Monday, August 13, 2012

writing and seduction

"Have you written anything for me lately?"

Well, no.  Nothing at all.

So. What's the problem?  And actually, I want to solve here a larger problem.  The problem of bad writing altogether, especially that of undergrads.  And maybe a few grad students as well.  Or.  To be honest.  Maybe a lot of grad students.  

And then I'll solve the teaching problem too.  But not till the end of the post. Or next post, if I don't get around to it.  But I think I will.

No.  I haven't written anything for you lately.  I've been too busy sleeping with you. Camping with you.  Doing the being-together thing with you.  I haven't written a goddamned word.  Cooking. Doing the laundry.  Emptying the trash.  Muzzling the barky dog. Unmuzzling the quiet dog. Setting up the new computer to start writing.  Clearing off the desk.  Picking up the dogs shit.  Working out, for god's sake!

Anything, anything at all but writing.  

Which spells for me a stage of life that might be called 'post-seduction.'

It's that easy (still early enough) part of a relationship in which just picking up someone else's dog's shit is still kinda a kick enough to be fun.  And done out of love and reciprocity (I pick up your dog shit, you pick up mine), and has not descended into resentment, or even worse—rage. Horrors. Don't get me wrong: it doesn't ever need to go that way.  I think I like this stage of post-seduction. I like the mutuality of it.  The minutiae of it.  It's pretty easy.  But I'm not sure it's quite enough.

Because writing is a powerful seduction.

I don't mean the kind of writing written explicitly in order to make a million bucks or two.  I don't mean strategic writing. The porn of how he gets laid every X number of pages because you think that sells. That's not seduction. That's ambition. And I'm not talking about ambition.

The Story of O didn't make those big bucks because it was trying to seduce a large well-paying audience. Anne Desclos (Pauline Réage) had only an audience of one in mind.  Everyone else has been just eavesdropping on a very private conversation.

And that's why it works.

The best writing has a sense of urgency as well as a very clear sense of audience.

Desclos knew what she was doing.  As did Genet, when he sat in prison pleasuring himself with words. The stuff just pours out (the words, I mean—though with Genet, that would be both), because there's no way to dam the flow.  Compelling writing is like that.  And it doesn't have to reach everybody.  It just has to reach that one person.  The eavesdroppers come along for the ride. They're a freebie, if you will.

Undergrads primarily write out of obligation.  Coercion.

"How many pages do you want?" they ask in dismay.

They're not all like OMG, can you believe it, I GET to write something... I am so jazzed...  

Think about it, students (if I may address you as such, just for a moment, one last time). When school is finally over, it is very likely that no one will ever give you the opportunity to take the time and just pour out your words ever again.  For some of you, it's very likely you'll never ever write again. At least, that's what you've told me.

And you've forgotten, it seems, that someone has to read this crap you've flung at us as pages filled.  Student papers have to be read (unlike that porn, the NYT, or any other written word).  Someone has to read them.  And that someone used to be me.  But no, no more.  With luck, I will never read another student paper ever again.  

So. I'm gonna say this straight out (and with all due respect)—and I hope it helps.  And maybe I should have said it in class. But no, you'd have taken it all wrong—

The best papers are a seduction.

They're written with words put together with that one specific 'audience' in mind.  Beautiful combinations of words. Just for me, for you, whomever. A topic filled with three parts desire for every part called eloquent.  Seduction trumps eloquence any day.

It doesn't matter what the topic is.  

Write about-the-economy-stupid. Write about Romney. Saddam (curious unconscious transition there). Write about whether to fund (or weaponize) Syrian rebels. Or how to get your name on a crater of Mars. Write about daffodils in the very early springtime.  Drought mid-summer. What you had for breakfast this morning (and why we should care).  Write about the gods. It's never ever about the subject anyway.

But if you're writing for that goddamned grade (or to make you that fortune you think is there)—you've missed the mark.  You've got to be turned on by your own writing.

Seduce yourself, first and foremost, no matter the topic.

There's a flush, a blush in those students who fall in love with their own work.  Their cheeks blossom, their eyes twinkle.  They're not being strategic, they're being excited by the material at hand.

I haven't written for you lately.

I've been too busy doing anything but writing. 

Because my own writings were missives to death, love songs to the dead and dying. Remembrances, lest I forget. Tales to my children, lest they never have the opportunity to remember. Stories that will be forever gone if I don't write them down.  No one else can do it.

In the face of death and dying, I seduce myself with words.  Genet was ever my best teacher.

Ah, but here's the rub.  Let me not put this all upon the student who writes because he feels he's forced. Because the-system's telling him to jump through hoops, crank out those pages. Because he's stuck with an English class (or god-forbid, Anthropology) and he's an Engineering student. And shit, I have to in order to-get-outta-here. Goddamn it, when they resent their being in school, it drives me mad!

This goes for teachers, too, you know.

Teaching is seduction, too.

A prominent psychoanalyst told me that one time when I complained to him of such.

Not a seduction of the person, but of the material at hand.  If you as you lecture are in love with your topic, that is the best seduction of all.  (In truth, that's not quite what he said.  To an analyst, it's all about the person).  

Topic doesn't matter. Ancient Greek or Pleistocene dentition. The fall of the Ottoman Empire. Black holes. Who cares?  It's all seduction-worthy.

Blow on those embers and makes them glow.

I've been doing laundry, not writing. Cooking for you. And eating your own exotic meals.  Camping out, and hiking trails. Studying pig roasts and fishin' holes. Walking dogs and bagging dog shit together. I've been doing chop wood, carry water of late. Pouring out a simple kind of love and not seduction.

In other words, I started just to live again. And started leaving all those stories far behind.

School is starting in a week or two—and for the first time in my sentient life I won't be there to greet it.  For me, school is finally, finally over.

But life is not as much fun without a little seduction now and then.  Time to pick up that quill again, and try my rusty hand.  


  1. Or a nice fountain pen. A Namiki, perhaps?

  2. Damn, Mira, I think if I'd read this post while still your student (years before you wrote it, of course) I think I might have been inspired to write better papers! As a student, I had to guess what each professor wanted--and it's different for each instructor, so what reads as brilliant prose to you might sound too personalized and intimate for another instructor (especially in the sciences--no first person narrative, ever). More than a little frustrating. But to be given license to seduce with my words...who knows what sort of brilliance might have been born from such inspiration!

  3. Gee, I needed this reminder, myself! I've been writing up a storm of late--but not a word of blog. Writing FILM --and what a change. Our Producer says audience-of-one won't do. It's too the fuck expensive to think that way. And no subtlety or grace. You might leave your audience behind. So I've got a lot to learn, and either do exactly as I please (the most likely road) or write a bunch of crap that anyone can understand without much thought. I don't know how to erite seduction for more than an audience of one (at a time). Even teaching, you can look each individual in the eyes, and see if something is coming in.

    So, maybe I was wrong, after all. But I'll stick to my guns here. And see what happens down the road.