On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Friday, December 29, 2006

What makes writing literary?

One of my professors, apparently at a loss to find something more specific upon which to comment, suggested I try to elevate my work to a more “literary level.” But I really don’t know what that means. Does that mean I should try to write stories like those found in The New Yorker? To tell the truth, I find most of the fiction in that august journal to be boring and pretentious, often depressing, sometimes even missing a plot. In fact, the lack of plot seems to be a common occurrence among modern writing, yet that doesn’t seem to eliminate the piece from the ranks of “literary fiction.” Indeed, it seems to be chic and cool, as though transmitting, "look at me, I am a modern writer. Who needs boring conventions?"

One of the books I recently bought on writing describes the “plotless story.” The author suggests that something, whether it be tone or language or idea or atmosphere or character must be present to be considered good writing. Still, the author goes on to say that even in such a work there must be a story somewhere. Good writing is writing that keeps the reader engaged, that makes him want to turn the page to find out what happens. I also believe that good writing leaves the reader with something more than confusion, whether that be a sense of satisfaction. A good story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending that keeps the reader thinking long after the story has ended.

That’s the kind of story I want to write. “Literary” or not.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I don’t get writer’s block, but still, I am not getting any writing done: I’ve got the hazy lazies: feeling enervated, wanting to do anything that doesn’t involve actual thinking.

Oh, I do check my email fifty times a day, and I have sent out scads of job applications. I even sent a story in to a magazine. But it’s just so tempting to put off writing in favor of checking the various news sites, sending emails to friends, doing crossword puzzles, or comforting my poor puppy (a 9-year-old cocker I inherited last year) who just had surgery and has to wear one of those outrageous plastic funnels. (They are useful, though. He shovels snow very well.)

When I had a job and was caring for children, I always thought when I had time to write I would be the most prolific writer ever. Well, the kids are grown, I’m out of work with lots of free time, (not much going on in the substitute teaching department) and I still am not getting anything done. I seem to find other things to take me away from writing: laundry, knitting, making and wrapping gifts. (Who said you need money to shop? I am very creative.)

I have tons to write, and once I get started, I go like mad—it’s the getting started that’s hard. But maybe the hazy lazies aren’t so bad. Ooo, there’s a neat video clip on the MSNBC site! That video clip might spark the idea for a short story. Hmmm, think I’ll Google some of my old co-workers from 30 years ago. Maybe I could get a movie script or TV pilot out of my memories of that job. I’m going to memorize a city map of New York. If I write a story that takes place in New York, I could create an authentic-sounding setting. What’s the latest theory on the extinction of the dinosaurs? I could fashion a poem relating my life with that of the dinosaurs. A true writer uses everything: nothing is wasted, even “wasted” days of non-writing.

The hazy lazies. I need a cookie. Or a pie. Maybe I should bake. Better I should go do some yoga. Or clean the family room before the family descends for Christmas. Or . . .

Sunday, December 03, 2006


It seems to be a disease sweeping our country faster than that avian flu. It’s that sense that we deserve better than the hand we’ve been dealt, and I believe it’s a major contributor to the decline in morals and basic humanity that we’ve been experiencing.

We’ve all seen it. A friend of mine, as she purchased a fistful of lottery tickets, sighed, “I have to win this. I DESERVE it!” I said nothing at the time, but her remark haunted me She deserved it? This was a woman with a loving husband, a good job, and three average, normal kids. Sure, they had a couple of outstanding bills, but who doesn’t? She would be able to pay them eventually, maybe by cutting corners a little, but she probably wouldn’t learn any lessons about frugality from the pinch. Why did she deserve to win the lottery any more than anyone else?

During the holiday season we all hear the bell ringers, see the buckets and barrels stationed at every street corner and store entrance, asking for loose change and nonperishable food. Those collections are for the families who have lost jobs, homes, and dignity, surviving on the meager leavings of an overfed society. Many of those families have done nothing to deserve their painful fates, other than fall victim to bad luck or a blind national economic plan. Why does my friend think she deserves a windfall more than these people? What about those families with members afflicted with debilitating diseases acquired through unfortunate pairings in their genetic code? Did they deserve such tragedy? Wouldn’t they be better, more deserving candidates for a lottery win?

More than mere selfishness, it’s that latent sense of entitlement that bothers me. Lately it seems we are more and more suffering from that skewed viewpoint: people bring lawsuits against bosses who demand a day’s work for a day’s pay. Others slack off or pilfer office supplies, claiming they can do these things because they are not being paid what they think they deserve. On the other end of the spectrum, CEOs callously lay off workers to cut costs while at the same time accepting ungodly large sums as bonuses—money they claim they deserve simply for being lucky or devious enough to end up at the head of the corporate food chain.

This impaired sense of right extends to the streets: poor children steal from helpless victims because they feel they have been dealt an unfair hand and so deserve whatever they can take. Every power outage brings rampant looting, the thieves claiming entitlement simply because they don’t have something they want.

We have replaced hard work and honesty with laziness and greed: the desire for a better life is still there, but the means to achieve it have changed— children want—no, demand—good grades without working for them, fancy extras without earning them, jobs without being qualified for them. Our society has fostered this dangerous sense of entitlement. Many of our celebrities are talentless morons, revered for physical attributes or the ability to be as outrageous as possible. But, hey, they deserve their fame, right?

I would be happy if my friend won the lottery, but I don't think she necessarily deserves it. Better she give those dollars to a charity and thank heaven she could afford to do that. The only thing we deserve to get out of life is in direct proportion to what we put into it.