Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Diary Straits

“They” say that you shouldn’t immerse yourself too deeply in fiction while writing the same, lest you end up mimicking too closely the author you're reading, which might be a good thing if it's reading Muriel Spark but not so great if it’s Nicholas Sparks.

I can’t say if there is a corollary in non-fiction. When I read David Sedaris, my blog doesn’t suddenly morph into wacky but acutely observed tales of wacky but interesting people. Or when I’ve read Adam Gopnik, I my blog doesn’t devolve into, uh, tales of Paris and Manhattan and whatever Adam Gopnik is known for.

This is not necessarily a good thing, and as I find myself in funk, I am wondering if I should be reading fiction at this stressful and unproductive point in my writing life, in which I seem to know more about meconium and colostrum than what’s happening in the literary “scene.”

To wit, here’s the most-read books currently on my nightstand:

1. The Happiest Baby on the Block
2. Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child
3. Waiting for Birdy: a Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family
4. What to Expect When You Are Expecting and Insane
4a. Some Other Title Involving Pre-Natal Care, Early Childhood Care, or Interpreting the Color of Your Child’s Feces

You may imagine I don’t find this stuff particularly inspiring. If my blog began to resemble what I read, it would be a dull, little-read, school-marmish collections of cliché and banalities, which, I suspect, it might be already.

Another type of self-absorption

I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a non-fiction book involving personal experiences, none of which involve losing weight, recovering from abuse, or making my first billion on Wall Street. But I can’t really seem to find a corollary tome as a model, or, truth be known, to rip off.

“You should write the book like your blog,” Wife is fond of saying, and while this is a flattering thing indeed, I doubt a reader could stand this semi-snarky, fully gloomy pose for more than 50 pages. Or five.

The only thing I will reveal about the topic of this book is that it concerns a waste of time, and my attempts to give it up (not Sudoku. Or WWE. Or blogging.) This appears as if it's a natural parallel with a diary, but I have never been a fan of diarists, either my own or others. A good diary is the ultimate solipsism, existing nowhere but within its own universe.

I mean, a blog is good for self-absorption, but I’m not writing down the day’s events here:

I woke up, and took a piss. Showered, shaved, dressed, went to work. Got to work, had coffee, crapped out a lung. We’re talking nuclear warheads here. Grown men ran in horror. Went back to desk, and worked five minutes. Co-worker comes to bother me to talk about NASCAR. Doesn’t seem to realize my eyes are glazing over. Shooed him away and surfed the 'Net three hours, until it was time for lunch.

Had a bacon double cheeseburger and snuck under a desk for a nap. Was busted because I hadn’t taken my Beano. Damn busybodies. Went outside and wasted a couple of hours with Samuel Adams before going back to desk and pretending to work until it was 5.

Only interrupted by a call from Wife asking me about the $300 credit card charge from LiveHotAsianTeen.com. Said I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I said I had to go.

One hundred years of solitude

So I am not reading Anais Nin, Samuel Pepys, Edmund Wilson, and Anne Frank, not because they are inferior but because, in their ideal state, diaries are written for oneself. While such inspection of the self may make for great literature, for me they are as inspirational as a barrel of sour, flat beer.

They inspire me not to be a great writer, but to be like Anais Nin.

I am thus confronted with a rare dilemma: I want to write but my inspiration has run dry. When I was working on my novel and needed such succor, I would slake my thirst with Salman Rushdie, Charlotte Bronte, or Garcia Marquez.

Now what? Tom Wolfe? Joan Didion? Ron Jeremy? Hey, he just put out an autobiography. Which makes for a great excuse to run his picture:

I’ll try slogging along. Perhaps I will start a diary for myself and draw upon it later. Perhaps this will be my inspiration.

After I get over the horror of meconium.