Friday, October 17, 2008

Living in the Brackets

When I was 18 and in college, I started hearing the term “living in the margins” to describe those people who, for whatever reason, don't live in what is generally considered mainstream society. The burgeoning psuedo intellectual in me loved this phrase. I commandeered it. I took it as my own and in all my baseless arrogant glory, repeated it as often as possible, definitely much more than necessary, and no doubt incorrectly at times. I did the same thing with the word paradigm. "Paradigm shift" was a particular favorite. I also insisted upon calling my 18 year old pledge sisters "women". And not just women, but "ahhhhmaaaazing women". And it’s not necessarily that they weren’t amazing (or women for that matter), but it just seems a little much, especially considering they had been out of their parents' homes for all of 63 days, were spilling bong water all over their sheets, and puking out of their dorm windows. But I digress.

While some people live in the margins, as a writer I live, and die, in the brackets. There are those who know exactly of what I write. (Or what I write of. Don't look at me, Grammar Girl says its perfectly proper to end a sentence with a preposition.) For those fortunate folks who don’t, here’s how it goes: you're writing, it’s flowing, you have a grasp on the big picture, and the small stuff is coming together. Then, boom, you hit a spot where you know just what you need-a tight description, the perfect metaphor, whatever. But your brain refuses to cooperate. And its there, you can feel it, almost see it meandering around, elusive, in the gray matter. In this situation there are those who persevere, who sit and wait until it comes, perhaps flip through a thesaurus or a dictionary. Not me. Or Laura for that matter, which is one of the million reasons we are kindred writing spirits. Instead, after a long writing session, our word documents are filled with this: [insert description here]. And let’s call a spade a spade - its procrastination, one of my many unproductive strong suits. But in that moment I choose to bracket, I rationalize that I need to move forward. And I have faith - no I don’t just have faith - I know the right words will come . . . later.

And so I move on, clicking the keyboard and patting myself on the back until I finish the chapter or paragraph or scene, read it and re-discover the brackets. It’s like spending hours cleaning your house only to realize you forgot to clean the toilet. What were my greatest friends turn into my greatest foes. And, sure, sometimes the words come easily. But other times, most of the time, it might as well read [F--- you] in those brackets. And this, my friends, is one of the many upsides of having a kindred writing spirit. If the brackets are telling me to do something vulgar, I know they will be kinder to Laura and that she will find the word or phrase that eluded me. Its often a better word or phrase. And I think she feels the same; her brackets just seem to like me a little more. But most of us are not so fortunate to have the better half of a Jayne Lynne at their disposal. So my fellow writers, in the spirit of the paradigm-shifting, margin-living writer William Shakespeare, to bracket or not to bracket, that is the question . . .

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