Friday, May 2, 2008

The Last Naropa Essay Entry (part 1)

I have a new story up at decomP.

"In order to help us determine if Naropa University’s Creative Writing graduate program will be suited to you, we ask you to give us a sense of your background and interest as a writer and a reader."

This might be bad because I'm overtired as usual (damn my manager for banning laptops at work!), but I feel like writing this right now.

I've known what I've wanted to do ever since I was a little boy. I've always wanted to be a writer, obviously. I told my mother this, maybe in second grade. She said that writers barely make any money (she was correct). I was ok with this then. I am ok with it now. I think she thought I was going through a phase. I think she thought I would grow out of that phase. I did not grow out of that phase.

Books were an important part of my life at a very young age. My parents reading them to me every day before I could figure out the words myself. I wonder if they regret this. Regret that I've devoted my life to writing rather than financial stability. I think they might regret reading books to me every day. Maybe not. I could ask them, but I think they might not give a truthful answer.

My parents have been pretty good about it though. They have never told me that I should not pursue a writing career. They have told me that I should pursue other careers and write at my leisure though. This is ok. I assume a lot of peoples' parents tell them that they are wasting their lives. My parents have always encouraged my writing, but they have never seemed absolutely thrilled about encouraging me.

I learned to read at an early age, I think--kindergarten. I thought I knew how to read before I actually learned how to do it. I used to babble gibberish to myself and think that I understood the story.

I read books that were advanced for my age.

I found it strange that I read very difficult books in high school and college, while I cannot stomach difficult books anymore. I cannot handle books that make me work to read them.

My parents found out about Asperger's Disorder recently. They think I might have it because I was a gifted child and I lack social skills. I don't know. Maybe. I think Asperger's is the new disorder of the season. Kids used to be diagnosed with ADD, now Asperger's is more popular. It's probably total bullshit in the majority of cases, and actually genuine in a few.

I did a little research on it and supposedly people with Asperger's do not have an imagination. So that would mean that I'm in the clear.

But I don't know. I've looked at posts on Asperger's forums where people discuss their fiction writing. So that seems like a contradiction. Maybe I have it. Just another disorder to add to my collection of disorders.

But more likely, my parents were being...oh, I can't think of the word...let's use misguided and overdramatic.

Oh shit, Naropa. I've gotten off the subject, haven't I?

So yeah, I've always loved books. I was reading a book when I came out of the womb. No, this really happened.

I was a voracious reader.

I took books everywhere I went.

I used to read them while I was watching television.

I used to read them when I was eating a meal (including when I went out to dinner with my family)

I used to read them during car rides. At first, I would get very car sick. I suffered through the car sickness. I made myself immune to car sickness.

I used to read books when I was supposed to be sleeping by turning on the small lamp near my bed and putting a towel under my door to hide the light.

I think I averaged one book a day.

I was totally obsessed with the Hardy Boys. I have read so many Hardy Boys books that it makes me sick. The one that I particularly remember is the book where Joe's girlfriend gets killed in a car bombing and Frank and Joe go undercover as arms dealers to solve her murder. I think I might be combining two books in the series here. My memory is terrible.

I always took part in my library's reading program, maybe in the summer? We received gold stars for every book that we read. I received a lot of gold stars. The kids with the most gold stars won prizes. I always won prizes.

I used to be able to read a lot faster. I now average the length of a novella a day, assuming I find the time to read. I blame aging. I believe that my concentration level has decreased over the years. I'm no longer able to read anywhere I want. I need quiet. I cannot concentrate without quiet. If you are too loud then I will destroy you.

I wrote my first story when I was in first grade. My teacher, Mr. Frasier, would often assign us to write stories. I wrote many stories. They would now be referred to as "micro fiction." Mr. Frasier was infamous for always having coffee stains on his shirt. I would often write stories about his coffee stains. In my stories, his coffee stains could talk and eat and shit and dance.

I just visualized Mr. Frasier in my head. I have not done that in like...I don't know...twenty years maybe? Mr. Frasier was a little old.

In second or third grade, I think, I would often go to my dad's office after school because my mother couldn't watch me because she was out doing something. I would spend the entire time on his computer. I would work on a story. The story never seemed to end. Maybe it was an unfinished novel? It was a couple of hundred pages long. It was about me and my friends. We went inside a haunted house. There was supposed to be treasure hidden there. I don't think we ever found the treasure. I think the house had an infinite amount of space.

I do not have this story in my possession. I believe it is stuck on a decaying hard drive in a landfill.

Flash forward to high school. I started taking writing classes. I wrote "experimental fiction." Looking back, I believe I chose to write experimental stuff because I did not know how to write properly. I believe that in order to write successful experimental fiction, a person needs to have mastered the techniques of fiction writing. I had not mastered the techniques of fiction writing in high school. My writing was not very good. I took a short cut by writing "experimental fiction."

I excelled in literary pranks. For example, I feel that my best work from that period was a campaign speech from a fictional candidate who my friends and I ran for school president, as well as a letter that I mailed to random houses in my neighborhood claiming that the bearer of the letter had won a sweepstakes and the prize was to become God.

Pranks motivated me to write. I always found them inspiring.

I continued to read a fucking lot of books. I got bored. I looked for books that were different, that were unique. My source for finding these books was Spin Magazine. They used to review a lot of interesting stuff. My favorite books that Spin is responsible for is Jeff Noon's Vurt (cyber punk-y virtual reality drug novel) and Simon Black's The Book of Frank (performance artist lights his head on fire, calls it art, meets a girl, decides to kill himself on stage, calls it art, also wants to do it to impress the girl).

I read Tom Robbins. He taught me that it was possible to do gorgeous things with language while using a wacky, offbeat plot.

I discovered William Burroughs. I read Naked Lunch. It influenced my writing. I did not like it at first. I read it again. I did not like it. I read it again. I did not like it. I read it again. I really liked it!

I think I was starving for a book like Naked Lunch. I had never read anything like it. It is the most well-known book like it. It is nice when a book is like Naked Lunch but actually has a plot structure.

I read Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! Trilogy. It became my favorite book ever, at least during my high school years. It changed my belief system to agnosticism. I stopped thinking in absolutes. Not only did I think that God may or may not exist, but I had no idea and there was no possible way to prove whether or not God existed and I was not going to worry about it, but I thought that EVERYTHING may or may not have existed, but I had no idea and there was no possible way to prove whether or not EVERYTHING existed and I was not going to worry about it.

Many years later, after serving as an assistant editor for Weird Tales, I reread the Illuminatus! Trilogy and thought it was a mess. I regret that not being able to shut off my recent inclination for paying attention to the mechanics of writing ruined my favorite book.

In college, I discovered Kurt Vonnegut. I devoured everything that he wrote in a month. I tend to do this whenever I discover a writer who excites me. Vonnegut showed me that it was possible to be unpretentious while writing about profound philosophical and societal issues. His writing was simple and concise and fun and I do not think I am describing it very well.

I chose English as my college major. I took many literature classes. Unfortunately, none of these classes were focused on the mechanics of the prose that we read. We discussed less significant things like theme and shit. I am bad at expression what literary theory-ish classes are all about. I wrote a lot of essays that compared something about one work of literature to something about another work of literature. I think everybody did this. Or maybe not. Maybe we just wrote really silly titles for essays like Light and Darkness in William Faulkner's Light in August.

I found them very motivating since we were assigned to write stories. I did not find them very helpful. The professors were usually grad students who were too focused on their own education to teach me anything useful about writing.

I also took many film classes. They were all similar to my literature classes. They all studied films as if they were each a text.

Actually, all of these classes were similar to my literature classes except one. A class on horror movies that I took in the summer.

It was a great class. We focused on things like camera angles and lighting and acting and sound and editing and music. It taught me how to write comic book scripts, which I became interested in doing after college. I still wonder why there weren't any classes like this, but for literature?

This entry is getting long and I need to go to sleep soon. I'll write part 2 (post-college) within the next few days.


Debra said...

Interesting essay, especially useful to students. I look forward to reading Part 2.

I did have to laugh at "vivacious" reader. You meant "voracious" but the idea of a vivacious reader is lovely.

Debra Di Blasi

Bradley Sands said...

Ah, yes.

I want to leave it uncorrected, but I will forget.