A Pristine Relationship
One of the best pieces of writing I did when I was in high school was a brief speech I delivered as a part of my school’s graduation ceremony. When I sat down to write it, I not only knew that the words I wrote would reach an audience, but that this audience would be seated directly in front of me while I read it. This brought an immediacy to my work that was usually lacking, and I dropped all pretense and wrote as honestly and succinctly as I could. My future experiences in front of audiences have often served as an excellent training ground for the very private work of writing stories. For a time I wrote and performed in my own theater show. Sometimes the audiences were big, sometimes they were small; sometimes the audiences laughed throughout, sometimes they did not. What I never did, however, was stand on stage and count who was laughing and who was not. I never wondered why person X in the front row laughed at Joke A but not Joke B.
And while I was constantly rewriting the show, I understood there was a difference between what wasn’t working on the whole and what simply wasn’t working well on a given night. Sometimes the wrong people have come to your show. This is never very pleasant, but I managed not to take the wrong crowd coming to my show particularly personally.
I’m a bit of a People Person, which can make writing a strange profession. The reader/writer relationship is as distant as a relationship can be when both parties are still alive. But it is a relationship nonetheless, and not all relationships are equal. I had a number of girlfriends, but I only wanted to marry one of them. Likewise, I have started reading many books, but I haven’t finished all of them.
Which is part of the beauty of the reader/writer relationship. It’s rude to leave a theater when you’ve wandered into the wrong show, but no one’s feelings will be hurt if you put down a book you should not have bothered picking up. There is, however, something delicious about picking up the right book. I always preferred bigger audiences because people tend to laugh when other people laugh, and so the larger the audiences the greater the opportunities for a wildfire effect. The reader’s relationship to a book is largely pristine; it is like a guided conversation with yourself – and why, I think, Hemmingway said that when you finish a book you love you always come away feeling as though you have been slightly changed.