smclewis

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

A Hundred Visions & Revisions

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm

“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;          
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea. …”

                                   

from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot

 

I was thinking the other day about revision and, indeed, about the many revisions I make throughout a day.

Do I want to wear this or that? I put something on. Too hot. I try something else. Do I have time for coffee? Or should I just drink a Diet Coke piping cold from  the fridge? I decide to drink both. Which route to take today? The peaceful green pass through Prince Creek Parkway? Or the annoyingly tourist-laden Highway 17?

A hundred indecisions. A hundred revisions.

It seems what is missing, for me anyway, is visions. I used to be full of plans and ideas and dreams. I used to relish that time before sleep when the mind can wander off into a haze of pretty possibilities and impossible ideas. But as I have grown older, I find that it is indecision that seems to erode my time, and that— I think— is disheartening. The tasks of adulthood seem to beat the bloody pulp out of fantasy, which is why you should all be very nice to your parents! Well, mostly nice anyway.

So, if one were to treat one’s life like a draft of an essay or story, how would one proceed at say the fifteenth draft out of thirty? Or, to make the analogy less vague, how would one revise one’s life halfway towards the end? What habits should bite the dust? What hobbies should spring on to the scene? And what of the internal collaboration between heart and head? What to make of all those musings and confusings?

One of my favorite writing teachers, Professor David Huddle of the University of Vermont and The Bread Loaf School of English,  wrote that the beginning of his writing process begins with sentence tinkering, the cautious editing and microscopic tweaking of sentences that are already almost terrific. Then, he proceeds to the messier aspect of the draft, looking it over to see if it is cohesive, cutting and pasting, and just cutting out the dross. Finally, it is put away again until the next go around. I was shocked many moons ago when I turned a short story into this wise man thinking it was pretty much perfection. (HA! HA!) It was my twelfth draft, and I had taken the time to carefully render the characters and their wispy relationship that hinged on infidelity and an oversized Christmas tree that was tied to a nail in the wall in order to stand up! I think Professor Huddle really only like one sentence in the whole piece, and let’s just say, it wouldn’t have been the sentence I would have seen as a stand out. It was simple and clear and descriptive without being over-written.

The realization that my twelfth draft of a story had about one excellent sentence and “legs” as Prof. Huddle said, was more than depressing. “Legs?” I thought. “I have written this story so that it has legs?”

SIGH. I’M NOT A WRITER. WHY AM I WASTING MY TIME? THIS IS STUPID.

Funny. That’s how I sometimes feel about life. WHY AM I WASTING MY TIME TRYING TO…lose weight, be better, go to church, be nicer, volunteer for once in my life, have patience, exercise, floss, take vitamins, save the world from ecological disaster and ignorance AND ON AND ON AND ON AND ON AND ON.

WHAT IS THE POINT IN REVISION? Especially if the story is never going to be published or read? Especially if, in the end, my life will really not be known or important or anything like that?

 I’d like to know your thoughts.

I have some cheezy sayings and platitudes I could insert here, but I’d rather try to get a simple declarative sentence. I’d like some clarity.

Shed some light, my friends. Shed some light.

Also, what are your visions of your future? What do you think about in the hazy half-sleep before you dream?