I was asked to write about a vocation I might have followed had I not been a writer. Writing about what I might do is a sneaky way of really writing about what I actually do. Which is write.
If I hadn’t been a writer, I’d have liked to be a musician. Be it known, I have absolutely no musical training whatsoever. My sister Chris plays the guitar and the piano, as does my brother Homer, although I don’t believe he’s done either in quite a while. I can’t even read music. I ache to read music. When one of my friends – multitalented rascals that they are – sits down to play piano or picks up a guitar and strums a few chords, I am so harrowed with envy, I can barely stand it. It hurts not to be able to play an instrument. I would give my left hand to be able to play, but then, without my left hand, I probably wouldn’t be able to play anyway.
But I’m not a musician, I’m a writer. Which is maybe just as well.
I get the feeling some of my colleagues are more ambivalent. Some, I think, would rather be in a movie than in print. They talk about being adapted for film as if this were something to aspire to. Not that there’s anything wrong with movies. I love movies. It’s just that writing uniquely accomplishes some things that movies can’t.
In movies, you get everything all-at-once. So in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit, the first time we meet Rooster Cogburn, we see him silhouetted in the parchment-colored light of the courtroom. Tendrils of gray smoke – we don’t see the cigars, just the smoke – rest in the air as if hung there. We hear the shuffling and rustling of spectators. The occasional bump or scrape of chair legs on the floor. And Jeff Bridges’ magnificent rich gravelly baritone. We get all of this information simultaneously and I admit it’s pretty effective. No one sets a scene better than the Coens.
It’s all a matter of rhythm, you see, of pacing – the speeding up and slowing down of the information stream, the repetitions, the variations. It’s a lot like music, after all, come to think of it. Only music is more elegant. Writing builds its movements out of irreducible chunks of words and punctuation, clunky stuff, when you get down to it. Music works with notes, and notes themselves are rhythms; frequencies of vibration are the only difference between C Sharp and Middle C. To make art of pure rhythm, that is work for a great soul.
But I’m a writer. Maybe it’s just as well.
Man Martin's novel PARADISE DOGS is due out June 7 from Thomas Dunne Books. His first novel, DAYS OF THE ENDLESS CORVETTE, won him a Georgia Author of the Year Award in 2008. Visit him on the web at http://manmartin.blogspot.com/ or http://manmartin.net/