Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

Writing: Sketch and Fill, Write, Write, Prune, Sitting, Standing, Morning, Afternoon or Night

May 30, 2016
Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

 

I write in the afternoon, like everybody else” asserts Dylan Thomas in the in the Caedmon Collection, a fantastic set of recordings of the poet’s live readings which are introduced by Billy Collins.

This would be a curious comment coming from most writers, but Thomas was a notoriously late drinker. Actually, he was a round-the-clock drinker.  In one of his introductions, Collins laments the foibles of Thomas, who was often confused, lost, and inebriated across America during the early 1950s.  (My dad had tickets to a see Thomas at Bridges Auditorium in Claremont, CA; sadly, as on many other occasions, Thomas was unable to make the show.)

I’m pretty sure most writers write in the morning when the mind is fresh. Many writers such as Kurt Vonnegut had to wake early to write before hitting the day job. Kafka would come home from his job at the insurance agency and nap so he could write when everyone else had gone to sleep and the house was quiet.

Ernest Hemingway’s approach to writing is strongly influenced by Freud.  Hemingway sees creativity as a sort of gas tank that is constantly being refueled by the subconscious mind. Hemingway recommends against allowing the brain to run on empty.

Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start. (Ernest Hemingway On Writing 42)

I don’t know if Graham Greene was familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s philosophy of writing, but he certainly practiced it. Greene had some sort of system that informed him exactly when he had written five hundred words. And that’s how much he wrote every morning, even if had to stop mid-sentence. Pretty soon after that he would start drinking, but this isn’t going to be another post about the inebriated scribbler, is it?

Writers write all sorts of ways: before breakfast, after dinner, dictating, typing, long-hand, short-hand, hunched over a keyboard, sitting up in bed, or standing up. Standing up is how Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, on a desk that his descendants later sold (along with 130 slaves) to pay off the Great Man’s debts after he died. Jefferson heartily enjoyed the finer things in life, particularly French wine. (Spendthrift Jefferson provides a stark contrast to frugal George Washington who made provisions in his will to leave Martha with a healthy estate and to also grant* manumission to all of his slaves.)

I have a theory that there are basically two types of prose-writers: Sketch and Fill writers and Write, Write, Prune, writers.

I’m a Sketch and Fill writer. I prefer to write in the morning and revise later in the day or during the evening. As my writer’s gas tank nears empty, I often begin to make notes on what I’m going to write about when I return to the keyboard with a fresh brain.

* to boldly split your infinitive is often the more poetic thing to do

by Richard W. Bray

Natural if not Normal

May 20, 2012

Sex is. There is nothing more to be done about it. Sex builds no roads, writes no novels, and sex certainly gives no meaning in life to anything but itself.

—Gore Vidal, United States: Essays 1952-1992 (37)

Sex.  What’s with the persistent human propensity to study, describe, imagine, define, categorize, restrict, denounce, regulate, prohibit, criminalize and constantly talk, talk, talk about what other people are doing in private with their naughty bits?

Sex is a basic human need, essential to the survival of the species. But this is only part of the answer.  Human beings require shelter, for example, yet the subject of housing barely elicits a fraction of the chatter that the Big Nasty generates amongst human interlocutors.

And as W.H. Auden pondered: Why should so much poetry be written about sexual love and so little about eating—which is just as pleasurable and never lets you down—or about family affection, or about the love of mathematics.

According to Gore Vidal, “the sexual attitudes of a given society are the result of political decisions” (539).  This explains why we see so many professional moralists and politicians “solemnly worshiping at the shrine of The Family” (601).  (Like when our president recently went out on a limb to courageously declare that Motherhood is the toughest job in the world.)

Barack Obama’s other recent bold pronouncement, that he has evolved to the point where the idea of gay marriage no longer gives him the willies, made much bigger headlines.

So why the big fuss?  To borrow a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, regardless of my own prejudices or proclivities, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg if Adam wants to marry Steve.  (Yes, I know that Steve could be entitled to partake in Adam’s medical benefits, perhaps raising my health care premiums, but the two fellows will also be paying higher taxes, so I’d be willing to bet that the monetary consequences of their union would probably be a net gain for society at large.)

Gore Vidal contends that our political overseers ghettoize certain types of sexual behavior as a means of maintaining their hegemony over the populace: “In order for the ruling class to rule, there must be arbitrary prohibitions” (442).  Sexual preference is just one of the many divisions, such as  race, class, religion, age, region, gender, etc., which are exploited by los que mandan.  Thus we are informed, particularly from the pulpit, that when it comes to sexual preference, there are only two ways to be: “One team is good, godly, straight; the other is evil, sick, vicious” (442).

Like homosexuality, divorce is also dangerous to the status quo because “A woman who can support herself and her child is a threat to marriage, and marriage is the central institution whereby owners of the world control those who do the work” (540). Vidal notes with his characteristic wit that heterosexual couples are expected “to do their duty by one day getting married in order to bring forth new worker-consumers in obedience with God’s law, which tends to resemble with suspicious niceness the will of society’s owners” (540).  Of course, over the last four decades divorce has become so common that many of the leaders who rail in favor of “family values” are themselves divorced.  This helps explain the fury we hear from some quarters against the damage done to our sacred family unit by homosexuals. At any rate, “it does not suit our rulers to have the proles tomcatting around the way that our rulers do” (606).

The mechanisms which enforce such twisted mores are designed to produce citizens who “serve society as loyal workers and dutiful consumers” (540).  This is not an originally American arrangement; it is merely the machinery of power and profit in action.  And any “activity that might decrease the amount of coal mined, the number of pyramids built, the quantity of junk food confected will be proscribed through laws that, in turn, are based on divine revelations handed down by whatever god or gods happen to be in fashion at the moment” (339-340).

In 1948 Gore Vidal courageously published The City and the Pillar, a coming of age novel about homosexuality.  But Vidal is not celebrated as a hero for gay activists today largely because he rejects the “American passion for categorizing” which endeavors “to create two nonexistent categories—gay and straight” (606).  Vidal therefore scoffs at the notion that such a thing as the “gay community” could ever exist.  (“What in God’s name do Eleanor Roosevelt and Roy Cohn have in common?” he quipped.)

Experience has taught Vidal that “it is possible to have a mature sexual relationship with a woman on Monday, and a mature sexual relationship with a man on Tuesday, and perhaps on Wednesday have both together (admittedly you have to be in good condition for this)” (581).

by Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on The God Delusion

April 22, 2010

Richard Wright

Some Thoughts on The God Delusion

After patient and painstaking work he convinced his friend that his former beliefs were untenable, that science was indeed queen. But to his horror, Krummie had to confess to me, he soon discovered that he had succeeded only in making his friend supremely unhappy. He thought at first that this might pass, but when, after a year, the man remained miserably depressed, Krumwiede resolved, he told me, never again to tamper with a man’s hereditary convictions (89).

The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams

I’m a devout deist, and I’m generally happy about the recent trend of books promoting atheism. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is an erudite argument cogently delivered with much wit, and Dawkins is less overtly hostile to religion than many of the other purveyors of Atheist Manifestos recently on the bestseller lists.

Here’s Dawkins quoting Einstein (a great deist who is often mischaracterized as a theist):

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings (18).

If I could pick any creed, I would be a Liberal Secular Jew, but I’m not sure how to make that conversion. This brings me (sort of) to a friendly argument the author had with Robert Winston, whom Dawkins describes as a “respected pillar of British Jewry.”

When I pressed him, he said that Judaism provided a good discipline to help him structure his life and lead a good one. Perhaps it does; but that, of course, has not the smallest bearing on the truth value of its supernatural claims (14).

Goodness, Gracious, Sakes Alive, Mr. Dawkins! People, even scientists, believe all sorts of wacky things, so I’m not even sure how we could ever come to a consensus on what a “truth value” is. Mr. Winston’s personal beliefs about a deity neither pick my pocket nor break my leg. I’m glad to hear that he’s a decent bloke.

When Dawkins looks for “Direct Advantages of Religion,” he doesn’t see much, although he does concede that it has inspired much great art. But Dawkins does not believe that people should be comforted by mere beliefs which are obvious poppycock to the trained scientist. Dawkins quotes ardent atheist George Bernard Shaw:

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one (167).

Dawkins makes no effort to hide his condescension, which is a common trait among the New Atheists. Denis Dutton, another God-wrestling scientist, believes that nonbelievers should refer to ourselves as “brights,” an appellation which clearly implies that those who don’t agree with us are stupid. (And there’s nothing wrong with the word Freethinker.)

Lots of good and wonderful and beautiful things come from organized religion, and I’m not just talking about Verdi, Take 6, and El Greco. Organized religion promotes fellowship and improves people’s lives in various ways.

But some people just can’t stand it. Richard Wright, for example, was “disgusted” by the “snobbery, clannishness, gossip, intrigue, petty class rivalry, and conspicuous displays of cheap clothing” which he encountered in church (151). The beauty of the music and rituals is completely invisible to him. As Wright saw things, “[t]he naked will to power seemed always to walk in the wake of a hymn” (136).

I’ll bet Christopher Hitchens wishes he’d said that.

by Richard W. Bray