Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life Through a Writer-eye Lens.

I am thoroughly, THOROUGHLY enjoying David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I can not believe it's taken me three years to finally pick up this book.  It reminds me of the sorts of things I might write if I had the talent. His descriptions and off-the-wall metaphors remind me of Tom Robbins, but they're applied to his real life observations rather than a fictional story.  It's not that he's lived a significantly interesting life, but his ability to turn even the most mundane of experiences into a vignette of humanity and to paint the characters in his life as though they're actors on a stage is a true talent.  I'm sure it's a talent he's worked at for many years, but he's good at what he does and it's very refreshing to read a writer who is really good at what he does.

I'm not saying all those YA authors that I've been reading lately are garbage.  But their flaws are often plain to see and hard to ignore.  With his sort of writing, I get wrapped up.  I'm not reading with my editor hat on. I'm reading like a reader, fully engrossed in what the writer is feeding me.  Maybe I just have a preference for non-fiction. That's not entirely true, because there are definitely fiction writers that engross me just as well.  Maybe it's inherent of the YA age group, though there are also exceptions to that rule that I could name.  Maybe it's just good writers versus great writers.  Additionally, I'm inclined to think the difference may be those who go over their work one more time after they think it's finally finished and those who say, "good enough" and rush it off to press. 

I'm sure talent plays a role, though.  Some people are born with an eye for design, though certainly design principles can be taught.  But if pitted against each other, a designer who is taught versus one who is born with a penchant for it, the latter would likely have the upper hand, if all else was equal.  I'm sure the same is true of a writer or any other profession for that matter.  Writing follows some of the same patterns as designing. As someone who knows a little about both, I can see the correlations.  As one would say you have an eye for design, one might also say you have an eye for writing.  It takes a certain type of vision to see the world in such a way to make ordinary tasks seem riveting.  Okay, maybe not always riveting, but to make something like hemming a pair of pants seem comical or ironic or depressing or... anything other than just hemming a pair of pants.  You have to be able to look at something as it's happening and turn your head at a forty-five degree angle and see what's going on behind it.

I've caught myself doing this lately.  I can get completely lost in an infinite loop of "what ifs" in a room full of strangers.  On a completely booked flight, I think about every person on that plane as little galaxies in a greater universe.  Each head contains its own running story and for a brief time, their stories intertwined with mine and mine with theirs.  Even if we only play extras in the background, we provided each other with a richer experience than if the plane had been empty.

In a cocktail bar with a speakeasy theme, I wonder if I'm the only one in the room who notices how the bartenders appear as sculptors, hunched over their work with such care and deliberation, it's a shame their masterpieces are so rapidly consumed.  From there I wonder what's so important to every other head in the room that they can't sit back and marvel at the spectacle before them.  Then I wonder if I'm just being dramatic and am certain I'm being neglectful of my company.  I wonder if somehow during my periods of reverie to observe life around me, I'm missing out on experiencing my own life.  And then I snap to, but I never know what to say to truly bring myself into the moment and out of the realm of the silent observer.  Note to people I hang out with: keep me distracted.

And it is like hopping realms for a moment.  It's looking behind the curtain, peeling back the layers of all that's put before us which we're supposed to take for face value and finding a reason behind it all.  A passing stranger accidentally meets your eye and flashes a friendly smile rather than a scowl; that's never just an incident.  There's always a reason behind it.  Maybe his grandmother always insisted he be friendly, even to strangers on the street.  Maybe he received a piece of good news recently and can't help but spread his infectious joy. Maybe he's on his way to a place or person he really loves and nothing will deter his good mood.  Maybe his favorite candy bar is in his backpack.  Maybe you don't realize that it's actually your friendly expression to which he's reacting.

I like to guess at the whys behind every seemingly insignificant act.  I'm hoping this little psychological and sociological hobby of mine infuses my writing with believable characters and realistic social interactions.