I finished my first pass through Chapter 26 of the second draft. It now has the working title of “Life On the Rock.” (It’s probably just a working title.) Tomorrow I start the second pass. I’m nearing an important part of the book, which I’ll describe in detail when I get there—end of the next chapter.
Archive for February, 2011
Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaking to a group of cadets today at West Point:
“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”
Four weeks ago I was in New York City and rejoicing at being in snow. I grew up in a place where it snowed around once a year, four out of every five years. I love snow. But it never snows in San Francisco. This weekend it snowed on Mount Tamalpais, a 2,500 ridge just north of the city. (You can see San Francisco in the background.) So Judy and I drove over to Marin County and then up the mountain to the point where the park rangers had stopped traffic. We hiked four miles to the summit and then four miles back to the car. I was completely wrecked for the rest of the day—and the day after. I’ve become so sedentary while writing this book. Especially this winter. Sometimes I go for days without setting foot out the door. Gotta change that.
I started writing at an early age. In the second grade, I was into poetry. (I’d forgotten all about that until I received an e-mail from a classmate from elementary school who had seen the documentary and remembered me writing then.) In the third grade, I wrote a long detective story that took me months to finish. In the sixth grade, my specialty became humorous pieces that were heavy on language play. My writing took a more serious turn in high school when I decided that I wanted to be a novelist. I wrote short stories, poems, and songs until late in my senior year when I abandoned prose altogether and focused on becoming a singer/songwriter. From high school on, all my writing, regardless of form, was flowery and heavy with symbols, which was how I figured writing was supposed to be. It was easy to have beliefs then, and my writing was filled with my easy beliefs. Within two years of graduation, I was having serious trouble believing—in anything—and my writing, save for a piece here and a piece there, completely dried up. I didn’t write again until I began working on the preliminary material for The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
As I work on this new book (I’ve written more than 800 pages for this second draft alone), I’ve had to redevelop my working methods and my aims. I haven’t spent my entire life working at becoming a writer, so there’s a certain amount of bringing myself back up to speed. I’ve found that what works best—and I think it’s the only thing that really matters—is to say what you mean and mean what you say. That’s a tremendously difficult thing to do! And it’s a more than adequate goal. Good writing has electricity in it, but that electricity should be the result of getting down into the nerves. It arises naturally then.
I see very little writing nowadays that works in this direction. My sense is that most people who regard themselves as “serious writers” are enthralled with postmodernism, and postmodernism doesn’t recognize the existence of universals. So I don’t read postmodernist writers. I know the argument that says language needs to be elliptical and surprising in order to catch the jaded attention of today’s reader. But I don’t buy it. I think that postmodernism is, in fact, one of the forces working to destroy interest in literature. People will respond to truth, and, as rare as it is these days, I think we all recognize when something is “really real.”
I finished the second pass through Chapter 26, working title: “Seventeen Days.” Tomorrow I start Chapter 27, which has no working title at the moment. It will contain more exciting adventures in living on the street, sleeping in an alley, and trying to find food. There is a twist to this chapter, but I can’t say anything about it without giving away too much. The deeper I get into this draft the better I see what needs to be done in the next and final draft. My real challenge is going to be the level of creativity I’m able to bring to an increasingly clear idea.
Yesterday, Judy and I were in Brisbane, a small suburban community south of San Francisco. It was a beautiful day, so beautiful that I decided to stay outside and catch some sun while Judy went into her friend’s house to take care of some film business. I was leaning up against the car, passing time, when I heard faintly in the deep background a familiar sound: the squawking of several cherry-headed conures. That seemed a little far-fetched, and for a moment I assumed that I was mistaking something else for the parrots. Then I remembered that two or three years ago some flock members had been seen in Brisbane, which is eight and a half miles south of Telegraph Hill (as the crow flies). I kept hearing them, and they were getting louder. Suddenly I heard the sound they make when they leap into flight. Twelve of them flew directly overhead and then disappeared.
They’ve been expanding their territory over the years, but there aren’t so many—just 200 or so—that they’re as common as sparrows. It amazed me to bump into them so far from where I’ve always seen them. I’ve been down with a miserable cold, but they made me smile again.
I’ve finished the first pass through Chapter 25, working title, Seventeen Days. Monday I begin the second pass.
So far all my work on Street Song has been done on this iMac. Because I’ve been working on a machine, the text is somewhat flat, the voice is monotone, the prose is…prosaic. This second draft is up to 800 pages now, with another 200 or so to go. I intend to bring the third and final draft in at around 300 pages. That’s where I need to find the magic. In the hope that they will enhance my creativity in the last stretch, I recently purchased some specialized and somewhat hard-to-find writing tools.
I love my pad and I’m eager to start working with it. But I have to finish this draft first. I’m torn between blue and black ink, but I still have several months to decide.
I saw this in the New York Times today. It’s from an article about Jewish groups in the U. S. who support the anti-government demonstrators in Egypt.
Rabbi Lerner has been an outspoken supporter of the demonstrators in Egypt. His recent editorial, headlined “Jewish Prayers for Egypt’s Uprising,” was the lead opinion article on the Web site of the television network Al Jazeera on Tuesday. He said in an interview that American Jews had an interest in letting “the people of the Arab world know that a very large section of the Jewish people support the liberation of the Egyptian people and of all Arab people.”
Such views concern Israel’s defenders locally and abroad.
“Nobody defends Mubarak,” said John Rothmann, a talk show host for KGO radio in San Francisco and the former President of the Zionist Organization of America in San Francisco.
Mr. Rothmann added, however, that it was important to remember that Mr. Mubarak had maintained peace between Egypt and Israel for nearly three decades.
“He may be a barbarian, but he’s our barbarian,” Mr. Rothmann continued. “You need to have an alternative, and we have never been able to create one.”
Rothmann’s statement that “we have never been able to create one” expresses an amazing level of chutzpah. Who is we? I shouldn’t feign shock, though. I’m well aware that this attitude is widespread throughout imperial circles here in the United States. But it needs to be called out. And the idea that “at least he’s our barbarian” is another common grotesquery. The people who suffer under the boot heel of “our barbarians” have the right to remove that boot from their necks. We have nothing to say about it. People who drive around in fancy cars while constantly checking their personal communication devices, eat expensive foods, sleep in warm beds, and don’t care about the daily suffering and misery that “our barbarians” inject into the lives of their people enter a realm of immorality.
I just completed the second pass through Draft Number Two’s Chapter 24, which has the working title of “E” is for Education. Tomorrow I will start the first pass through Chapter 25. Working Title: Seventeen Days. It begins with a warning from a friend and ends with a special insight. Amid all the instability and insecurity of living on the street, I learned something that is still valuable to me today.
People often ask when the book will be coming out. It’s going to be at least two years before I finish writing it. Then, with luck, another year for publication. I don’t have a contract yet. It’s too early to look for one. I do have an agent, though. Wild Parrots did well, so I’m reasonably confident. One other bit of news: I’ve begun work on the outline for the third and final draft.