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Effortlessly Average

Sort of half-heartedly leading the charge into mediocrity since, oh, let's say around 1987 or so.

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Location: Roaming (additional charges may apply), Argentina

Proof that with internet access and a powerful laxative, even insipid people will blog; the place where your excellence and my mediocrity collide; where my Karma whips ass on your dogma.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Atomic Melville

I wish I could write. I mean really write. Well, yeah, of course I can write – like my name at the bottom of a contract or items on a shopping list. What I’m talking about is the intrinsic ability to paint a picture with words. That ability some people have that makes it possible for them to plant an image in your head without having to go on profusely, describing every little detail. These people have the ability to make you think, or laugh, or cry, or shake your head in whimsical amazement. And I’m apparently not one of them.

Consider Chris’ writing. Or Heather’s. When they relate an experience, you’re swept into the current of the story. And they do so using an amazingly small number of words. You feel as if you’re friends sitting down over cornbread and coffee on a warm autumn afternoon. How have you been? Not bad, you? Not bad. Oh, you’ll never guess what happened the other day. I was… and so your journey begins.

What separates their storytelling from mine is that with theirs you never feel as if you’re watching a movie or looking at someone else’s snapshots. Instead you feel as if you could have been there; as if the experience was a shared one. As you’re floating down the gentle river of the story, they have the ability to take you on a journey of exploration up every tributary along the way. And they do it in such a way that you don’t even know you’ve gone off on a tangent until, with a well placed tie-in word or sentence, you suddenly realize you’ve arrived back at the underlying story. My stories read like driving directions or a mediocre meatloaf recipe. Clinical. Anemic. As if I not only have to tell you the story, but why it's important, amazing, or interesting as well.

I fear that when you read one of my stories, yeah, you may feel as if you’ve gone somewhere, but you don’t really feel compelled to go again. And if you happen across a subsequent story it’s a safe bet you’d assume it’s the same as the last one. My stories seem to be like James Bond movies or John Grisham novels: there’s a smattering of interesting things sprinkled throughout, but by and large you’d be hard pressed to match the titles with the stories if given a stack of each.

But not Heather or Chris. After reading what they write, you’re often disappointed that the ride’s over. When I first came across Chris’ blog, I spent an entire week reading every single entry she’d ever made. Having now discovered Heather’s I’m in the process of doing the same. It’s little wonder they have dozens of replies to every entry.

I wonder, how do you acquire that ability? Are you born with it? Is it genetics that separate those possessing the essential literary talent from the insipid, talentless hacks? I wonder the same thing about other successful figures. People like Tiger Woods. Many people spend their lives devoted to the game of golf and very few ever demonstrate the same fundamental grasp of how to win. Clearly there exists something more elemental, something more philosophical, that places them on higher rungs of the success ladder. Not every golfer will be a Tiger Woods. Not every musical group will be The Beatles. Nor every physicist, Einstein or Hawking. And few writers will ever be Twain or Shakespeare, or even Rowling or Baldacci. But while so many writers won’t ever reach those heights, you can nevertheless see that spark, that fundamental ability to draw in a reader that all the great ones possess. And which, I fear, my own writing style lacks.

Maybe it’s that after reading one of their stories you're left with the sensation of having witnessed it yourself. I’ve heard it said that maturity in writing is the ability to make the reader emotionally connect to the experiences of others, so maybe that’s it.

Is it the conversational overtone to their stories? Is it that when I sit down to write my brain goes into overload and all the ideas try to push themselves onto the page at once, making organization and flow a virtual impossibility? Is it their ability to take a humorous thought or phrase and stretch it into an irreverent, casual, yet meaningful story?

Maybe my frustration stems from the fear of having to accept that this, too, is something I’m just not very good at. All my life I’ve lived in the shadow of the accomplishments of others. I’m the guy who always seems to have a boss ten years his junior. In school my brother was the one with all the muscles and athletic ability, which meant he was the one who got the girls. I was the guy to whom all the cute girls talked to about the cute guys they liked. My name has never been on “the short list.” At least not that I know of. I’m the guy who got the pretty girl to go to the dance only to have her cancel three days before the event because a guy she liked more subsequently asked her out. I'm the person who can gain five pounds from sniffing a grape.

Then I discovered writing and it seemed to be something others envied about me. Something I could do that so many others said they wished they could do. But when I read the works of published authors or even those of the talented amateurs, it somehow tempers the accolades I receive. After all, I think, to a starving man even a cracker tastes like gourmet cuisine. Is it that my writing is truly good, or is it only good in comparison to those who think Melville is something you do to someone who’s underwear is showing?

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