For my current project, I am stitching my better essays on theatre into a book that I will self-publish and then send to each artistic director in New York City. I don't expect anything to come of it (i.e., an offer to read my work), but I have no reason to let these essays go on gathering digital dust on my website and at Scene4. "No-expectation" frees me up to do this because the satisfaction comes from spending time with my own work, not (or not only) from the audience's response. The thing-done-for-itself is a rare thing for a human being to do.
I set up a guide for each piece: the words had to fit on a single sheet with one-inch margins and double-spaced. This would force me to speak straight and not use a word more than needed - keep the tracking lean and tight. (With the essays boiled down like this, I could also use them for podcasts, where two minutes of my voice runs about one page.)
Honestly, I thought the edits would be small because, well, hadn't I written them so well the first time? I found out how wrong I was.
The lard in them, especially in the older bits: shocking and shameful. And the sage-like and round-tone style I deployed now sounds slack and know-it-all. I don't chide myself for this - I was who I was then, and now I am not, and the work needs to voice new needs and new goals. But, man, still what a shock!
So, cut, prune, rinse, scale, scrape, buff, hone - stunned at how much bulge I could get these works to shed - but every syllable peeled off brought the writing closer to making real sense rather than just making a show of making sense.
I won't bore you with any demo - but I want to understand this link between my getting older and a more plain style. Adjectives and adverbs once hung out as a sign of art now fall to the side so that the line can unfurl with more ease and less crease. The younger man would have gone for a pearlescent moon, but now such a trope is just too much cologne in a small space. "Moon" will do just fine and clear the air. And I am fine with that.
Lean feels honest. Lush feels jaded. Lean leads. Lush distracts.
Perhaps "the great slimming" has to do with having less time to live (though every day can be our last day, no matter what our age). Or maybe it's just an analogue of losing my hair, which has actually helped me look better (the comb-over never fooled a soul). Or part of the urge to divert most of my clothes to Salvation Army (thinking of Thoreau's cabin with its bed, desk, and chair). Or that I no longer feel polite enough to sit through bad second acts or finish inept books or grin and bear nonsense, especially my own bad second acts and inept books and nonsense.
Or it is finally unraveling the Buddhist conundrum of non-attachment to the world -- not that I am detached or indifferent but that the attachment to anything does not govern me by desire. I can split the link between the desire and the desired, look upon them both as jeweled and glorious animals that do not need to be owned in order to be enjoyed. At peace if not necessarily at rest.
From wherever hails this lean towards leanness, I greet it and show it because it helps me be serious without taking myself too seriously, helps me be sober without sobriety, helps me remember that the root of any useful wisdom is planted in clumsiness, folly, and bad judgments (of which I have much and many) as well as not being suckered by the canard that style equals substance and a gesture is enough.
Thoreau (again) says it well: "…to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…" I am liking those terms.