Tonstant Weader fwowed up

12 May

by Jess

Parker is pissed that I dragged her into this.

A friend of mine once described me, in what is still my favorite compliment ever, as “a post-punk Dorothy Parker.” This is extremely flattering! And also false. However, it is not quite as false as other flattering things that have been said about me, and thus provides the crux for today’s writing-related neurotic fit.

(And yes, believe me, I’m aware how completely dull it is to write blog posts about writing, and also it’s dull to write long posts about yourself. It’s not strictly kosher for me to complain about it period, because I have been a huge drag on the subject lately and everyone is fed up with me. Luckily, nobody reads this blog!)

I have often said that I am not a writer so much as I am a sentence-maker. I know a lot of words and can manipulate them into a pretty handsome sentence, which is sufficient for my day job, which mostly involves expressing research in a readable way. (Actually doing the research is another story, since I am also extremely indolent.) Good writing, on the other hand, involves a certain clarity of idea and image and a knack for effective structure — plus it involves not getting maudlin or preachy, as I often do when I try to write. Writers need to have a point and make it with style — it’s not enough to be a dab hand with sentence construction. Sentence-making is to writing what draftsmanship is to art.

I am not, when I say this, trying to coerce people into doing the “no you’re a great writer blah di blah” game, but that’s usually what happens. And I’m sure they’re sincere! But they also have an unfair bias, namely that they are usually saying this to me on gchat. And while I’m not really a writer, I am kind of a wit.

I’m not going to offer any evidence for that bold statement because I am a quivering pile of self-doubt and I feel like anything witty I post here, people will think “hmph, that’s not so funny.” So you’ll just have to trust me so that I can get on with the rest of the post, which is this: I am funny in conversation, and in gchat conversation that falls under the category of “writing” or at least “typing,” but when I actually TRY TO WRITE SOMETHING FUNNY I can’t do it. And when I try to write something not funny, god help us. Apparently I react to my discomfort with the vulnerability of claiming authority (which everyone does when they write something, no matter how diffident they are; they don’t call it AUTHORity for nothing) by getting SUPER FUCKING PREACHY. Sort of like “well, I’m afraid of heights because I might fall down, but by damn, as long as I’m up here, I’m spitting on someone’s bald head.”

There are a number of bloggers who also seem to be at their best in conversation — as much as I love Tiger Beatdown and The Sexist, for instance, I might love Sexist Beatdown more. And the conversations that constitute Monkey See’s “I’ll read it if you will” book club are transcendent. Plus, and here is where I bring it back to Dorothy Parker, there are of course famous writers who are known mainly as quipsters. But — and this is key — all those people also write other stuff. That is, they become well-known as writers, and that is why they get to put their chat transcripts all over the internet/their clever barbs all over the Bartlett’s.

I have long been trying to figure out a job description that will suit my unique skill set, which includes: memorizing lyrics on the first or second listen, ferreting out dirt about people I don’t like on the internet, and having very strong opinions on the 90s computer adventure game Monkey Island. Most of those don’t immediately present any ideas. “General wittiness/charm” does in fact suggest a career option, which is “famous writer who sits around getting drunk and dispensing bons mots.” I would be great at that! I’m just not sure there’s a way to rocket to the top of the career track without doing, you know, the whole writing part.


4 Responses to “Tonstant Weader fwowed up”

  1. Elysia May 12, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I suddenly have this vision of you being a super-fashionable salon leader at the turn of the 19th century, subversively dressed a la (what I know of) Frida Kahlo. But there’s a Steampunk overlay in this mental picture. Definitely a party I’d love to attend.

    I have often said that I am not a writer so much as I am a sentence-maker. I know a lot of words and can manipulate them into a pretty handsome sentence, which is sufficient for my day job, which mostly involves expressing research in a readable way.

    I often feel like my day job is really just interpreting science for people who don’t already speak it. Being a gifted sentence-maker is, in that context, super, super, super important. Honestly, I think that the combination of sentence-making and interactive wittiness is the critical foundation for being a good teacher. But I’m not sure where else I’m going with that, so I’ll stop there.

    • Jess May 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

      Yeah, I think the trouble with that is that I find teaching sort of awful. 🙂

      I used to say I should have been a landed gentleman, so your turn-of-the-19th-century vision is not too far off! They got to sort of dabble in natural philosophy and whatever else struck their fancy, without actually having to prove anything. It’s a terribly elitist, class-problematic dream.

      • Laura May 12, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

        You should be a gentleman of letters!


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