaller than Carolingian minuscule]
the page is dirty, the text is far too clean


[the adagio - don't write, just listen]


so, a replacement memory
[a swig of wine]
another failure?
[more arrows]
a cherished, imagined memory, yes, that one
[let's pour another]
this is just ridiculous
[send in the reinforcements]
the text as it stands
"Fucking hell. Might as well change the music."

[a new CD]
[these headphones are uncomfortable]

words, thin, with the scent of emptiness
[why not make it three]
not a drop of language on my tongue
[stumble from the table over to the couch]
the well is indeed dry this night
[from the serene and at times, joyful, melancholia of the Décidé into the rich, lilting I love this...I'm there. I'm honestly there. I can feel it, that gentle tingle on my skin tells me that I can be nowhere else but there, with you. C'est parfait, non?]
so why can't I write?
"Not gonna fire, are you, son of Aphrodite."
[lying down helps but naught]
a jumbled, incoherent mess
[listen to the rest, think of nothing but the notes and what they bring forth]

[the CD spins to a stop]

The verdict?
"Fuck it. I'm going to bed."

One man's trash is another man's treasure. Someday I hope to be a better man, one with a deeper understanding of language and emotion that will enable me to turn page after page of discarded impressions into something worthwhile, something deserving of being kept alive.


Freida Bee said...

Yet, these seeming failures can eloquently resurrest themselves as apt desciptors of the "process" of writing in which we are the harshest judges of ourselves. I fear the writing of one who is not. It must contain puppies and bunnies and sadly await a pooping upon itself from one with better judgement.

That sucked.

Did I feign self-disdain convincingly?

Crap. Then, it really does suck.

Candace said...

Okay, I've gotta have more coffee before I can even comprehend this post. Check ya later.

Candace said...

Parts of this post made me laugh out loud, and other parts were just painful to read, having been there. But I think you do have a deep understanding of language and emotion, deep enough to warrant keeping those pages alive. Which writer was it who said, "You must murder your darlings"? Yes, while editing you must murder some of them, but while you are creating, no! Banish the inner critic utterly from your presence and write, freely and with wild, I say wild, abandon! :) (And yes, wine helps.) Be warned, the critic won't leave willingly, so you may have to chop its nasty little head off as you firmly close the door. Remember, at this point, the critic is not your friend! It will not let you create. Promise to give it (almost) free reign later, during the re-write(s). Be as ruthless with it as it will be with your pages later on.

Only writers are this insane, you know - who else would put themselves through this um, process?! Ah, we suffer so for our Work.

TomCat said...

I've been there as well. Even in political writing, when i knopw exactly what I want to say, how to say it can be a daunting challenge.

La Belette Rouge said...

I love it when you, or for that matter, anyone, talks mythology.
I wish, that like you, wine and music would serve as an elixir of creativity. I think you have a better relationship with Bacchus and Apollo than I do. I am more friendly---no, not friendly….no, I am more familiar with Hades and bossy, Zeus.

I don't write poetry, as you know, but I am loving the idea of having lines of texts in a poem with lines through them. Somehow the text is heightened even as its hidden. You are clever! And, regardless of your, perhaps, deluded perception ;-)---you undoubtedly have a way with words. Perhaps it is your intimate and passionate relationship with words that makes choosing one word over the other more difficult. It is like deciding which child you love the most. Too much choice is debilitating. Have you tried to buy cereal lately?

p.s. Who knows what un-mined gold lies in those seeming mounds of psychic scrap? Too bad you can't melt all your notebooks and more easily separate the dross from the gold.

Mary Ellen said...

I like Candace's suggestion, "Banish the inner critic utterly from your presence and write, freely and with wild, I say wild, abandon! " I could never do what you do...

....but I can write a mean limerick, does that count?

Anonymous said...

words create thoughs and feelings.

Anonymous said...

Your examination of language and writing (the process of) makes me think about the way I write. How often the nugget of an idea turns out not to be gold, but to be crap. How often does something good come from nothing.

The process, the journey is a large part of the appeal for me, the editing is harder. It's like saying goodbye to a lover. You know that parts must go, you want to keep the things that please you, but until you can commit to letting go of certain phrases, words and concepts, you won't sleep well or rid yourself of that pit on your stomach that nags "wrong, somehow wrong."

Really interesting and wonderfully written post.

Randal Graves said...

Frieda Bee, oh, there must be failure. For only fools can achieve perfection.

Candace, heads have, and are, gonna roll, no? But that critic, sometimes he's a beast to kill and keeps on coming back, like so many movie serial killers. But what if we COULD kill the critic off for good? Would we truly want what lies beyond? Not sure yet. :)

Tomcat, oh definitely, it doesn't matter what genre you're working in, that critic has innumerable disguises.

LBR, perhaps, but to commune with Bacchus and Apollo, I first needed to have been hanging out in Hades. :) Please don't bring up cereal. Talk about decisions! As for the melting, I'll try that once I give up searching for the philosopher's stone.

ME, goddamn right it counts. It's a creative process, no?

Fillip, how they do, part of the cycle. Creation as ouroboros.

dcup, thanks, and that's definitely one way of looking at it. We filter out the painful parts and try to recall only the bliss. Easier said than done, but to not try would mean that we were dead.

b said...

Great post. I share your misery, as a writer. For me, I cannot look at my writing as a process. Inspiration does not come by willpower and as soon as I create a process, the creativity seems to bail on me in protest. But with that said, not having a process means putting too much faith in chaos, and being too relaxed about that inspiration often means that nothing gets written.

Randal Graves said...

Merci. The chaos can be an inspiration or a source after the fact, but you're correct. There has to be some kind of conflict, whether the end result - the text - is going to be 'happy' or 'sad.'

Tom Harper said...

This is only mildly related to your post (if at all), but...

It seems odd the way the French language names things. Like, their word for "beach" (I don't remember what the word is) is the same word they use for the groove on a record; and it's also the word for "strand." So I guess a record has strands, and "is there a strand of sand somewhere around here so we can go swimming?"

Also, I think "still" and "already" are the same word in French.

Who Hijacked Our Country

Randal Graves said...

Beach/strand is 'le plage,' but I had to look up the latter and my dinky ass dictionary says groove is 'la reinure' or 'le sillon.' It doesn't get any more detailed than that. I'll have to check my giant dictionary at work.

Unless strand here means a piece of a beach, a section of landmass. But, hell if I know. :)