The Elements of Stylization

Oh no, spares us your meanderings about style.

That girl ain’t got no style. ( Should I be saying woman? That woman ain’t got no style?)
Strunk and White, I own a copy and from the peanut gallery, “Yeah and you obviously never read it.”

Well, truth be told, I cracked it open once or twice, but mostly I absorbed it Edgar Cayce-Like, that is to say I took a nap on it and when I woke up, knew everything, as usual.

And they say, “She’s all over the place. Who does she write like?” I write like me, of course. As a writer, as writers, we have to own the words and not the other way around, and the words do not want to be owned. As such these words are to be pushed and pulled and shoved and slammed and groaned and caressed and loved into whatever we want them to be, into whatever they need to be at any given moment, for the moment, for the story or the poem or the song or the novel.

First creative writing I ever did was in school, probably like most writers, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I got an ‘A’ on the assignment, as was my custom in those days, and I thought…Hhhhmmm? What else can I make these words do? In secret of course though, always in secret, because from the beginning of my love affair with words they seemed like sticks of dynamite, they seemed like the things that they described or made ill attempts to define, war and pestilence and love and sex and birth and death ( that is so close to a Stones lyric) and they were all leaking nitro all over the place, threatening to burn through the gloves and blow everything to hell if someone lit a match. The words seemed powerful.ย 

“Freedom is a waterfall, is pacing
linoleum til dawn, is the right to
write the wrong words, and I done
plenty of that…”ย ย  Patti Smith

And really, I don’t like to quote anyone else, I think, I know, “I’m a writer, I ought to be able to come up with my own quotables.” But sometimes, other people’s words are just too good not to quote. ( and when I’m quoting people I sort of know I’m always hesitant because maybe they don’t want me to quote them. ask?…that is a social skills bag of worms that I am unsure of how to navigate.) When I was younger I avoided all undue influence and guidance with regard to my writing, not wanting to learn how to write like anyone else. It is so rare to find those teachers that actually teach writing, the comprehension of the language as a skill set. Those teachers that understand the basis of the rules of proper English as a matter of foundation, rules to be learned and understood so that one might better understand how to break them. I didn’t want to learn how to write like anyone else and they balk, perhaps, at the rhymes sometimes but I can think that way and so it goes, it leads down a path not primrose but of prose. Sometimes, it’s just where my head goes and I love it because whether those rhymes come out right or not, they clear my thought process so I can do other things. Ya see here, because they always kept telling me about the right way to do things, I bristle at it to this day. Forgetting they, that we humans invented language in the first place to be at our disposal to better understand one another. There were no rules for hieroglyphs, just you know, try to make it look like a pterodactyl.ย  Is some nitpicker going to grab hold of that and go on about where hieroglyphs were actually used? ( and then look at how we decided to spell pterodactyl)

That is what messes us up, ain’t it? See because if you break the rules and you don’t break them…right…well then it just looks like you’re ignorant, uneducated, in need of schooling. When I was younger I attributed this misconception about my intelligence to the fact that mostly what people saw first was, pretty girl. Not that I’m knocking that, especially these days.ย  How does the song go, “My lack of education hasn’t hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall…” So it has been, or was, for much of my life, they thought I was missing the point and I kept trying to get them to see that it was the other way around.

Sixteen years old, in a place I shouldn’t have been with a bunch of other people who shouldn’t have been there either, a guy I knew drawing a Metallica lightning bolt on a pillow case,ย  another friend of mine trying to write a thrash metal song for their fledgling band. (Everybody had a band in the ’80s, for five whole minutes.) I said, “I can write a metal song. I can write anything.”ย  It was something like… When the chimes of midnight darkness ring and the demons of your reality sing, you’ll see the wisdom evil brings…When you’re going so fast that you’re falling behind, it’s dog eat dog, be cruel to be kind… I don’t have a copy of it, that’s from memory, I gave the song to them, they used it, once, I think. It was ridiculous but the point was, if they wanted a metal song, I could write a metal song.

( and I know it’s not the best lyric but I wonder if I could write a metal song now, there is your assignment, go write a metal song today. ) I pay attention. I never stop learning. I could always do this, I could always write. I can always write. Watch your tense.

It seemed to me that’s the way it was and is supposed to be. It isn’t about mimicry or mockery, it is about mastery. I am a writer. I should be able to pick up a pen and write what I want to write, in whatever way I choose to write it. Trying those things, writing in different ways, is the opening of those doors and passage ways not only in our thinking but within our skill level. It is about skills. Now when I read things that I think are good, I think, “Wish I had gotten to that group of words first.”ย  You know but it’s all me, whether I slow it down and give it a nice, steady thump, thump, thump, thump, like the even beat of a calm heart or shoot the metaphorical veins full of admantium, driving the mess of impending catastrophe into the center of a blazing…fizzle when I don’t think of something fast enough. It is jazz, it is country, it is symphony and harmony and it is thrashing and it is rock and roll. If I read something that sort of blows my mind, I’ll think to myself, “Can I do that? Can I write like that, but like me, like that?” Isn’t that part of my job, as a writer, to be able to do that? To be able to say, “What do you need? Well, I got that right here. I can write that.” And then all the different ways to rewrite those words to say the same thing in a different way. I have that here.
What is natural to me?

All of it.
None of it.

To be in that state of mind where there is this rush but then there is this tension of otherworldliness. (Someone said, “I could live in that tension.” But, it wasn’t me. ) In that state of mind the full exposition and expression of that tension, of the ether, of the dream, the falling, the flying, the lingering and longing and knowing of the drawing to and from and…I will wish I had saved some of those words for later coupling. To be in that state of mind where the words and I are one, a stream of consciousness and then extract from that a finer light on the edge of the knife in the edit. It is spiritual, it is epic, it is a necessary part of what keeps me, me, the need and the want and the knowing, and the words.
My favorite quotes about writing are from Red Smith,ย  “There’s nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.” And then the things that William S. Burroughs said about Kerouac as a writer, paraphrasing, that is that he was one who wrote, which speaks to another quote out there, you either write, or you don’t. “There is no karate maybe.”

To that I would say, you either understand it, or you don’t. Staying up all night chasing after an idea is not readily understood by most life forms, and they’ll say you aren’t normal and maybe call you crazy. Difficult to live with for some perhaps. I used to think I wanted to be a writer as something to say I was, something lofty, something to be achieved. At some point, I realized that when I don’t write, I don’t feel right or good or well for long. There is no schedule to this for me, to my writing, it’s whatever it is, whenever it is like a call I have to answer. It plows through everything in its’ path. Seriously, you know, it’s like a line from Twister, “We’ve got cows.” ( and my “you know” is sometimes a “ya know” but it keeps getting spelled “you know.” I’ll work on that.)

There comes a juncture when some of us know, “Being a writer isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.” Which sounds serious and scholarly or puffed up but if you know that about yourself then you know it to be anything but. I had written in one of my notebooks, “Did I want to be a writer? I fought this every step of the way.” And I know that to be true in some way.

( And you just know someone is going to say you shoulda fought harder but that’s okay, I got there first.ย  I mean, to the smart remark. )

Style? It’s a five letter word that starts with an S.

~Teri Skultety