Rendered Fat Content


You might have noticed that my posts always feature a headline title which might or, often, might not very well describe the following content. Sometimes, the title makes no sense until the end, by which time you’ve probably forgotten the title in its obvious irrelevance. This effect might be influenced by the fact that I often leave the title blank until I’ve finished the first draft, being myself uncertain what I will be writing about until I’ve finished writing. Other times, the title draws from some deeply personal and therefore publicly subtle point nobody but I could ever discern. I generally start writing with some intention but no clear—or even terribly fuzzy—notion of where I’m going.

My best writing has never been sharply-focused. It instead toodles around, but toodles in a certain style; and if not a certain style, a rather satisfying one for me. A decent toodle in the car begins with intention but remains open to discovery along the way. It most definitely begins with a few rather simple ground rules. 1- We head off in a definite direction. North, for instance, and with 2- a purpose. Whether that purpose be lamb-looking or tomato-picking, we’re clear about what it is but 3- not at all clear about how we might satisfy that purpose. We 4- have not outlined the route, but merely declared the destination.

Reaching a crossroads, 5- we remain open to choosing again. We might find North suddenly a dissatisfying direction given the locally available options, and chase some bright-shiny west for a spell. Whether we again trend northward will 6- depend upon what the topography offers. 7- The real purpose, then, remains a mystery until the very end. We might tenaciously hold to the original or decide that the gods aren’t offering lambs for looking today and satisfy ourselves with whatever we find. The excursion never devolves into purposelessness, though purpose remains imminently changeable. Local conditions deeply influence, and guiltlessly trump original intentions. 8- Failure isn’t an option unless we insist upon failing. We can always reframe our purpose. 9- Our real intention is always adventure.

Distilling a toodle into a single inexorable intention seems the sure way to turn it into a trip, or worse, a chore. The frantic attempts to recapture an increasingly implausible purpose can flip even the most lofty purpose into parody. I used to see this played out around the Smithsonian Metro Station. Late on a sweaty summer afternoon, legions of families, the father of each invariably shoving along a wobbly-wheeled stroller designed to be pushed by someone a foot shorter, wend their weary way across the muddy chert path toward the subway escalator. Dad sweating the intention of cold beer down his aching, sticky back. Mom, beside herself tending to two or three sunburnt, bored adolescents aching for a swimming pool. Nearly crippled from overlong shuffling on travertine looking at stuff they hardly understand, they are smack dab in the middle of the Great American Dream come true, a vacation to our nation’s capitol. They suffered delay on the flight the night before, the indignity of a clip joint cab ride to that outrageously-priced hotel, the baby’s inability to sleep in the stifling room, somehow survived a free continental breakfast almost worth every penny they paid for it, and missed lunch after learning The Mall is really a food desert, only to discover that what seemed so compelling as an idea, sucks as an actual experience.

Much writing stumbles into this same elephant trap. Enslaved to the originating elevator speech and dedicated to its stated purpose, it beats the horse bloody and incapable of carrying even the dedicated rider when it could have more meaningfully meandered. My fifth grade teacher spins in her grave every time I decline another opportunity to submit my outline before I leave the station, but I’ve learned a couple of things from prior train rides. I am generally better off not even trying to know the unknowable beforehand. The path there has always proven itself to be unknowable beforehand, especially whenever I held my map very certainly. I go mapless now.

But maplessness does not forfeit control. What I cannot see, I can often hear or smell. Toodles demand a sensory sensitivity. The sounds echo, or might. I can employ assonance to resonate, creating a prose-poem effect. I can attend to the rhythm of words and phrases, too, and choose beats that propel along emerging ideas and feelings. I need not feel slave to simple description. I can usefully riff along the edges all along the way.

The cleverly inserted bird walk can help. A small interrupting story can refresh the reader and the writer as well, preparing them for more or even something quite different. A snippet of verse, tersely inserted, reinforces the base rhythm by interrupting it, rendering the overall cadence more explicit. Prose rhythm properly entrances and often passes unnoticed unless deliberately disrupted then regained again. I think of these as potty stops along the way.

Where are we now? God Bless the hard-hearted editor who insists upon no more than a definite word count. Half way through writing, it’s either clear that I’ll overshoot the target or suffocate in passage; one or the other. I find myself a tad frantic there, challenged once again to believe in abilities I cannot acknowledge in myself. Out of ideas or overflowing with them, there never was middle ground. Here, my intentions get challenged good and a reframing might be in order, though in that moment, reframing of original intentions seems only the cheapest possible resolution. Words, the frequently unreliable co-conspirator, weighs me down more than lightens this load. I feel like one of those clown car clowns who will never find his way back out of the careening car again.

Maybe we should stop for ice cream. Ice cream’s not a daily dietary imperative for either of us, but in this small town on this particular Saturday afternoon, with only unlikely options presenting themselves, that small storefront with the rusty Hershey’s sign might serve a higher purpose. We’re neither hungry nor thirsty, but stuck. Pistachio could help. It could not possibly hurt.

Something strikes a long lost chord in there and we leave chuckling, our world transformed. I’ve dribbled down my shirtfront. You found the perfect re-creation of a flavor you haven’t experienced since childhood, and your father suddenly stands beside you smacking Maple Nut from his sticky lips. Where in the heck did he come from? A touch more child that you expected to become on this toodle, I leave refreshed and tuck a fresh inspiration into my back pocket like a leftover paper napkin I imagine will be useful for some other than intended purpose later. We continue.

I began with the intention of writing about ‘about.’ I’ve wasted much of my life here failing to distill my missives into categories, my books into clear classifications. What is this about? It’s always about the self-same thing whether advertised as being about this or that, it’s always also about this other thing and that other thing, too. This represents no shortcoming other than the subtle shortfall of each attempt to so finely classify. And I get it, people expect specificity. We equate it with clarity and so, with cogency, but it’s a dumb sort of smart. I read now mostly so I can share some space with the writer, not so that the writer can clue me in on any particular topic. I ache to see through their eyes, not some narrow slit with only compromise prominent.

We cannot live narrow lives. We can only fail to defend the boundaries between this and that and we are better off for this shortcoming, for this inevitably intrudes upon that and that almost always entails at least a tiny hint of this, the separations inherently false. So I label each missive, each chapter, each freaking book, but I’d better not mistake that label for what it could not possibly be. It cannot narrowly summarize fifteen hundred words without dehydrating them, without itself becoming a desiccated chunk of dehydrated carrot from an unavoidably richer soup if properly constituted. The title might entice or repel, but it will not adequately represent the fractal experience. Neither reader nor writer should get nearly as high-centered as most writers and some readers seem to get about this. No decent toodle stays high centered for long.

The ending might also aspire to sum up the experience, but we all know experience requires having been there. Vicarious experience oxymoronizes everyone involved. The work was as false a premise as it always inevitably is. It was not what it was about, but simply about the experience which we both just passed through together. Of course you’ve forgotten the title. It had to be irrelevant except as enticement. The title doesn’t matter now. What matters now must be the shared experience which only holds meaning because we toodled together and because we each found our own
about to cherish from it.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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