March 9, 2007


Willy Lizarraga - Berkeley, California

The film was about the expressionist American painter Jackson Pollock, and I don't think there is anything memorable about it, except a tiny piece of dialogue between Pollock and his girlfriend, who upon seeing one of his paintings for the first time asks him:

"How do you know when it's finished?"

A most legitimate question, by the way, considering Pollock's chaotically free style.

"Well, how do you know when you're done making love?"

I think that's as deep as the film digs into Pollock's creative process, too. The rest is tortured, generic melodrama with a beatnik touch.

Now, what does this have to do with March 9, 2007?

You'll see. Or maybe you won't.

I had been working on a novel about musicians and demons, set in the Bay Area, for the past ten years and around December I "finished" it. Yes, I had some small revisions to make, but all the scenes were fully developed and the structure was secure enough to hold them together with ease. The bridge was crossable. Anybody could walk on it and feel safe to go from beginning to end.

My girlfriend Marguerite, bless her mind, body and taste, had been systematically correcting the grammatical mistakes of the different versions of the novel, mistakes that, by the way, I would characterize as insurmountable. I mean my prepositions will always be fucked. I'm not a native English speaker, period. Anyway, since my completion of the novel, she had been particularly pressed to make sure the manuscript was as grammatically sound as possible to face the world. Unfortunately, by the end of February, she had no time or mental energy left to devote to my novel's cause. Things at her work got out of control and, I suppose, too, she could think of a million better things to do.

So I decided to finish correcting the manuscript myself. The interesting part is that I wasn't only blind to most of my mistakes, but in my effort to improve on the ones I caught, I rewrote a few sentences here and there and, by doing so, I made them worse.

Many years ago, I read an article, probably by the Uruguayan Mario Benedetti, that compared the creative process of a writer to a high-jump competition, which, unlike many other athletic specialties, always ends in defeat. That is, you might have won the title but, in your last try, you couldn't jump any higher. And there's something utterly sobering about this simile, something that goes, in effect, to the heart of my call as a writer - to portray the tragic side of comedy (the failure behind every epic achievement, to keep the athletic metaphor rolling) as well as the comic side of tragedy (the funny agony of defeat, to borrow, sort of, a phrase from Howard Cosell) in such a way that one cannot be extricated from the other, and to trust above all the dramatic tension they create and sustain as bound antagonists.

Well, March 9, 2007, was my day to concede defeat and to proudly acknowledge my incredible triumph. My job as a novelist was done. All that was left for me to do was print the whole damn thing (mistakes included) and send it to my potential agent in Boston. And as I ran - carrying my manuscript perfectly tucked in its box - through the post office's door a few minutes before closing time, got in line and waited for my turn, I had the saddest and happiest of smiles and tears on my face.


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