My own work: 18-23

As a part of the Creative Influences theme, I am also reviewing my own work. This will be in three phases: high school, college and a little bit after, and my adult life. Here’s the first one.

January 5, New York: I wrote a lot in college. I was more disciplined about volume then than I am now, but I still lacked the discipline to complete a work. There were pages upon digital pages of rough drafts laying in wait for me. Spelunking in the folders however I found a gift from Past Andrew: a pre-selected selection of the best stories from my college days.

Short Stories
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality I found in that best-of folder. Somewhere along the way someone gave me the feedback that I needed to write what I knew, and I did that with a fervor. It wasn’t always interesting, but at least it was honest. I imagined my writerly self from a quote I once heard from W. Somerset Maugham: paraphrased as something like ‘my work is all a mix of fiction and memoir and even I have forgotten which is which’. These stories were a blend along the spectrum from real stories with real names, to real stories with fictional elements, to fantasies starring a present day me.

There are a few stories meant to be stories in here. In one, at the farther end of the fictional spectrum, I call up a scene from the mangrove forests we used to play in as children and mixed some events that never happened with a few that did. I think, had I been in a creative writing class, this would have been a fine entry (and received a much better edit). In another also very fictional one, I fall in love with a dying girl in a hospital. This one was a bit more embarrassing. Many, many, many of these stories are about falling into or out of love with girls.

Mostly this work was catharsis— purging the bad humors. College was a tough time for me emotionally, compounded by my suddenly discovered love for the booze. I spent a lot of time at a keyboard processing those emotions. Of the more process-y work, the best was a haunting piece never intended for distribution called “The Haze”. The winter break of my junior year I was horribly depressed, playing an active role in a very dysfunctional relationship, drinking and smoking with a fierce determination. This was my catharsis for those weeks: a collection of vignettes and observations of myself with my family. I expected to skim this one and pass it by, but I found myself pulled in.

I also kept a journal of six weeks I spent in Europe and wrote nearly every day. This almost entirely autobiographical, and a positive counterpoint to “The Haze”, but it’s also pretty well-written. Crap, even the poetry is passable. The high point there (and the one I talked about for years as the high water mark of my writing) was a letter I wrote to my mother explaining that I wasn’t coming home because I’d fallen in love and moved in with a beautiful French girl. My friends never let me send the letter and the relationship ended after a week, but the letter was still beautiful.

I discovered in college that I really enjoyed writing screenplays. I’ve always liked dialogue, and here was a format built on it. I wrote a few short scripts for school— one decent one called “Messianic Blues” about a little blues-obsessed kid who has Leadbelly as an invisible friend. And when I left school I tried to write some longer works. The closest I ever came to finished was a two-thirds draft and a full outline of something called “Free the Way”, which imagines a Los Angeles with a car chase every single day. This one is something I might actually try to finish someday.

My attempts to finish work
I mentioned “Free the Way”. It’s one of three projects I really tried to complete but ultimately abandoned. Another was a first 30 or so hand-written pages of a novel/novella called Wildcard Poker, inspired by and featuring a coffee machine that gave you a different playing card on the bottom of every cup. What if those were predictions like the tarot? Fun concept. After graduation there was an experimental novel with no title that takes place in an Alain Robbe-Grillet-styled city that is made of words. I always doubted that my prose was strong enough to deliver on that concept, but reading back through it, I like it. This is one I’ve always thought about coming back to.

I never fully finished any creative work in this period, only that work that was pushed by school deadlines. I feel like this period comes to a close when I complete my first novel. (Next post in this theme!)

My Philosophy thesis
I did finish some papers though! I was determined to maximize the scholarship I had in college and took full semesters every semester and signed up for a double major in Philosophy. (More about that here. “The Phaedo” by Plato) My final year I elected to write a Senior Honors Thesis— at ~40 pages, the longest paper I’d ever written. My topic was the philosophy of consciousness and my title was “Constructing the Automaton”.

This was a pretty great read! I’ve long-forgotten the bulk of the source material or even many of the arguments and I found this approachable and cogent. In it, collegiate Andrew argues against John Searle’s assertion that an automaton or computer program cannot be conscious because we have no objective path to determine consciousness. I draw out multiple thought experiments; I use the term “epistemic realms”(!); and I work in the phrase “But, lo, John Searle has been duped!” All around great work.

What’s missing?
Much of the screenplay work was nearly lost— it was all written in Final Draft— but I was able to read garbled versions in TextEdit. The video work, on the other hand, I was not able to dig out and screen. It’s still possible, we’re still within the technological bubble, but the process will be much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I was very disciplined in the early 2000s at making sure all of my masters were on DV tape. I should have, in the mid 2000s, made sure they were all digitized.

There is some good and bad work in video, by my recollection. A few student films I hated while I was making them. A few student films that I thought were amazing while I was making them that will probably be difficult to watch now. The important creative development here was discovering non-fiction video storytelling through a class called “Guerrilla Television”. More on that to come in later posts.

Nothing here is available to buy. But you could pick up W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, if you wanted to. One time as a kid I played Tyrone Power from the movie version in a community theater project.

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