Saturday, February 17, 2007

Father Knew Best

I have just discovered a new art form: fiction.

I know that fiction, per se, is really old hat, but for some reason my reading has centered around two domains: poetry and non-fiction. The fiction that I read was usually in the context of assigned reading in school, hardly an inspired context. For me, poetry was always the rich domain of imagery that explosively erupted as insightful discovery.

In addition, from very early on, my main outlet for creative consumption and creative output was music. This really flew in the face of a love affair with journalism that began around the third grade and shaped much of what I did for at least a decade. My father introduced me to publishing the printed word. I started writing a paper for my elementary school, and my father had an hectograph at work, in which you placed a prepared master on a gelatin bed and then put a blank sheet of paper on this sticky goo and after smoothing it out, pulled up the transferred print or image to the page. With luck we could print about 50 copies. You prepared a blue master and printed blue copies of typed text or hand-drawn images.

This publishing venture, small-time as it was, hooked me on the power of the printed word. After my near-death bout with an illness, my father bought me a used mimeograph. Now I had no limit to the number of copies (except expenses) I could print, since this machine printed copies from ink in a drum that had a stencil made of wax-like paper attached. The typewriter cut type images through the stencil and special styli could be used to draw all manner of lines, including images that were the forerunner of clip art. My first major paper was The Weekly Laff, with more than 1000 subscribers, and almost simultaneously The 205 Home Rumour and a newspaper for my scout troop whose name I can't remember (the paper, not the troop). The Weekly Laff's front page was filled with jokes. The news began on the second page and focused on the Korean "hot war," and local neighborhood news.

Such a long aside from my discovery of fiction! My adventure began a few months ago when I decided I was interested in writing styles. So I started visiting Borders or Barnes and Noble to find the new fiction table, where I would systematically read about ten pages from one book, and then ten from another, and so on until I had read about 70-80 pages. Everything at first was about style, but after a few months I've fallen in love with the substance of the unfolding narrative, the very stuff of life.

I suppose this love goes back to my father, since before I could speak, my father had decided that I should be a writer. After going through his things when he died, I discovered he had many snatches of writings that trailed off unfinished, more than likely because he had to put food on the table through very difficult times. Yet. his support of my journalistic career was a gentle nudge along the path he would have liked to follow. Journalism seemed to flow through me like an elixir. After printing my own publications, I was named editor for our newspaper in Junior High and graduated to the offset printing process, but had to prepare copy and dummies for the printer just like the big boys. In High School I started as the sports writer, then editor, and then went on to be the editor-in chief of the newspaper and the yearbook. One additional perk came with my high school profession as an editor: I learned to be a printer. I ran the high school print shop which boasted a hand-fed printer in which a roller went over an ink platen and then inked the hard handset type that was locked into a frame. One could use all kinds of paper stock, and I loved to print greeting cards, especially Christmas cards. Operating the printer required a bit of courage and dexterity since the paper had to be manually placed in the right position instantly and the hand withdrawn before the inked type frame slammed down on the paper.

All during that time, I was composing music and shows, and the lure of music was just too great and won out in college, even though I had won the Columbia University Award for excellence in journalism and editorial writing while in high school.

Throughout it all, my father kept insisting that one day I would return to the written word. In many ways, I never left it. I have continued to write poetry throughout my life. But suddenly I have discovered fiction. Something happens to the brain when you read fiction, and it is more than just the mind creating imagery from the prose. It is difficult to explain, but for me it is positively electric. It also underscores an idea my Father instilled in me...that the laboratory for writers is life itself...nothing is trivial...everything has meaning and will emerge in your story, which in some ways is the narrative of yourself reconstructed from your personal journey.

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