10.27.2011

"Obliquely" with Peter Weissman and Brent

{***Peter Weissman is a mentor and dear friend.  He's also, in case you're new to this blog and unfamiliar with the history we shared in LibraryThing's greatest group then and now, Le Salon..., the author of I Think, Therefore Who Am I? and Digging Deeper: A Memoir of the Seventies.  He's presently at work on his third metamemoir, True Stories: A non-fiction novel.  Enter his name in the search widget of my blog for several excerpts of his published work.  We had a conversation recently in Goodreads (Oct. 15-16) that struck a creative chord with me and I thought it worth sharing.  Peter agreed.***




EnriqueFreeque (Brent): Hi Peter,

Hope you're good and your work is progressing apace! Do keep me posted. 



Peter Weissman: Had three false starts on the 24th chapter, backed off and came at the larger story obliquely with a piece in which I bring back Tom, from the first book, based on his daughter, whom I might or might not have seen in my small country town supermarket in the dead of winter. An approach you might remember from the epilogue of the first book, "Teenage Artie," who might or might nor have been who I thought he was. So I guess you might call it meta-meta, a person who became a character, recharacterized in a later book from the altered point of view of a father looking back at another father. I call it, for the moment, "Fathers and Daughters."


EF(B)"Obliquely" -- a word I wrote down several times today in a fascinating meeting my wife and I attended at DSALA (Down Syndrome Association Los Angeles) headquarters on the dual diagnosis of autism and Down syndrome. Pardon my free association. But I'm writing about this groundbreaking meeting for us and what it's like raising a child dually diagnosed with autism and DS (finally writing painfully and truthfully about it), and am finally finding some freedom inside and much-needed peace in the process. Perhaps the lifted-weight feelings are ephemeral, but the fresh perspectives, I sure hope, won't be. Wife says, "Just keep writing what you know, Brent, because it's been there all along, waiting. Write what you know." Maybe it'll help somebody else someday, and not just me. 

I did remember "Teenage Artie," {from I Think, Therefore Who Am I?} -- a sad, yet stirring finale. But I didn't recall it in enough specific detail to comment on, so I pulled it from its perch high on my shelves, and reread it just now. 


"Crossing to the far side again, I dogged him obliquely..." (p. 254)

I guess I'm dogging the painful truth of our lives from an oblique entrance point too, since the front or back doors to our stories have been locked.

Your words, Peter, about bumping into Artie, are speaking to my own dawning reality from today: "Though still restless, he appeared to know, or might have been on the verge of discovering, that whatever contradictions plagued him were not in his circumstances, but in himself" (emphasis mine, p. 257)

That's just one example, Peter, demonstrating the universality of your writing; how it innately (and routinely) elicits identification in the experiences and remembrances and present realities of its readers. You were writing your's and Artie's life there, of course, circa the '90s (assuming I followed the timeline accurately) and yet you were (are) also writing my life today. 

That's why I read you, Brother! For the magic of moments like that. Thanks for sending me back to "Teenage Artie". I wasn't expecting to meet myself there, reading about somebody else making a sort of peace with themselves, but there it is. Obliquely.

(I might just want to turn this correspondence into a future blog post sometime, only with your permission of course).

PWYour response, Brent, is the most straight-ahead I can recall. Not that your writing isn't usually honest, but at times there's a layer between it and you; an approach you decided to take, a play on words you felt you wanted to make, etc. 

Looking for the source of the difference between this and other things you've written I concluded that you dug deeper this time, as you recognized yourself. Yes, your wife is right: you were writing what you knew. Smart woman. And writing about something close to the heart. Your reference to my writing as an example: I admit to feeling gratified that you found universality in what you quoted from "Teenage Artie."



In my best stuff, amidst the narration, description, and dialogue, I occasionally fuse with my imaginary reader (in my best stuff) and produce text that, read later--and in this case was presented to me--is something I hardly recognize as my own. As if a deeper, truer part of me produced it. Of course, you can't aim for this (except obliquely): paradoxically, it has to come to (and from) you when you're in a somewhat selfless place. 

A discourse between to be put on your blog: Why not? Reminds me that I should probably be reading more of that kind of thing, i.e., the letters between writers and others. You have any suggestions in that regard? I have read some excerpts of Bellow with others (Philip Roth was one, I think), in the NYRB. 

EF(B)Literary correspondence is a gaping hole in both my knowledge and acquisitions. I can't even name you a single book I've read of it! I know of, as you're undoubtedly already well aware of, Henry Miller's and Anais Nin's correspondence; or Sartre's and de Beauvoir's, but it's a form I've not yet explored, except in textbook anthologies from college.... 

There's a line in a contemporary poem I can't remember except for this: "...missed by thinking about it too much..." which echoes closely, I think, what you're saying about the writing that speaks out beyond what the author originally envisioned when writing it, that radiates outward from that mysterious "selfless place". 


I was largely a character performing an expected role in the salon. I only see that clearly now. Not that there's necessarily anything inherently wrong with that, entertaining people with doppelgangers (sp?) -- it's fun! it's a party! -- except it did create a distance, as you astutely allude, between my words and who I really was and perhaps even wanted to be. I think that's a big part of what I was escaping in quitting the salon -- like an actor tired of playing the same role, and yet an actor who nevertheless realizes he can't be anything else on that particular stage, because the two are so fused together like Siamese twins...Which is to say I became tired of being the same character I gave the same voice to, over and over and over again ... I'm tired of performing. The only role I'm interested in now is being real. Your writing has helped me...do just that: get real! ;-) 

I'll look forward to reading "Father's and Daughters".  It would be interesting sometime, in dissecting the writer's craft...of itemizing which chapters you authored from those "oblique entrances," and then compare their content to those that weren't entered into that way. I'd be curious to see if there were any significant differences in levels of "universality".

Thanks, as always, for your good words and for being such an encouragement! 

PW: That encouragement you speak of works both ways....

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