Friday, January 25, 2013

Literary Upcountry

Last Tuesday I attended a talk by local author George Singleton, a prolific writer with several short stories and novels under his belt. He is an intriguing contrast to the previous speaker, Dot Jackson who completed a well-regarded book though not as prodigious as Singleton. Singleton is one of those natural writers, seemingly capable of producing works like water spilling out from a faucet, speaking at a rapid pace especially when reading his books to a rapt audience. He made an interesting remark when he spoke about writing; how his work improved when he shifted from the third-person to the first-person point of view, an advice given by his creative writing teacher in high school. It was like a revelation according to him, freeing him from whatever constricted his voice, allowing him to burst forth into an inventively hilarious form of narrative, sort of like a folksy common sense humor that Mark Twain is famous for but with a more Southern bent.

Singleton speaks the way he writes, like an exuberant fountain that naturally discharges words into elegant sentences then forming into humorous tales. I borrowed a book of short stories displayed in a table, reading the first few sentences, attracted by the elegant and deceptively Southern style of narrative. His work is entertaining but lacks the sarcasm and biting commentary of Mark Twain, a majestic voice when compared to Singleton. But Singleton has the same wit, describing Southern characters and situations like Flannery O’Connor, but without the morbidity and Gothic humor. This seems to be his charm, a combination of Mark Twain and Flannery O’Connor, delivered in a modern tone like a lesser Salinger. But Singleton can really write; the way his words flow and how the story unfolds; a natural story teller but without substantive heft. One is entertained but one wonders if his time is better spent reading Cormac McCarthy, where one is left with his soul opened to a new reality.

Admittedly, I have not read a lot of Singleton’s works, just judging (which I should not do) from his talk, the two stories he read plus the few paragraphs I browsed from the borrowed book. Of course, one feels envy with the ease with which he seems to have when writing. In fact, one seems to note that he expresses his personality in his books; he is the narrator in the way he speaks in real life, as opposed to Dot Jackson who said that someone took over her when she was scribbling her book ‘Refuge’. But both writers are similar in the way a writer’s personality expresses itself; there is a completeness that one notices, a fullness of spirit. One wonders if the person evolved because of the writing or did the writing evolve because of the person? In other words - does one develop the person first: read many books, have many life experiences, travel and explore the world? Writing sensations like Emily Bronte or Jane Austen seem to belie this assumption and contrary to the teachings of Werner Erhard.

Tonight I will attend another library event which I hope will answer that question, the session entitled ‘Transform your Life: Become Who You Are and Live Your Whole Life.’ According to Erhard, one should just BE, becoming in one instant the writer that one can be, similar to Eckhart Tolle’s edict to live in the moment, and focus on the task at hand, instead of having the mind float away to achieve some future goal, attending numerous seminars to become SOMEONE. One does not BECOME by attending all these seminars because one already IS. At work, one does not have existential angst, one just jumps into the fray, accepting any challenges that come along, to make a living, to stay on top of the heap and learn on the job. Of course, Hemingway and Dot Jackson became writers after being reporters and learning the craft while George Singleton just BECAME the writer he wanted to be. But at least he had a creative writing instructor in high school.

Erhard teaches that one attends seminars or talks not because one should expect a transformation but one attends because of WHO one is. It’s the consequence of one’s context not in the striving for something. A contradiction since Erhard made a lot of money attracting people to attend his seminars only to tell them that they are already are who they want to be. The goal is to change one’s perceptions, to reverse the expectations from reading, travelling, watching and attending to achieve a certain state. Instead one acknowledges that one enjoys the multitudes gained from reading, watching and so on because of who he is: someone who enjoys input and ‘drinking from a fire hose’. Therefore one falls back on Tolle who advises to live for the moment and to focus on the task at hand. Learning craft is important because it’s a necessity like learning to drive and nothing else. One is not thinking and one need to ‘drink less from the fire hose’ if one wants to accomplish something. Perhaps it’s more a challenge to be mature and responsible.

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