On Whom the Pale Moon Gleams

When I was in school at UH-Hilo, I wrote for the campus newspaper, whose office was my main hangout during the school day when I wasn’t in classes. I declared upon first being assigned a staff position (editorials page editor) that I wasn’t a newswriter, which in retrospect seems like a stupid thing to announce. I could really have learned some good stuff if I’d been willing to write news, but I was sorta focused on school, and chasing stories didn’t seem like the best use of my time.

So mostly i wrote a weekly column (it was a weekly paper) and copy-edited everything even though that wasn’t my job. The weekly column was just whatever was on my mind that week. I wrote stuff about circus animals, an instructor I observed crying in the library one day, masturbation, politics, sports, music, and relationships. The editor in chief gave me license to write anything I wanted, a freedom that almost never really exists in the real world when writing for pay.

Between that and the writing I did for my coursework, I was always working on something, although I didn’t yet have the discipline to write every day whether I had anything pressing or not. Mostly, I was driven by deadlines, something that continues today in my assigned writing but not my personal writing.

I’ve said this before but I’ll probably keep saying it until I die: the most valuable thing (besides my college degree, I guess) I gained while at school in Hilo was the experience of being appreciated. The newspaper staff liked me and valued what I brought to the paper and to the newsroom. The people in the campus ministry I belonged to, despite my being so different from everyone, loved me fiercely even when I intentionally made it very, very difficult to do so. And among my fellow English majors, I was sorta a middle-of-the-circle guy, instead of a fringe-dweller as I’d been pretty much my whole life as a student. For the first time in my life in school, I didn’t feel like I had to act a certain inauthentic way to gain acceptance, and I didn’t feel the need to shun acceptance in rebellion against inauthenticity (yes, it’s been a struggle forever). I was just me, and what a gift it was to be valued that way.

Somebody (not me, because I don’t have that kind of social initiative) would always start a study group when midterms came around, and we’d schedule sessions in the library, and if I couldn’t make it for whatever reason, they would reschedule. In class discussion, people wanted to know what I thought, and classmates often asked me to look at their papers in progress. And if I was having lunch in the cafeteria, I didn’t have to worry about finding someone to eat with, because I’d just find a table and people would join me. What the heck, right?

There was this guy, a non-traditional student named Johh, somewhat older than most of us working on English degrees, who was the only one of my classmates I was aware of who’d written stuff for money. He was good, and he often complimented me on whatever I’d just published in the paper. Praise from him was special to me, because I knew when he said nice things he wasn’t just talking about my opinions but also my writing, which of course is more important to me.

He was also the play-by-play radio announcer for all the UH-Hilo baseball games (or maybe it was the Hilo Stars, the Hawaii Winter Baseball League team we had, or maybe it was both), which was pretty cool too. He called a good game.

One day, he asked me how something I’d been working on was coming along. I can’t remember if it was a paper for a class, a column for the newspaper, or something else, perhaps a creative piece for one of my directed studies.

I said something about how much I was struggling with it. It sounded so artificial to me, and I was stiving for realism. Or at least believability.

He gave a friendly laugh, and said, “Mitchell, everything we write is artifice. Everything. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t get crippled by that.”

He was right, of course. This writing thing we do is maddening because it’s not a natural thing. Some of it is illusion; we use what we know of language to manipulate emotion or create something that was never there. We try to shape opinion, or simply report the facts of some event, but we do it beginning with a blank page, and we do it linearly, one letter at a time, and we do it without really using any of our senses (except sight for reading, of course0. That’s not the way the world happens, but we try to convince people that it does. All artifice. Most of us who are good at writing learned that when we were young: that we could fake our way through almost any written assignment if we wrote well. Write with authoritative enough a voice, and people think you’re an authority. Or choose some other voice and create some other reality for the reader, including the reality that you know what you’re doing even when you don’t.

John is still in Hilo, a writer for Hawaii Island’s only daily newspaper, and I had occasion to thank him recently for his words of encouragement. He uttered the truth that played a huge part in setting my writing free, and althogh I still struggle for authenticity, I know that it’s all filtered through the reality of creating something where something doesn’t really exist, and it remains some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever received.

Getcha Popcorn Ready

There’s been a little bit of a change in my employment arrangement, but I’ll get to that another time. Yes, I know I always say that, but this time for sure.

I frequently have breakfast Saturday mornings with Anto, and last weekend he asked me a bunch of questions about my writing, and how much of it shows up online, and how much of it is personal writing (as opposed to writing I do for pay, or I suppose the film and book reviews I write mostly to keep my skills up, or my creative writing). My writing in this space has become sporadic in the past year or so, not because I have less to say or even less desire to write. It just seems that I only have a certain amount of writing in me per day, and with the writing I do for work now, there’s not a lot left for the reflective writing this space is generally reserved for. It’s been an unfortunate casualty of increased writing for pay and the increased fervor with which I’ve attacked my fiction.

Which is too bad, and is perhaps something I should do something about. I suspect that if I were more disciplined with my writing time, I would have more left for this space, something that annoys me, because although I’ve become a much more disciplined writer (a deadline and a paycheck will do that to you), I still wait until too close to deadline far, far too often. I do not believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in writer’s malaise, which I think is a quote. Writing is work. Writing well is excruciating work, at times, and I’m lazy. And agony-averse.

I saw the film adaptation of John Green’s Paper Towns, and what Anto says is true: if you’re seeing a movie adapted from a book you know well, you have to see it twice to decide whether or not you like it, because the first time all you notice is what’s different. This hasn’t been true for me of the Harry Potter movies, because after the first two movies, which I saw multiple times before the third film was released, the film series and the series of novels have become two separate things. But it’s proven true of almost everything else. I don’t love Paper Town, so I kind of thought maybe it wouldn’t apply this time, but there were a lot of differences, and I couldn’t even decide if the differences were good or bad. So I’ll see it again and review it later.

I’ve seen a lot fewer movies this past couple of years, mostly because of work but also because of a bad car situation, and of the ones I’ve seen this past year, I have only written a few reviews because I’ve gotten into the habit of falling asleep in every film. That’s always been a bit of an issue for me, but I’ve either slept through little enough that I could still write a credible review, or I’ve seen movies twice and fallen asleep in different parts of the second viewing, and written the reviews after the second viewings. But I haven’t been able to get to theaters often enough to see movies twice, and I’ve been sleeping through alarmingly enormous stretches of the films, sometimes missing as much as half the movies. Crazy!

Then one day when I was at work and running on very, very little sleep, I noticed that the only time of day I wasn’t fighting off sleep was my lunch hour, during which I was alive and alert. So when I saw a film later that day (yes, that same day of very, very little sleep), I bought a bag of popcorn and a huge drink (I always buy the huge drink) and spent most of the film eating. Success! I don’t really care for movie popcorn, but I had to do something, and that seems to be the best option for extended munching.

I’ve put on weight this year. A lot of weight. So I’m a little concerned about this movie popcorn thing, for obvious reasons. I’ll figure something out.