I’m an imperfectionist when I’m working, so I’m usually puzzled by perfectionists and their problems.
“I figure I’m going to be living with this song for a long time,” says Weird Al Yankovic, in regards to his painstaking process of crafting parody lyrics. “We’ll probably be doing it onstage for the rest of my life. It’s got to be right.”
I like this argument for craft, especially for books. Make it good enough that you can live with it for the rest of your life! Or, if that’s too much (and it is, really) make it good enough that you can live with it for at least the next couple years while you hawk it…
I love, love, love this part of Mary Ruefle’s long conversation with Ron Charles when she talks about A Little White Shadow and how she makes her erasure poems. (Basically the White Out version of blackout poetry.)
Here’s how she says she gets started:
All the words rise up and they hover a quarter inch above the page. It’s like a field, and they’re hovering. I don’t actually read the page. I read the words, which is different. So I’m looking, and I see all the words. And I go in and I pick a phrase or a word that’s delicious that I really love.
On how much she loves doing them:
I find it meditative and I find it infuriating sometimes and challenging and I like the smell of the White Out — dreadfully toxic! Really toxic…. I love it. Oh, I love it so much. There is nothing like it on Earth. I’m crazy about it.
Despite the haters:
A lot of people hate them… I’ve talked to people who just, “Why do you waste your time doing that?” Because it’s fun and I love it. That’s why.
The whole interview is wonderful and worth watching. Love her:
Oh, and here’s a fun little tidbit: Government redactors don’t actually use black markers! Here’s Michael G. Powell in his 2010 essay, “Blacked Out: Our Cultural Romance with Redacted Documents,” to explain:
Before FOIA officers would begin to redact sections of a document—and admittedly nowadays many of them opt for computerized forms of redaction because they are working on computer records—they make a photocopy of the document. Then, they take a red or brown marker and, more or less, highlight the segments unfit for access. Running this red marker redacted document through a photocopy machine set for high contrast produces a new document with black marks. The FOIA officer can then store the red marker document in the agency’s files, allowing other bureaucrats to see exactly what has been redacted. If a black marker was used, then anyone needing to revisit the document would be unable to see what had been redacted without arduously comparing the document with the original, side by side.
For a while, I was making blackouts this way, with a red marker:
And then scanning them and making them pure black and white:
Oh, PS: The NYTimes is still running their blackout poetry contest!