Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I went to a lecture given by my Upper East Side neighbor Hilma Wolitzer at The New York Society Library. The topic, Developing Characters for Fiction, was one I was excited to attend. She’s written 13 books so I assume she knows a bit on the subject.

It wasn't her lecture that stuck out for me, although it was an excellent two-hour talk, but the people that were there. As I looked around the room at the 20 or so people in attendance I was struck with the thought, “Don’t you people have jobs?’ Of course, I see the hypocrisy in this criticism, but I think we all realize by now that to while away two hours in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon is somehow expected of me- but these other people. I wanted to stand up and announce, “People, there is an economy to rebuild; there is a nation that needs you. Who’s manning the ship? Surely, there is something else you could be doing with your time.” Perhaps I would have if I hadn’t over indulged in donuts earlier that morning while pondering if Snuffy Smith was still in syndication.

As the lecture went on I focused my judgment away from the collective and narrowed my beam of righteousness on individuals. There was an English guy, glasses perched on his nose, bad teeth, you know the type, that was intent on letting the rest of us know exactly how clever he was. He asked no questions but rather chose to share his infinite wisdom with the lecturer. In three minute (yes, I timed him) he cited Bryon, Samuel Johnson and made a joke about Charles Dickens, which was pretty funny but I did not laugh as I think it important to not encourage this kind of behavior. I jotted in my notebook “Hey man, I didn’t pay good money to watch your corn kernel teeth move up and down.” In truth I hadn’t paid anything, none of us had, but it’s important to not let the truth get in the way of judgment. Far too many very convenient judgments had to be abandoned after looking too deeply into the facts. On further reflection I realize that I never actually saw his teeth and they were probably fine. See what happens when you let facts dictate?

A woman writing a biography focused her comments on the problems she was having with researching a particular time in America’s history. Why she felt the need to bring this issue up in a lecture entitled “Writing Character For Fiction” was unclear until she let slip that she didn’t know what the topic was and wasn’t really sure what we were all doing here. She happened to be walking by when she saw a few people go into the lecture room and she followed them. “Research this!” I wrote in my notebook. I’m not particularly proud of this but the English guy used a lot of words I had to look up after the lecture and I was feeling “less than.”

A comely woman asked an excellent question. I was left wondering if she was beautiful because she asked a very good question or was it a very good question because she was beautiful. My lack of depth begrudgingly forced me to concede the latter. My copious notes are then filled with a crudely drawn sketch of her shapely legs. I interrupted the filling in of the fishnet stockings with the statement. “Should probably give Match another try”

So my point is, had all of these people been at work like they should have been maybe I could have paid closer attention to the topic of “Problems with Research” “Overcoming Writer’s Block” or whatever the hell the lecturer was talking about.


Anonymous said...

I can feel ya, bro. Some of those seminars are just like...wow.

Hang in there.

---chris h

lavenderjade said...

This cracked me up