A search for value in fiction, essay, and journalism
It’s been a very strange trip for me over the last fifteen years or so, and I find myself suddenly lost in both a superabundance of interest and a declining patience with the many and varied forms of literature that have engaged me in my life.
Before I go any further, I apologize if I have left out a particular form, genre, or flavor in my glib encapsulation. I’m working under a (still largely unformed) model that suggests story as the intentional construction of words in a search for fact (journalism), understanding (essay), or meaning (fiction). As such, I find the specific form (poem, screenplay, lyric, story, ad copy, speech, etc. etc. etc.) far less interesting than the effective accomplishment of these three primary intents.
Again, I understand that those intents are often expressed to varying degrees in each form and flavor. Of course fiction can be an exceptional vehicle for fact, just as the most compelling history gives us not only fact, but understanding (and often more than a sniff of both contextual and global meaning as well).
I suppose this focus on intents exposes the lack of art in my soul. I admire and appreciate vivid imagery, lyric form, and bold imagination, but ultimately it’s the ideas the story encourages me to think about and remember that I most value, with admirable construction coming in further down the value chain. While I understand that viewpoint and voice are inextricably connected, for me the voice draws my attention while the viewpoint feeds me. The best work does both, but sparkling ideas overcome exceptional craft for me.
I first came to the AML as a fiction writer, as someone who could (and often did) produce upwards of 15,000 words of draft story in a week. At the same time, I was employed as a technical writer who could (and often** did) produce upwards of 30,000 words of publication-ready documentation in a week. At the time I read 3-4 books a week and consumed a half-dozen magazines in addition to technical articles or product specs.
I wish I had that kind of productivity now. I haven’t completed a novel in months (I’m 550 pages into a 750 page novel by Dan Simmons, but haven’t read from it in at least two months). I should read Brady Udall’s book, but I just haven’t found the goad. During the dark hours of the night when I used to read, I now play a couple of games of Sudoku, then fall asleep within a few minutes. I still read technical material, and write*** lengthy technical essays and magazine articles; just not fiction.
It’s not that I’ve lost interest in story. Far from it, I now watch more than two hours of political commentary per day, and five hours of political humor, around 6 hours of anime, and as any as a half-dozen movies in a week. I love told stories. I just find long-form fiction reading and writing increasingly uninteresting.
Which puts me in a strange position, because I still love and believe in fiction. I still believe fiction is the most efficient way to explore some of the most important ideas that interest me.
Which seems odd to me. How does one lose the handle on fiction, but still retain interest*** in story? What is it about narrative that draws the attenion, engages the mind, and holds the interest?
For me it comes down to meaning. I want to know the facts of a thing so I can come to understandng of a situation, and ultimately gain some useful sense of meaning from it. Whether that meaning comes from fiction, essay, article, journal, or conversation is less relevant than that it help me make sense of the world and my fellow man. The progression requires a story in some form–at least for me.
I don’t have any meaningul observations to make at this point. But this idea has been troubling me or a while, so I thought I’d write it down as a story and see if any meaning came from the exercise. Thank you for the indulgence, and perhaps for you help in coming up with meaning for the experience.
**In a completely unrelated fact, this is the last word in this post where I was able to successfully type the “f” key on my main keyboard–a nifty backlit gamer’s keyboard from Razer. Every other “f” in this post was typed on a secondary keyboard that [Wolf King Warrior gamers*** keypad] that happens to have that key on it, that happens to be attached to my computer right now.
***Just lost first the “m” key, then the “t” key, and finally the right arrow key, too. I hope those keys return after reboot (like they did when I lost the ~ key last week) or I’ll have to get rid of my really cool keyboard. It does make for a fascinating composition experience, though…
As a sample, here’s a sentence written without the t, m, and f characters. Funky, isn’t it?
As a saple, here’s a senence wrien wihou he , , and characers. unky, isn’ i?
And correcting without the use of the right arrow key is a real pain. FWIW.