…the act of narrowing down one very long and distinguished list of influential writers until the top three talents emerge. The capricious tossing out of icons and iconoclasts, such as Irene Nemirovsky, Henry James, Margaret Laurence, and perhaps even Christopher Hitchens who, when calibrated to the passion spectrum, turn out to have captured Rego’s heart fourth best, or less. It’s a sucker’s game, you know, this selection/de-selection process, because the moment the top 3 are revealed is the moment that Rego’s work fails miserably by comparison and she becomes 70% less adequate. Maybe more even, who knows, because she also sucks at math.
Up until a few days ago my “List Of Three” differed from today’s list by a single name. A few days ago I was introduced to Douglas Coupland’s Player One: What Is To Become of Us? and bye-bye Christopher Hitchens, who is also bested – by a hairsbreadth mind you – in favour of the undeniable Oscar Wilde, and then bested again by David Sedaris, who remains safe and sound in retaining his title: “Karin Rego’s Number One Most Inspirational Writer – Two Years Running”.
So there you have it, I suppose. A surprisingly easy to compile list of my top 3 most inspirational mentors, in order of first to third, no less. Let’s get started…
It Begins With David Sedaris:
David Sedaris, author of Me Talk Pretty One Day and Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, remains my greatest inspiration to date. Sedaris is a contemporary American novelist, essayist and humourist whose wry, self-deprecating style elevates my favourite genre to such heights that it reduces his peer group to a milling of ants by comparison. I consider him a sort of edgier Woody Allen: insecure, strung out on speed and big into the shock value of surreal performance art. Sedaris writes: “A week after my drugs ran out I left my bed to perform at the college, deciding at the last minute to skip both the doughnut toss and the march of the headless plush toys. Instead, I just heated up a skillet of plastic soldiers, poured a milkshake over my head, and called it a night.”
Throughout Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris’ gift for casually laying out the absurdities of his day-to-day experiences transforms many a dotty moment into the pithy soliloquy you never saw coming: “Am I smart enough?” he ruminates. “Do people like me? Do I really look alright in this plastic jumpsuit?”
I don’t just read David Sedaris, to be honest I absorb him, as best I can, until future circumstances call for a nuanced regurgitation of what I’ve managed to retain. Plagiarism, you cry? Not at all. More like the sifting of a few stylistic devices so as to distil a bouncing baby derivative.
Moving On To Oscar Wilde:
In the same biting way that Sedaris mocks himself, our flamboyant Oscar Wilde mocks the rest of the world, and his aphorisms, like Andy Warhol’s ubiquitous soup cans, are everywhere. Don’t believe me? Take a minute to peruse your friends’ “favourite quotes” on their facebook’s info page.
“A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal”
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
“Anyone who lives within their means, suffers from a lack of imagination”.
With a few well chosen words Oscar Wilde pulls the reader onside, evoking nods and chortles and a distinct sense of schadenfreude where his targets are concerned. Like Hitchens, Wilde understood that to be amusing was not to be frivolous and that language – always the language – creates the magic.
It’s this succinct and intelligent manipulation of language that I strive for; the ability to deliver, with pin-point accuracy, a tone and a message that arrives unfettered, and wholly and easily interpreted by my target audience.
If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!
A man after my own heart, Oscar Wilde was the master of social parody. Plays such as Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest are prime examples of his gift for disguising provocation and ridicule – aimed squarely toward Victorian society’s upper crust and moral arbiters – as comedy. And with today’s slew of slack-jawed reality television celebrities, don’t you just yearn for a biting rebuttal a la Oscar Wilde? “The Real Nihilists of New Jersey” anyone? Already I’m inspired.
Shoulder-Hopping to Douglas Coupland:
The final giant calling my name is the very man whose inventive literary device was used to introduce this essay: Douglas Coupland. Coupland has been described as “possibly the most gifted exegete of North American mass culture writing today”, to which his 5-hour lecture, Player One: What Is To Become Of Us? is a fitting testament. Neither lofty nor floral but adeptly poetic just the same, Coupland marries a utilitarian sensibility with a keen understanding of social inclinations and challenges. To these qualities he adds a well informed point of view and a dash of dry wit for good measure so that, when all is said and done, his style creates for me a literary template of the highest order.
His ability to weave several heavyweight threads through a single story without risking a didactic tone, or worse yet, losing his audience altogether, is some kind of genius. It reminds me that at the heart of every successful project is a relentless dedication to research because the devil is in the details. It also reminds me that artists like Coupland – who fell into his career by accident when a postcard he’d sent to a friend in Vancouver was read by the editor of a popular magazine, (the friend’s husband), who then promptly offered Coupland a job – it reminds me that artists like Coupland possess an uncanny ability to kick start the movie reel in our heads because they understand how to filter grand ideas into a methodical, intoxicating, sequence of words.
Theoretically, the skill-sets that I admire so much: a wicked sense of humour; a clean, effortless style; and, the ability to provoke thought through entertaining, slice-of-life story lines, can be taught. But in the practical sense, it’s my feeling that genius is born, not made. And while we may learn much by emulating our mentors, certainly there’s no capturing what artistry wordsmiths harbour in their souls.