Thursday, June 9, 2022

Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (1995)

In the mornings, I feel compelled to write. Write what? Anything. Only the rule is I can't stop too much to think about what I'm writing, because thinking interferes with writing. Thinking is for editing, and there I know I will do plenty of thinking.

I've been working on one piece of short fiction for over a month. One evening, I wrote the first draft within the span of an hour. It came to about eight double-spaced pages. Sound good? It isn't. It isn't often that I can draft something in a couple hours, and when I do it feels like magic, but the thing is, the initial drafting is the easy part. Now comes the editing, and with that the second-guessing, the waiting, the habit of doing about thirty solid minutes of editing and then staring at the screen off and on for about an hour and a half, those offscreen moments reserved for standing, walking around, drinking another cup of coffee, using the bathroom, before returning to the staring. The staring is part of it, though.

These are the unattractive parts of writing, the editing, which is the real writing. The first draft is just a version of making a bunch of different puzzle pieces and throwing the thousands down on a table. The editing is realizing that you had constructed the pieces with only the vaguest idea that they would all fit together as a puzzle. The editing is a kind of cheating, shaving piece corners, throwing away some pieces because you don't see how they would have fit, and even making new pieces on the fly. Is it any surprise this process doesn't render perfect objects? It's a wonder anything gets made at all.

I envy you songwriters. You've got it easy. With a song, roughly three minutes, and composing lyrics for that song, the brevity works to your benefit. You draft the first version of the lyrics, and you can actually see the full thing on the page. Not so with a story or essay. The storywriter or the essayist can easily get confused about where he is. He's working in scenes or smaller units of argument, themselves about the size of your song lyrics or longer. And in the end these units have to fit together into a new unity, and since it all hangs together, if I change one small part, it changes the whole larger work. Be grateful God called you to write songs and not stories.

It's a sin not to use your talents. Among the few things I've learned in life, that's one of them. I'm bitter toward musicians because they work with songs, which however long they take are shorter and usually collaborative. My work is a solitary one. I must bear my burdens. Still, songwriters and storywriters all bear the weight of the criticism their work receives, and that is tough to get through. Most of the work we do will be bad, and when exposed to others, it will receive rejection. This is only right. It means we stop creating crap. We either get better or we revert to facts and realize we are well-read or well-listened artistic failures. A kinder word is "hobbyist." I am a hobbyist writer, for instance.

The public remembers Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (1995) as her first album but it was in fact her third. Imagine that. Does anyone talk about Alanis (1991) or Now Is the Time (1992)? I've never heard them. Never heard anything from them. I don't doubt that there's some merit to those other albums but my guess for why they didn't catch on and the third one did is because of the emotional honesty of JLP. This is a top-ten album for me. To the devil with how anyone else would regard it. It perfectly does what it sets out to do, which is to capture honest experience. It's confessional, embarrassingly so. She's exposing her grudges in public. She's risking a lot. She says the kinds of things you could only say in song, and then I still don't see how she can wail them through her nose and throat and not get red in the face with embarrassment. It is also obviously a younger person's album. She was 21 years old when this was released. Twenty-one. I'm 37 and I will never make anything this good in any medium.

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