Monday, June 7, 2010

Too Good to Live

Aside from spreading anti-itch unguent on myself like I was slathering a hoagie roll with mayo, I spent much of last week tweaking my manuscript to get it ready to go out on submission.

And by tweaking, I mean, of course, killing off the very last of my precious darlings, watching the light go out of its eyes while I knelt over its body, screaming "Nooooooo!" to an indifferent God.

The thing is, I don’t really have a problem killing my darlings. At all. I rarely argue with suggested changes – or rather, I am well-aware of and in agreement with Dr. Johnson’s famous line: “Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

It’s not as though I haven’t been doing it all along. I tell you, I am a highly-trained darling-killing machine. Seriously, like Jason Bourne or something. One by one I have taken them out. From first draft to revision to second revision to copyediting. I lay hidden up on a ridge, M40 in hand, picking them off one by one with the cold, calculating eye of a sniper.

But it doesn't matter how battle-hardened you think you are, there’s always one line you really, really like. One line you think is gonna make it, against all odds.

It’s like when you’re watching a WWII movie and there’s that noble first lieutenant character. He's the stand-up guy who takes the brunt of the commanding officer’s ire and insists that his men get some R & R at a halfway decent Belgian brothel for a change. You know, ‘cause they’ve been working hard and deserve it. He’s the kind of guy who's full of common sense, effortlessly cool, and routinely brave. And, of course, good looking -- but in a regular-Joe kind of way.

And you know full well as you’re watching, as you get more and more attached to the guy, that at some point, that character is going to get sent on some foolhardy recon mission, and he’s sure as hell ain’t gonna make it back. Maybe you hope otherwise, maybe you think, just this once -- just this once, he’s gonna make it out alive.

But no.

He always gets killed just steps from safety by a stray bullet or because he threw himself on a grenade to protect the life of the most reprehensible guy in the platoon. Too good to live. That’s what he was. Just like that one last line I wanted to keep.

Perhaps we should have a national darlings memorial. For all those who have lost their lives in the service of better writing.

Oh, my. I do believe I hear the sound of a lone bugle playing. So sad and forlorn but also, so beautiful. It’s like a Ken Burns film here right now. I wish you could hear it.