This snippet, from a paper cutout taped to a black and white photo found on Bennington alum Mary Ruefle's website, was this morning's flash moment:
Mine is like the role of a triangle player in an orchestra.
Every once in a while, I have to hit the triangle at the right time.
British musician/producer/composer Nitin Sawhney's answer to How does the orchestra's triangle player earn a living? (From The Guardian):
No one in an orchestra is paid by how many notes they play. They're paid, and rightly so, for the amount of time they spend in rehearsal and on stage. You might think a triangle player's job was pretty easy compared to, say, a first violin, but just think of counting all those bars' rest and what happens if you come in wrong.Sometimes, I experience extended moments wherein the weight of time flattens me. The brows are thinning, people! I don't want to come in all wrong, I haven't the time! Jesus, how long do I have to wait before hitting it? And can you imagine if a writer were paid for the number of hours she put in sitting at her desk? Rehearsing? Waiting? Smacking her head with the palm of her hand. Repeatedly. Rehearsing some more. Waiting, waiting, waiting. To hit it. Smack, smack, smack. It might actually be worth all those hours of self-flagellation.
I'm going for a walk...
I'm back. Wait. Wait. Waiting... Rehearsing... smack.
- - - - - - - - - - -
I'm going to pick up the kids at school...
I'm back. Wait. Wait. Waiting... Rehearsing... smack.
Here's the best thing about a writing workshop: You cannot escape from what you've failed to include. There's an (rhetorical) inquisition: Why has the shell hardened? Are you rich? You have kids(!)? Is it dead or gone? Are you ok? Are you wearing snowshoes to write?
Mute answers: I'm not sure (maybe I used the wrong adjective—or the wrong WIP altogether). Hell, no. Yes. Both. Yes. Hahaha... um, bad metaphor. Really bad metaphor.
Writers are reading between the lines. They are scrutinizing the subtext. This is good, yes, but I'm thinking, They are all so much smarter than me. How did I get here? Perhaps I hit the send button, with my writing samples attached, at the right time. Yes, that was a triangle at-the-right-time moment!
My two essays were workshopped on the last day of the ten-day literary vortex that was my first residency at Bennington. Pretty easy compared to, say, a first violin. From there, I lunched and vortexualized with my new writerly vortexees (and, boy, do you ever bond quickly with writerly vortexees), and then set out (a little weepy) for my three plus hour drive back home. Counting all those bars' rest. Lulu kept me company on the phone for the last half hour stretch through Rhode Island, right to my front door. What happens if you come in wrong? There, she waited for me with a great big zealous embrace.
I waited a long time for that hug.
(Lulu knows precisely how to come in right.)
Happy, happy I was to be back home with the orchestra. Waiting, rehearsing, even smacking the head. You see, what I've discovered is that, as impatient as I am, I can wait. And don't I enjoy being a triangle player.
patience allows you to see so many things that you wouldn't see by being impatient.ReplyDelete
Ain't that the truth, Ellen!Delete
Oh Jayne, what a great post, a great affirmation for writers! I do so much waiting, rehearsing and smacking of my head! But you know, I wanted to tell you that every time I come here into your glorious domain, I think, She's so much smarter than me; I can't believe she has actually bothered to read some of my stuff. I am so grateful I know you in this blogging world, and I can't wait to hear more about this grand learning experience of yours.ReplyDelete
Hooray for triangle players! I have a great respect for them now.
So Hillary, you're doing the right thing, then! One thing my dad used to remind me of back in the day: "There will always be someone smarter, prettier, faster, more talented (insert just about any descriptive word here) than you. Be happy with who you are and always do your best." Well, this from a dad who also never hesitated to discuss one's limitations. (What, there are limitations??) A too pragmatic guy. At times.Delete
I'm happy to know you too, Hillary. We writers need to stick together. ;)
So good to see you back Jayne, if even for just a bit. Happy to hear that all is going well with your writing. I too decided that it was time to see if perhaps there was more of a writer in me and have joined fourteen other students. I'm holding my triangle, waiting.ReplyDelete
Bill- I'm intrigued. You tease. I'll be over to find out what's going on with you... Ding, ding!Delete
Jayne! You’re here! You came in right on time this morning, as I was still in bed with my laptop propped on my thighs, writing—slapping my forehead, and then "TING!" You were here with me, expressing my own feelings of inadequacy—the measuring of me, which serves only to depreciate my value as a writer and a woman. But now I know that these emotions are natural and that if you, my brilliant writerly friend, are feeling this way, then it’s an honor to be struggling alongside of you.ReplyDelete
Remember Jayne, you may be counting bars but I’m listening to the music. And it’s lovely.
Yes, Leah, here! It's almost too easy to talk about our own inadequacies, isn't it? For shame. Yeah, that thing about being our own worst enemies... Well, one should always struggle in good company, so I'm thrilled to have you along, Leah. Counting and raising the bars! ;)Delete
Dale! Oh that mug. :DDelete
Why, you little sneak: dropping this into the river of Google Reader without so much as a ping of advance warning, let alone an all-caps title. Thank my lucky stars I quickly riffled through the subscription stack over the weekend!ReplyDelete
That's a great analogy -- the triangle player. I'm pretty sure that even if I did have a bigger chunk of the score to worry about, I'd probably be no more than (say) a timpanist. Kind of like the Dormouse in the Alice book: nodding off with my head in a teapot until suddenly awoken by the need to go boom! (thereafter to return to sleep).
The Bennington thing (so far!) sounds like it may have been a... well, a mixed blessing? would that be fair to say? Yeah, it's a problem with workshops -- the shocking news that you're no longer the smartest/most stylish/most talented/[etc.] person in the world. The great thing about getting into one like Bennington, though, is that it confirms what others have been telling you all along: you're good enough to get into a program like that, and good enough to make it through. You don't have to be the best one there, after all. You just have to be rightfully among the several best.
So good to see you online again for now!
Google Reader river... that it is, indeed. I wish I had a kayak--would make for easier travel.Delete
Timpanist. Ha! I don't know. I see you in the brass section. French horn? Trumpet. Hmm. Yes, trumpet. The Bennington thing--hey they have a band! The Doghouse Band (forgive me, Bennington, if I'm letting the cat out), a little group of faculty and staff--whoever can jump in and hit the chords--and they're wonderful! Rock, blues, country... makes me want to give my banjo more care--get it ready for the June residency. (Though, not very likely to happen.) Anyway, yes, sort of a mixed blessing. Intimidating for sure, even if I was good enough to get in. And, phew- I am relieved for I do not want to be the best one there! (No, no, this would be a very dark period for the literary world.) You can't stay on the top forever. You know? Mingling with the several best, though, that's a blessing. Getting into the band some day--that may be the ultimate. ;)
If you really must know: harmonica. No idea what section that occupies in an orchestra -- is there a "Miscellaneous" section? Yeah, that's about my speed!Delete
To be sure, most of us commenting here probably know of your writing only what you post here -- not the offline stuff. Still, on that basis, trust me... you have nothing at all to be worried about when it comes to sitting in a Bennington workshop. (And I can't wait to hear that you've enrolled in Yaddo or MacDowell; that'll mean that you're REALLY serious, as opposed to just trying to figure out how serious you are. Ha.)
Harmonica! Fantastic! (Sven Birkerts played a pretty mean harmonica w/the Doghouse Band.) My brother also plays harmonica. The harp, as he likes to call it. He has several in several different keys. The harmonica is not easy to master, either, but I have a feeling you'd know how to incorporate it into the orchestral sound.Delete
Offline stuff is slow going. And well, now, I had to look up Yaddo and MacDowell, so that sadly demonstrates just how serious I am with my writing. Though, I think I'd known about MacDowell, just not the actual name of the place. A long stay at either one would be quite the honor. Aha. ;)
The percussionists in an orchestra are highly skilled and highly valued. Just think what would happen if they got it wrong! If a first or second fiddle plays a wrong note at the wrong time, nobody hears it (only the section leaders) A percussionist gets it wrong and EVERYBODY hears it.ReplyDelete
Sitting at the keyboard fiddling with the keys has little effect except on ones self confidence or esteem. It’s only the finished article which has scorn poured on it.
Friko- Yes, getting it wrong would hurt. Physically! Percussions- they do add that special touch. Like no other.Delete
Ha-no scorn on your finished work!
The world needs more triangle players.. smacks and all.ReplyDelete
Absolutely, Hilary! So long as they come in at the right time. (Practice makes perfect. ;))Delete
writers do ferret out the seemingly insignificant, non-audience grabbing (like the orchestra triangle) morsels of life and make them come alive on the page. only then do we realize - that stuff IS the stuff of life. and the orchestra would be incomplete, off balance without its seemingly peripheral triangle. the devils and angels are in the details.ReplyDelete
love the manner in which you embody the challenges and joys of the writing life. congrats on the bennington residency and walking the talk.
Ah Amanda- You would have enjoyed some of the Bennington lectures, for sure. Those little things were discussed. Small moments and seemingly insignificant objects. The stuff of life. :)Delete
Glad to see you here!
This is once again such a great piece. Thank you Jayne.ReplyDelete
In procrastination we somehow manage to produce.
You're very welcome, Antares. Glad you enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it. And I don't always enjoy writing it. ;)Delete
Jayne: A great joy to see you back at the keyboard! My blogging over the last year has taken, on average, between six to eight hours per post. Life is rich, as your writing always reveals to those of us who pop by. I'm not sure there is a right or wrong approach in (unless you're landing an aircraft). What emerges here, at least, is terrific. Nite! :)ReplyDelete
Hi Michael- Blogging (writing!) is a time consuming venture, isn't it? I am still very much in the rehearsal phase, but it is most rewarding when I hit (or, at least when I think I hit) the triangle just right. One can never rehearse enough, though. And I've a bit of stage fright--so, well, it takes me a bit longer to work up the nerve to actually perform. ;)Delete
Wow what a great piece. Reminds me of all the beauty in the world.ReplyDelete
It's good to have you back Jayne. :) And this post came at the right time for me, motivation and persistence is just what I need.ReplyDelete
And good to see you here, Starlight. :)Delete
I love it when I find things finding me at the right time! Glad it filled those desires for you--I'm all too familiar with having those same needs! Cheers, Starlight. :)