Friday, December 11, 2009

Asymptotic quality

Once upon a time, in a cold desert where men performed cruelties by moonlight, an old slave woman had a map of the known world tattooed on her tongue. When she swore, which was often, the juicy invectives passed over rivers and caves and winding blue paths; and when she wanted you lost she closed her mouth with a foamy snap.

Okay, now. The trouble with revising is that ... well, I don't want to do it. I know: wah. But I keep thinking about other stuff I could be writing, strange and fascinating stuff, and then I turn back to my manuscript -- also strange and fascinating, let me not forget! -- as it grinds toward quality.

I have a theory about quality. It is, no doubt, not original, but I like to pretend that I'm the first to have thought it.

In algebra (I'll wait. With me? Okay.) when you graph an equation, say "x=y^2" for example (I'll wait. With me? Okay.) the result is an arcing curve. This line, always changing, soars ever closer to an imaginary limit, but never reaches it. Never reaches it. This imaginary line is the asymptote.

It is perfection. We never reach it.

And so when I change a word, then rethink it and change the sentence, then rethink that and change the paragraph, and then start to have doubts about the whole lousy paragraph and don't get me started on the scene or voice or pace or rhythm (yes, they're different) or metaphor or imagery or tension ...

... it means I'm sliding along toward the asymptote, sluglike, slow and laborious.

Sometimes I think one great side effect of being a writer is the ability to complain in metaphor! Anyway, happy weekend to all and to all a good night.


missalister said...

The first paragraph: pure beauty. The sixth (six, the biblical number of incompleteness, I might add) paragraph is my definition of the monkey mind: a renowned surgeon, if he does his thing, will be successful; but if he thinks of the prestigious man that will be under his knife on the morrow, he fears he will screw up, and so he does ; )

Barry.Long said...

Ah, but what is more beautiful:
A perfect horizontal line, or the horizon?
The geometry of an idea, or the feeling it leaves you with?

An alternative view is It's the wabi-sabi aspect of imperfections - ok, some imperfections - makes even simple things really resonate. Would the moon be more alluring if it were always whole? Maybe the challenge is not perfection, but which imperfections to leave in?

S R Wood said...

I've heard that ancient weavers used to include a tiny imperfection in the great and ornate rugs they made. Because the only perfect thing is the divine, and they had no such aspirations.

Wabi-sabi in surgery, in writing, in boatbuilding. Maybe the trick is to aim for perfection but not to expect it.

Barry Long said...

I used to restore colonial era houses, and saw something very similar: When installing the turned spindles for a banister on a staircase, they always put in one upside down, so as not to offend The Lord with their own aspirations.

Let's hope surgeons aren't so superstitious (though I've met many a doctor who confesses to have no idea how we are healed).

In boat building? Hmmm. I just mis-cut a month's worth of work by 1/8". Not feeling consoled much. Hope The Lord is happy.