"What Good Is It, If We All Get the Same Answer? "
by Warren Alexander
Please welcome Warren to the Writer's Journey blog this week with one of the funniest and most pragmatic "Journeys" ever!
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, fifty years before the invasion of the hipsters, in a standard-issue two-parent, one son, one daughter family. Under my bedroom window the sounds of eight lanes of traffic, plus a rarely used bridle path, formed a comforting whir. Our days were filled with stickball, punchball, and football with passes caught between parked cars, but my favorite was hockey.
We first started playing in the street using a sanding block as a puck and the goalie would lie on his side, as if at the beach casually talking to someone. It was everyone’s responsibility to yell, “Car!” when one approached. We graduated from stuffing inner tubes with rags for shin pads to real equipment when we moved to a nearby park and started playing against strangers. Once, we played a local street gang. One guy skated with a cigarette dangling from his lips while another wore a beret instead of a helmet. We let them win.
You never know from where life’s lessons will emerge.
I did not like children’s books because, well, they were written for children. And while others were watching unrealistic TV shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best, I watched TV shows like Ernie Kovacs, That Was the Week That Was and Jack Paar. Paar had a frequent guest named Oscar Levant, an actor, pianist, and wit with a twitch who sported an ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude. I loved Oscar; there was an unapologetic authenticity to him. Kovacs did comedy bits that I did not understand which indicated I had much to learn.
Ever since I wrote my first ransom note, I have been hooked on writing. I wrote jokes not stories. I had a box filled with jokes on index cards that I had either written or stolen. My entire worldview changed when I read Lysistrata by Aristophanes in college. Every generation thinks they invented sex and the right to be self-righteous about the world they inherited, and I propagated this arrogance to the fullest. Lysistrata demonstrated with great majesty, that these problems were 1000’s of years old. From then on, I wrote satire, both fiction and non-fiction.
If you are interested, here are some observations about writing, I have learned over the years:
Eschew the stereotypes, nonsense, and romance about writing and writers. They can be used as excuses or self-imposed obstacles for you not to finish the task at hand. Just sit your ass down and write, write, write, and read, read, read, especially books you would not ordinarily read. If you have more than one coffee mug with a cutesy-poo writing epigram, get rid of them. That type of crap is reserved for bad golfers.
Don’t believe in false encouragement. “Oh, you must write a book,” or “Oh, you must follow your dream.” You are the one who must live with the consequences of those decisions, not them. Hemingway said to be a good writer, you must have a built-in bullshit detector to know what is good and what is bad. Develop that skill while honing your craft. They mean well, smile, and just say something tactful.
Everything must be done in service to the story. Get out of the way of your own story. It is also irritating when a writer screams look at me. Look at my pyrotechnics. Look at how clever I am. Your characters, dialogue, and actions should be the center of attention and be disembodied from you, the writer. As, in life, you are impressed by people’s accomplishments, not by them telling you how wonderful they are or aspiring to some unattainable or amorphous ideal.
And probably the most important thing to remember is Chuck Close’s admonition, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest us just show up for work. Inspiration can come from a random thought, an event, a passing comment, or a vague recollection. You cannot wait for a rock to fall on your head. If you wait for inspiration, either you will never get anything done or it will be derivative.”
And finally, if anyone is free next Thursday, I can use a lift to the doctor.
Bio: Warren Alexander is a novelist, short story writer, and poet who was born and still lives in New York City. His satiric novel, Cousins’ Club, was a semi-finalist for the 2017 BookLife Award for General Fiction. His award-winning short stories and poems have appeared in numerous journals. His photos have been in many exhibitions including one where work was selected by a curator from the Guggenheim. Among the writers he most admires are Saul Bellow, Laurence Sterne, Flannery O’ Connor, Delmore Schwartz, and Isaac Bashevis Singer.
He and his wife have visited over 45 countries and returned from most of them. He is currently working on a satirical novel about business.
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