My Imitation Of Writing I Think Is Bad
A friend describes such writing as "violently lovely" in imitation of a bad review
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My Imitation Of Writing I Think Is Bad
I am sick, again. Seems like just yesterday I had Covid. Now I have RSV.
I don’t actually know for sure I have RSV, but I told a friend about my symptoms and she said, “Oh you have RSV.” I felt so seen, having a diagnosis. Truly, even with the sore throat and cough and lots of congestion, it was a great moment for me.
(I’m not imitating bad writing yet.)
Someone else told me that this is an illness only parents get. I am not a parent, and the only reason I would have liked to have been one is so I could actually be real friends with other parents, which is not impossible, but is probably 85 percent impossible. Having RSV makes me a member of the club! Parents and I can be real friends with things in common for as long as I have RSV, which might be forever. How cool is that?
I have continued working through my RSV, because I’m not sick enough to not work. I’m only sick enough to not have any fun. In my world, fun means going to my workout place, which, let’s be honest, is probably where I got RSV in the first place, it’s just where you go to get breathed on by hot moms.
So I worked and had RSV. But when work was done I was bored. I tweeted. What a mistake. I read a bad article and then I tweeted that I hated a certain kind of writing and some people thought I was talking about them and some people thought I hated Faulkner or Proust, which is flattering, imagine having a Substack and writing for a watch magazine and saying “Proust and Faulkner, what LOSERS.”
Some people thought I was talking about their poetry, and then I went and looked at their poetry, and even though I had no idea what it said, it definitely wasn’t what I was talking about.
Here is an imitation of the kind of writing I hate:
I was scared. My mouth felt like it was lined with some kind of short-napped velvet. I swallowed so many times I felt like I had been invented, created, born, even bred, just for swallowing, for clamping down the hard muscle of my throat around possibility, around rage, around everything. “Come over here,” she said, looking at me with innocence in her eyes, trying to pretend that she was a songbird and I a person who loved song, but I knew. I knew then and I know still. I would not move, and even now, I can feel myself in that moment not moving, as if I actually had never moved since then, and am still standing there.
That’s pretty good, if I do say so myself, I wish I could make it worse. I admit I started to make a joke at the end of the last sentence, because I just couldn’t help myself. The sexualness of the swallowing thing was unintentional and not really “where I wanted to go” but I don’t feel like trying again and I don’t think I can do better.
I sent it to a friend who knows about such things and she said this:
I did not read the essay about polyamory. And no matter how long I have nothing better to do/RSV, which is a very glamorous illness that only kids and moms get —and me — I will probably not be doing so, because while I’m not against polyamory I am not especially curious about polyamory information in written form.
Today I spent a long time writing a long thing about the movie Tár that was complete and utter garbage. It wasn’t as bad as most of the stuff published about Tár but it was still bad.
After wasting three or four hours trying to say something smart about Tár, I now realize all I really wanted to say is that the scene in the Berlin lunchroom where Olga tells Tár that she loves Clara Zetkin proved to me that this is a movie about how being too into yourself, and too fixated on your individual achievements, is probably a bad idea.
That’s all. Sometimes you can give up on the big thing and just say one very simple thing.
It really annoyed me that this tweet I made about bad writing was misinterpreted by people, speaking of being into yourself. But then I read a review of Tár in the New Yorker that was so bad I forgot about my own resentments and took on those of the poor writer/director Todd Field.
This reviewer whose brain is made out of rulers and chalk sees this film and all he can offer up, essentially, is “this movie isn’t mean enough to the main character, who, although she is not a real person, the movie does not make us understand to be a very bad person, which is irresponsible, because we as a society etc. Furthermore, at no point during this movie did someone hand the main character a report card with a big fat “F” on it, and therefore, I am upset.”
This review put my misinterpreted tweet which I wrote in three seconds into perspective.
To me, bad writing isn’t about haste or failure to excel or failure to get across something really hard to get across or failure to edit to glossed perfection which is so often boring. I mean, bad writing can be about those things, like the non-piece I wrote about Tár. But bad writing like that isn’t a big deal to me, you can edit it, or throw it out, or heroically turn it in for a grade or to get money and then go jump in a lake. Bad writing’s not about what I don’t like to read or find hard to read. It’s about a tone where I sense the person is trying to be something other than what they actually are, or trying to feel something they don’t.
I can sense them struggling to be nicer, or smarter, or more compassionate, or more interested or more weird, or less weird, not because of how this improved self will affect the world, but because of how it will sound on the page. I can see that the person wants to be a writer, but not because they just have to say something, but because writer seems like a desirable thing to be. They’re trying to be good at it. And while being good at writing isn’t bad, the point of writing is not to be good at writing, it’s to tell people things, and if you’re not instructing them how to do something useful, like catch a fish, for instance, or how to free themselves and others from the wage labor relation, or why that’s important, then I better be desperate to know what’s going to happen next, or you better make some fucking jokes. Otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
E. E. Cummings was, I have learned, a reactionary asshole, and he had his own motivations for saying this, but nevertheless I agree with the select following words as writing advice: "nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we are not poets."
This is such a good piece DAMN