WILL THE REAL ME PLEASE BRAND UP
by Jnana Hodson
Branding, we’re told, is everything. It’s not just marketing, or even just a product. It’s the whole lineup. A slogan for differentiating one Big Box Store or high-end boutique from another (including everything inside). Even academia wants a label as a way to file a writer or artist away for easy reference, however awkwardly into one slot or another. It’s ultimately a word game, with or without an actual referent. But what if you’re a misfit, as many truly are?
In literature, the labeling relates better to those who stay within a genre or stick to a manifesto or particular technique or remain in a specific locale – an Oklahoma gothic mystery crime writer, for example – than to my favorites, especially those whose work ranges over many subjects and forms and continually grows. Likewise, I’m bewildered by how often the labels applied to them are downright erroneous, if not simply glib. Or matches one part of their output while ignoring all the rest.
This turns up repeatedly when I attempt replies for those who wish to pigeonhole me. I do what I do. The writing goes where it goes, and the revisions follow. I try to be faithful. So far, I’ve been a part-timer and non-commercial. Neither by choice, but both by fidelity. My opportunities for literary writing (in contrast to the daily journalism that’s paid the bills) have never been that easy or as sustained as I’d wish. I’ve envied those who set out knowing the direction they would pursue for a lifetime, those whose work presents a continuous focus and tone. Especially those who mature as they progress, rather than repeating a facile formula.
Looking back over my poetry and fiction from across the years – and, for that matter, across the continent – I’m struck by the ways so many of the pieces differ, at least outwardly. How varied the subject matter and approach. Here I keep intending the plainspoken, direct, clearly focused piece, and keep winding up with Mixmaster compounds and distillations. Maybe my mind’s rarely that unified; instead, a multitude of mental and emotional activities have kept occurring simultaneously and the most I could hope for is some convergence. Besides, so much of my writing has arisen in some opposition to my daily employment, with all of its own dulling repetition – my writing keeps veering toward the “experimental” fringe, if only in reaction to the daily grind of news stories and headlines. Or, in the past decade, obituaries. Through much of my adult life, I’ve felt torn and uprooted, from Ohio and Indiana to the East Coast and then Washington State and back again. To say nothing of my love life and social environment. The nature poems stand in contrast or discord with the police blotter love poems or, in turn, with my current home setting. That, before I even consider my fiction or the genealogy or Quaker expressions.
(Have I performed the daily journalism to pay the bills while I pursued my literary endeavors? Or had I pursued the literary work as a way of keeping my journalism skills sharpened? What started as one wound up the other, and then shifted back again.)
The writing, in turn, has been an attempt to bring some understanding to all the eruption I’ve experienced. The turns in the road, the setbacks, the advances. A quest for understanding and, if not clarity, some meaning or permanence. I tend my personal journal because I forget so much, and often record observations I will not comprehend until years later. Am baffled, because I have yet to define my mission with a label that sells. Write, then, to discover myself in this morass.
Still, I’m open to suggestions. If you can.