Friday, July 15, 2011

Anxiety of Influence

Joyelle McSweeney wrote a smart piece about influence bringing back the fluidity in the word influence. Influence flows into art and from art it flows back out. There are political and social repercussions to this--both good and bad--the worst being the idea the small fingers of children in China working to make your laptop as a true influx on your writing--the best being the good writing that flows out vibrates at the same frequency as life, Chinese working-children and all.

Since this is apparently my blog about personal dithering and not about small hands of children (unless they're my own children's), I've been thinking about my difficulty with influence--specifically, that I crave it. I go out of my way to look for other peoples' input in ways that might be too extreme. For instance, Zoe's school. Flagstaff has way too many charter schools, making it way too easy to become mired in "what's best for my child" coupled with "the hardest school to get into must be the best for her." I post on Facebook, asking for input. I ask my friends. I ask strangers at the park, "hey, where does your kid go to school." None of this really changes my feelings--that her current school is good and the playground is extra-sweet (which seems the most important elementary school element, from my own experience). And yet, when I turned down one of the charters, thanks to input but also my own instinct, I still wandered the countryside ask, "where does your kid go to school. What do you think of charter schools?" Influence for the sake of influence.
Or, for Zoe's birthday, playset in the backyard or no playset? We don't have a fence. I imagine every kid in the neighborhood falling to their death off the ladder. Lawsuits and broken children. And yet, it's Zoe. It's what she wants. So I go around asking friends with kids, "Do you have a playset? Do you have a fence?" What inevitably happens is that I feel like a jerk not only for not having a playset but also for not having a fence.

Dr. Crazy just wrote a cool blogpost about literary criticism and being daring--writing what you know you should write, not just what people will applaud and praise or give you tenure for. She says her most daring writing has been her blog, where she has written what she wanted to. That is, I imagined, also how she made such a large community of blog readers--by doing what she wanted, not aiming for goals posted by someone or some other entity.
Which leads back to writing and sending my writing to people. Do I really still not know when a piece is finished? Must I send too-early drafts just in an attempt to create that community? I want people to read with me--to read in that way of collaboration and development but this just leads to me asking too many questions for what I think I already know is the real answer. I take too many opinions under advisement and then I write toward that goal or some other advice and I end up sending my kid to three different schools and with a fence around a playset that I'm still not sure I should own.

It's one reason it's better to teach writing than to take a workshop. You still get to talk about writing and elicit influence from yourself and your other students but you don't take it home at night and have dreams about strange hands moving your typing around, as you say, "This?" or maybe, "this?" The worst writing is nervous writing. I should save my nerves for Zoe.


Lisa B. said...

I am having a version of this very same conversation with myself right now. I realized recently that the revisions I've made to my manuscript were the result of this same thing--asking too many people for their opinions, and failing to find my own sense of what the manuscript is, what it's about, and therefore how it should be. I am trying really hard now to come to some sense of this, but even in the middle of realizing that no one can do it for me, I keep thinking, I wonder if s/he would read my manuscript--I bet they'd give me good feedback. Ugh.

Nik said...

Lisa--My first response to your comment was, send me your manuscript! I'll help! It is so helpful to hear your experience is chiming with mine--which is more what I really want to talk about. I would love to establish some sort of forum that showcases writing in progress but only asks for minimal commenting. Like a "like" button. I suppose we could post our whole manuscripts on FB as a note (just kidding. I do think that finding an audience and wanting feedback come from the same place. At least, we have good friends who are really to read.

Valerie said...

It gets even more complicated when you are paid to transfer enthusiasm and influence decisions? Ba.