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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Craving Attention

Different people write for different reasons.  Flannery O'Connor said she wrote because she was good at it, the kind of funny, frank, conversation-stopping comeback she specialized in.  But that can't be true, can it?  There must've been a time when she wasn't good at it, but was writing anyway, learning to be good at it.
I can't speak for other writers, but I'm pretty sure I took it up because I craved attention. 
I wasn't always interested in writing, for the longest time I wanted to be a cartoonist.  When I was in middle school, I drew comics about my friends on the debate team.  Actually, they weren't properly friends at the time.  I was the youngest person on the team, there largely on sufferance of the coach, Ted Carter, because my big sister was on the team.  Everyone else was older, sophisticated, wise-cracking and sharp.  I covetted their acceptance.
I dreamed up a story line in which the team were super heros, along the lines of the Fantastic Four.  I stayed up one night, using a playing card to square off panels on sheets of typing paper, in which I illustrated their adventures. Just wait 'til they see this!  They're going to love it, I thought, and sure enough, they were thrilled!  They passed them around and laughed and repeated the jokes I'd written and told their friends about it.  I wasn't just accepted, I was like a star.
That set a pattern for me.  Every time we went on a debate trip, I produced a fresh comic.  When I moved to Milledgeville and joined the team there, I did the same.  Staying up late, all alone, darkness outside the windows, drawing pictures and writing dialogue - wait 'til they see this!  It was the anticipation of people's reaction even more than their actual reaction that began to drive me.
Also while in Milledgeville, I joined the theater group at the behest of my teacher Lee Bowman - ah, what we owe to our teachers, can we ever thank them enough.  I loved being on stage and was pretty good at it.  I continued acting right through college.  But the attention you get performing, while intoxicating, is too strong for a steady diet as far as I'm concerned.  I love being on stage, but afterwards my hands are shaking because of the strain.  My young friend Carson is soon to debut as a Lost Child in Peter Pan, and I hope he loves it, too.  Acting is a real thrill and something no one should miss.  But in the long run, it's not for me.  Maybe the proportions are wrong - there's too much actual attention and not enough anticipation of it.  Everything's all-at-once do-or-die make-or-break.  You're on the tightrope the whole time, and while it's a blast feeling their response - and blast is the accurate word: it's like standing in front of an open furnace door - you can't enjoy the prospect of their pleasure.  Flannery OConnor, like me, had also been a cartoonist, and I believe acted on the same Georgia College (Georgia Women's College, then) stage that I did.  But she gave those things up, even though she must've been good at them, to write - which presumably, she wasn't good at yet.  Maybe there wasn't enough wait 'til they see this to savor.
I like this right now.  I'm the only one awake in the house.  It's dark outside the windows.  My second cup of coffee is at my wrist.  In a moment, I'll refill it and resume work on The Bread of Heaven, a novel I'm currently on draft 12-c of.  But OMG, OMFG, it is really something!  Wait 'til you see this!  Just wait 'til you see it!

1 comment:

  1. I like your cartoons. The "Shakespeare's Agent" page from that calendar you made once is still the one of the best ones I've ever seen. (Don't know what happened to my copy...but I wish I still had it.) In addition to being a fine teacher and an outstanding author, I think you'd be a great illustrator for children's books.

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