Sunday, February 10, 2008

Green (100x21)

It’s hard to argue with green. Green is what grows, what germinates, what sunlight calls from the darkness under the surface. Green comes naturally. Green is close to the earth, eco-friendly. Green the vine, the leaf, the grass, the garden, the forest, the prairie, the jungle, the lawn. Green the color of pears, of parsley, of peas, of peace. Green the color of conservation, of moderation, of minimalism. That small footprint: green. That potted plant. Green needs water, needs light, needs love. Green is an emerald. Green says, “Live.” Green says, “Recycle.” Green says, “Breathe.” Green says, “Enough is enough.”

Process Reflection: The whole thing about writing 100 words a day for 30 days, even without the additional constraint of assigned topics, puts you under some pressure. Some days you have time to think and prepare, some days, like today, you've got a topic and a limited amount of time in which to attempt to pull a rabbit out of a hat, if you happen to have a hat, and if the rabbit doesn't turn out to be some other variety of rodent. Today there was a lot of other stuff going on, and I was faced with the choice of pounding something out, however gestural, or falling off the wagon. What this piece has going for it is the series of moves that it has in mind to make: a meditation on at least a subset of the denotations and connotations of green. What it lacks, at this preliminary time-delimited stage of its development, is even the slightest element of surprise. It fails in its aspirations to be epiphanic. Which is fair enough. In one of my favorite essays on writing, "Let's Say You Wrote Badly This Morning," David Huddle develops a theory of what he calls "aesthetic luck":

Aesthetic luck is random and two-headed. No writer, no matter how accomplished, can be certain when sitting down to work that the results of his or her best efforts will be writing of high quality. One can school oneself in the literature of one's tradition, train oneself to a high level of technical skill, construct ideal working circumstances of time and place, regularly come to the writing desk rested, alert and in good health, achieve a state of brutal self-honesty, open one's mind to every possibility of concept and language, and nevertheless write one lousy line after another. Conversely (and perversely) one may pick up a napkin in a bar to make a few notes and suddenly find oneself writing fabulous stuff. The odds of writing well are a great deal better if the writer is well-prepared, but there's never a guarantee of good writing.

Later in the essay, he talks about revision as part of the process, and comes up with a rough estimate of the odds associated with aesthetic luck:

Aesthetic luck is the major argument in favor of working through a process of revising a piece of writing through many drafts. If you're a supremely talented artist and you hit a very lucky day, then maybe you can write a poem or story or chapter of a novel that needs no revision. If you're a regular writer with your appointed portion of aesthetic luck, you'll need to come at the piece again and again. I like to think of revision as a form of self-forgiveness: you can allow yourself mistakes and shortcomings in your writing because you know you're coming back later to improve it. Revision is the way you cope with the bad luck that made your writing less than excellent this morning. Revision is the hope you hold out for yourself to make something beautiful tomorrow though you didn't quite manage it today. Revision is democracy's literary method, the tool that allows an ordinary person to aspire to extraordinary achievement.

Revision of course is not an option for athletes. In my opinion, baseball players would be able to offer more testimony to the capriciousness of athletic luck than the players of any other game. My most outrageous notion on this matter is that the crazy luck of baseball accounts for the vast role of spitting by its players: to spit is to change one's chemistry, to cast out the immediate past, to set oneself to face the future. In their thinking; batters and pitchers must proceed in a logical manner: they consider the scouting reports and the opinions of their coaches and fellow players; they consider “the last time up,” along with the history they have shared in all their previous encounters; they make adjustments; they spit for luck.

In the overall balance of aesthetic luck, by my calculations, the bad outweighs the good by a ratio of about 17 to 1, but the good nevertheless exists.
I find Huddle's analysis both true to my experience and also enormously encouraging. Today's post is one of the 17 that I had to write to eventually, maybe, find my way to the magical number 18. It may itself take on the qualities of the 18th with subsequent revision. In the meantime, it is what it is.

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