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CROSS TALK

Edward Williams

Month

February 2010

Homage to J.D. Salinger

——-Other authors . . .  I suppose my position is to be opposed to the whole sorry lot of them. Only out of embarrassment for a history that failed its full sentimental charge on our consciousness, could one refer to those striving novelists. Novelists? What a quaint occupation!  Write a story! Make it out of assimilated life, disgorged; and let out your own idling theories of life, in the pacing, so the neighborly reader can inoculate themselves. Books like that, are dead.
——-It was the week that the famous recluse writer, JD Salinger, died, and we were sitting at the kitchen table with Diane, she comes over for dinner and it’s always a kind of marathon, even with just Janet and her, we create this epic mood where all things are reviewed. I steer things around, it seems like tentatively at first, and I wind up inspired, in a frenzy, talking for the ages. I probably brought JD Salinger into the conversation, we can never remember how these marathon conversations proceed exactly, of course they move through associated topics, and land, or light on a current thought, ideally focused on a current event. So the world is always an illustration, for the breakthrough in thoughts among the players at our kitchen table. It’s a drama, and it seems like there is an audience, people listening in, and Theo always joins us, sometimes Roy and Sally.  The way we treat the topics , they are both sweeping up, and able to lay a foundation for the future. There is a reader who will see what I mean.
——-Everybody, it seems to me, has heard the story about how we tried to deliver my novel Black Forest to JD Salinger, and how we got to his chalet on the mountaintop in Cornish, New Hampshire, and had that brief shouting match with him–the ghost himself it seemed like, not the real man, the clinging ghost of the famous author who will not brook disturbance, not have a self-imposed isolation shattered. Well! That is before he died, anyway. Now there is a shakeup, the situation different! He is a silly mortal man gone to all tomorrows’ parties now! I am cackling under my breath, but speaking with a steely calm, and I know Diane has heard this story and how we have the typed letter JDS sent  to Janet. But she wants to glare at it now. She is acting like she never saw this, but it is just that she hasn’t seen it in light of the death of the author of it. I think it is symbolic! She hardly reveres him. Well, it just so happens I looked for that letter in my files, just yesterday, and put it in a protective plastic folder, along with other correspondence we have with literary notables.

—–So I trudged on upstairs to get it from my office. Once I got there I felt like staying for awhile . . .  (Read Full Story from “FAME AND FORTUNE“)

OUT OF NOWHERE

—–These sentences, this speaking–all I say is drawing from an inexplicable source which is entirely outside of myself, and when the reader gets this, it is as if he is handed a searchlight and knows it should be trained on the heavens–or his own soul, or swept back and forth accordingly.  Other writers know how to rearrange known quantities that, also, are not original to themselves; but their sources are merely copied, screened for use, learned in a strategy, absorbed by dint of seeking an identity; and even if they are prideful enough to claim a style, from the variety available, so that readers may recognize that all their books have a voice, that voice is simply career-wise. But my books are launched like rockets, immediate they go out of this world. They are synonymous with a person who has a source that speaks only to him. And not, I caution, because he is privileged; but because his source is privileged, and has targeted him as a witness. For it must speak with authority. Do not complain, I say, just listen for once. It is in the tremulous note of the highest expectation.
—–But why point to this difference, why not only produce these sentences? Well, because that is what happens with every thought I have, even the thought of distinguishing my craft from another’s (that is craft in multiple forms). Yes every inquiry and every pause turns back to glimpse where it came from, and timidly asks for support, or, in this case, boldly turns on some enemy. Explanations, skirmishes, it is these side issues that then run alongside the first inspiration, the purely novel set of ideas that came out of nowhere. As I said. And I cannot lose with this procedure. One cannot help but produce another, and heightened, example of the very point being made, in the explanation of what the difference is between its task and another’s.  Theirs are delegated lives of self-aggrandisement. Mine is the creation of a road that leads to a monument in the desert, the tracking of an erasure, that then reveals a stubborn truth.

The Right Charade

—–Before any of these paragraphs are trotted out for anyone to read, they will undergo serious editorial scrutiny, if not downright transmutation, by their author–but what I end up thinking about, often, is that there are people who, if they could get ahold of my original notebooks, well–they would eagerly feast on them, for signs of the initial flickering of thought, or whatever it is . . .  You flatter yourself, says one of my jailers.
—–No, I am just saying people are more bothered by the existence of such a thing as literature than they are interested in it what it turns out to be, in the end, when it is handed to them, the poor unfortunates, as like . . .  a study assignment. So to get their hands on a writers’ first jottings is like to get their hands on his brain, like coming up behind him while he is at work.  This is truly exciting, and furthermore it puts the average reader, or scavenger, sort of synergistically in the same boat, beginning his interest as the writer begins his writing, almost as his equal, almost interchangeable with him. People want to know why they never feel creative themselves, at least with the same urgency–that would cause a person to scribble their thoughts and then develop them systematically into a marvelous artistic whole that can be held up for admiration and endless debate, dissection, and even critical acclaim.  Surely critical acclaim is an achievement any diligent writer can and will attain!  And once that has been attained, interest will be taken in the whole process he used.  An insatiable public will naturally look for and want to devour even the earliest evidences of his unaccountable genius. Especially the earliest evidences!
—–Often I feel a presence standing behind me as I work, but that, I prefer to think, is a watcher of a different order, and stature. The same who dogs my steps, and cautions my every reflection, the shadowy conscience, who supplies me with alternative explanations for . . . everything. And often does a theme in one’s thoughts find the very setting, and the very characters, to play the right charade.
—–At the Little Theater Cafe, sitting at a front table with the others, I was flaunting my brand new Gold Fibre notebook, which had yet to be darkened with a single, tentative sentence, but was bulging, at full strength with all its blank pages, and it’s cover still unblemished, as I blissfully maundered over what author’s name I should give myself this season. Should I do another stint as Lloyd Mintern, or perhaps boldly paste the label of my still endless and unresolved work, FAME AND FORTUNE, on the cardboard brow of this ship still in portage? Or should I rekindle the poet, set fire to his kindle wood of images, lurking in the fibre of the language, in the vernacular, the diction?
—–But I wasn’t saying that, I was talking about the physical notebook itself, and how the very first entry you make is so important, crucial–it has to be right, to set the tone. Well, everyone could see I was exaggerating, typically.  And it was counterpoint to the present scene–to be talking about the preparations one makes. It was Scott Cole,  Phil Marshall, going over the set list, with Annie Wells–for in a few minutes Annie Wells would play that grand piano and sing, that’s what we were gathered here for; and later Phil would join in during the first set with his guitar. So these rushing considerations are not out of context here! Far from it, and my joking about how my notebook and my mechanical pencil, which I could twirl and brandish in my hand, were like my fiddle and my bow, well that is just charming. Musicians like Annie and Phil don’t present their original songs and their dexterity without alot of practice, just like I don’t let people read the first rough drafts in pencil in my notebook, you see.
—–The point is, I keep having to say, it’s about how audiences are in fact desperate to find out how we do it, or where it comes from. So we’re a kind of exclusive group here at the head table at the Little Theater Cafe, and other people regard us like we have mysterious powers and ways of being especially happy with ourselves, and our creative society with one another, even. I am not joking.
—–So I’ve got license, I am focused on the subject of my newly purchased notebook, and talking about how after I do make notes I transfer them to my computer, they are going into the manuscript, rewritten and expanded in the process, of course, and I crossi them off with diagonal lines in my spiral notebook. “So if you saw one of my old notebooks–this here is about the sixth one I have had in the last three years–you would see all these crossed off entries and think they were rejected, and the ones left, the paragraphs untouched were being saved.”
—–“Yeah, I guess we would,” Phil said, glancing around at the others–Scott Cole, who is keeping so quiet I feel like is about to barge in on my fragile riff, I mean monologue.
—–“But with me, it is the opposite,” I say. “I cross things out because I have saved them; what is left is really what is left out, maybe verging on hopeless . . . you see.”
—–“We get it,” Phil says.
—–Right, I think, they get it. So I screech to a halt, swerve direction, and deal with how I can remove pages, either just cleanly take pages out by the perforated edge, or I can rip them totally out. For this I would like to demonstrate. Clearly, I think to myself, now I am running out of material.
—–Then Phil Marhall says, “so, do you have a paper shredder?”
—–“What?” I said, “do I have a what?”
—–“A paper shredder,” he says. “You know, in your office.”
—–I looked at him, and he was implacable.  He is a stoic guy, this Phil Marshall.  And I could tell he was improvising, he was playing on my vanity, which is endless, and so I said, “see what I do is, sir, is I just crunch them up into a ball, these pages that were embryo paragraphs, and I toss them in the wire basket right there next to my computer.” And I simulated the crunching motion right there with my left hand. “Those embryo paragraphs,” I repeated, “eventually they must go out in the trash with other crumpled up stuff, grocery store receipts . . .utility bills, paid or unpaid . . . ”
—–“You mean you put this writing out in the trash?” Phil said.
—–“Well, yeah,” I said. “It’s been, um, processed.”  And this is where we all become free to start making things up.
—–“Right on the curb?” Phil says, looking around at the others.
—–“Sure,” I say, “but my second floor office window looks out there, and I am up all night, so I can see if anyone comes by and starts going through the trash.”
—–I paused to see if this was getting through. There were murmurs of approval. So I said, “I mean Scott Cole has come by and I’ve seen him paw through a couple times. But other than that.”  Technically, this was imaginable, since Scott lives down the street; he is married to Annie, and sometimes we meet at Montys Krown, or just Scott and I hammer out our differences . . .
—–“You flatter yourself,” Scott said.  Hey, it was like Scott saw this coming, even before I said the bit about looking out my office window.  Sometimes an angel gives a cue just slightly ahead of the action, and causes people to blow their timing. I mean I set myself up. He felt in advance the ringing of my impending satire. Everything is made backwards. The guy is sharp, intuitive, he is the devil of a fellow, I always tell him. A valuable friend! And a big fan. Watch out for those big fans, they might want your original notebooks! He’s a nemesis, actually stockpiled my work, copies of old books and tape recordings of early Stage Poetry practice sessions. One of my jailers. A necessary friend to the historical author, I think.
—–And you have to like these scenes that turn into set piece dialogues, the ones where we’re famously clever, particularly when out in public, and the ones where all one has to do is glance over their shoulder and someone else is joining in. People were sitting down at other tables.
—–Now Annie Wells, the beautiful singer, sits down at the grand piano at the Little Theater Cafe. She takes us into a reverie of life, even as we are watching her hands glide, and hear her voice strive to cast up the scene where . . . she is taking us. Always into shadows and moonlight . . . echoes, whispers. For this is an intimate singer, and her audience is far away, as far away as her voice is traveling . . . Though a few of us are in fact right here, nailed down. Here is also where I realize, as I recreate the barest of references to my life, that whoever is reading this must be far off, either in another scene, or indeed in the far future. The transfer of thought through handwritten scrawl to official script and typeset marvel is hardly so step-by-step, or poetic, and never is it anecdotal. But it is more like the accomplishment here, the text supplanting music, has risked its own fortunes, and created the memory! The phrases demand the setting be rigged up again, and the language be loud enough to echo, be immortal, and stay pounded out–as if ready for judgment.

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