Forgive me if this feels like a diary – intimate and scattered – but it is.
Three years ago I packed my car with the handful of possessions I owned – mostly books, and a pair of footsie pajamas – and I started driving west.
Something about the three year anniversary has made me more reflective than usual. I’ve gone over all that’s happened -the amazing and the mundane. So much has happened. I’ve gotten married, had a child, seen friends move closer, friends move away, fell out of touch with some, reconnected with others. There are times I wish I could go back and tell Past-Me those perfect moments he should savor, or those less than perfect moments he should adjust. I wish I could fix his grammar.
One of my all time favorite courses in college was “Improvisation for Theatre.”
Honestly, despite the fact that class took place in a theatre and I took my shirt off a lot (it’s not theatre until someone’s shirt comes off?) it wasn’t a class about theatre. It was a class about life, Man. There is this misconception about improvisational theatre though:
Every poem, or post on this blog, or short story, or song I write, every day starts as improvisation. Rough drafts kind of just happen. You start with one word and the one after that just has to make a little bit of sense, and honestly not even that much sense.
But the problem with rough drafts is that nobody wants to read them because they’re unfinished and not great. Frankly, the kind of people who write awesome rough drafts are the kind of people I ignore because I’m a petty child. So you must go back and edit them, or they will remain perpetually rough.
No art is safe from the scourge of editing.
I’ve heard many young artists, I’m included in this, say they hate editing. They’re all about just putting out spontaneous art and calling it a day. They say, “It’s just more authentic. If you had to fix it it isn’t real.” But, that’s crap. Good art is polished.
It’s tempting to think that everyday is material to be written, to be sung, to be painted. It’s easy to begin seeing life as a piece of art. I did it earlier. Remember? “It was a class about life, Man.”
I like what Stephen King has to say in his must-read memoir, “On Writing:”
Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.
It’s in the editing that separates life and art.
This is going to sound depressing but let me work out my thoughts:
I don’t believe in second chances. Second chances are editing. And unlike a short story, or poem, or painting, or a song one you can’t go backwards and edit. As I write I go back and look at what works and what doesn’t work. I edit.
But in life I can’t go back and cut the stuff that doesn’t work. I can just move forward. There is no red pen. There’s just life with it’s ugly material, boring material, glorious material.
As an artist I think about this schism a lot. There are many moments in my life I would edit if I could. I’d go back and say that better, pay more attention, eat better, grow a giant beard sooner, maybe start saving for retirement when I was six.
I don’t believe in editing, but I do believe in the Deus Ex Machina.
Of my own volition life is a perpetual rough draft. It’s just word after word, moment after moment. The plot is meandering and the conflict is insoluble. I like to imagine that I am the author of my story. That I am a man of my own making.
In all his wisdom Solomon wrote this:
In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord esablishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9
God is the poet, the painter, the composer, and he has so lovingly entered into His own work of art.
Enter stage right the God in the Machine:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5.6
I’ve edited this post at least three times.