Near 500 words: No More Comparisongs

“What are Comparisongs?” you ask.

Comparisongs are those I compare myself with. But there is no way on God’s green earth that I am going to come close to catching up with them. I am talking writers here, of course. If I was a musician, they would be musicians.

When I was young and green, I wanted to be the next Hemingway. ‘Course I didn’t have the machismo in me that the Maestro. I wasn’t into hunting or fishing or bullfighting or punching someone’s lights out. That didn’t stop me from wanting to match myself up against the Master. I thought I could write simple declarative sentences and make them sing as good as Papa did. Little did I know how much hard work had gone into those sentences.

Being Hemingway for me was like a rich kid from New England trying to be Mark Twain. That kid would not have had a chance. He might have had some Mayflower in him. He sure wouldn’t have had much Mississippi mud in him the way Sam Clemens did. And he probably would not have wanted to be a riverboat pilot either. Or a newspaper man, for that matter.

Being a Southerner, I could’ve taken on Faulkner. After all, he wrote sentences as long as the Big River. Faulkner didn’t interest me. I knew there was a story there but I sure didn’t have the patience to find it among all those sentences. They didn’t make much sense to me. The one thing I did have was some storytelling in me and it was rarin’ to get out.

When I was young and wild and had my head up my rump, I thought I had the potential to do anything literary I wanted. That was my expectation. Little did I know that there was a heap of life those writers, and others too, had lived and I had not lived it.

Along the way I took on Graham Greene and Alice Munro and William Trevor and Yasunari Kawabata. I wanted to do what they had done. Only there wasn’t nary a way it was going to happen. Sure, I could take a shot at imitating their sentences and try at the stories they wrote. But I wasn’t them, and they weren’t me. They had lived their stories. And I forgot that the only story I had to tell was my own.

What story was that? It was the story built out of my own life experiences. I was no Midwesterner who took off for Paris after suffering a war wound on the Italian front. I was no English rover who saw the underside of the world and lived to write about it. Elegantly, I might add. I was no Canadian woman nor Anglo-Irishman. I was not Japanese.

It took me a long time to lay down the expectations and the Comparisongs and take on the mantle of the writer I was to be. But this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the Journey and for those Masters who showed . And also thankful that I have reached a place in my vocation when the only expectation I have is this. To let go and sing my stories the way only I can sing them.

9 thoughts on “Near 500 words: No More Comparisongs

  1. Once more you have written about writing in a way that makes me wish I’d had this post when I was teaching freshman English and trying to be of help to those few students who wanted to be writers. I’d have read your post with them as the motivation for a discussion about becoming a writer. I wish I, myself, had read it long ago when I couldn’t decide between writing like Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut and didn’t have it in me to writer like either.

  2. Donald Sutherland Bain died late last month. He was famous for his total lack of fame, having ghost written Coffee, Tea or Me, the Murder, She Wrote series and westerns.

    Obviously, he was not a stewardess, nor a small town spinster, nor a cowboy, yet he could write like one.

    Maybe instead of trying to write like Papa, we should try to write like Donald Bain.

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