25 june 1999  

king of swing

It’s not about Benny Goodman, much as I’d like it to be.

No, this is about swinging from one mood to another, from one frame of mind where expressing myself is loose and easy to another where expression is well met through the sculpture of the language.

In my previous journal entry I said I didn’t like the one that preceded it. Those two entries taken together represent the ends of the journal writing spectrum for me. A breezy and affable style is fun in the doing, letting things fall off the top of your head and onto the keyboard is like a Sunday drive. Just taking the brain out and about, ooh look over there. It’s a light way to chew on some ideas, and so what if the gum loses its flavor after a while. It satisfies, in its own way, and staves off a deeper hunger.

The more careful effort almost always brings me more satisfaction though, in the doing as well as in that feeling that follows, the marvelous pink cloud of just having written. But in that first entry I mentioned above, the one I said stunk, I now realize I was chasing the cloud more than writing the damned thing. I was trying to describe some strong feelings, and the key word there is trying. I always try, but in this case I was workin’ it too hard.

That’s the trouble with journals. They’re time-sensitive. You'd better lay it out there fresh. It’s like sitting down to make the perfect sandwich for that day. Let’s see, today was a... a bologna day, yeah… on sourdough… needs mustard here… brown mustard… oops, too much pickle… throw in some Miracle Whip... everybody loves Miracle Whip... Work on it too much and it’ll be a foot thick and taste like everything and nothing at the same time.

The time of day that an entry gets written also affects its quality. The solstice parade entry was done late at night. I was sleepy. When I woke up the next morning and saw what a reader had to slog through to get to the point I felt less like a writer and more like a perpetrator.

What happened next is all too common. I read other journals, in other styles. I succumbed to the lure of the easy read, the relaxed chat-over-the-fence, the biting and breezy sort of snide entry. Those are fun. I felt unfun. Sweaty with the fever of comparison, I wanted to be Mr. Fun too, so I pounded out a breezy one myself and felt somehow freed from the curse of he who takes himself too seriously.

And then what happened next is, again, all too common. I went back and read the original overworked piece and liked it more this time. Somewhere past all the alliteration and ornamentation it did seem to have some redeeming value. Great. I’m all over the friggin’ map. I have no true voice. I am Chameleon Journal Man, imitator, dilettante, rube.

That’s not entirely true, of course, but I’ve learned to accept the satisfying qualities of self-flagellation.

And while I'm grinding my brain down to a nub it's nice to see I'm capable of spreading this malaise to others. At least I like to think so after reading The Sole Proprietor's comments on the affliction. We both know deep in our little black hearts that we do it to ourselves without needing a push from some other scribe, but there is pleasure in commiseration -- at least until the blank page starts winking again.


today's music:

"Don't Be That Way" -- Benny Goodman and His Orchestra -- THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY


today's wisdom:

"Why doth one man's yawning make another yawn?"

- Robert Burton (The Anatomy of Melancholy)

previous   index   next