Writing different kinds of Introductions

I wrote the Introduction to Aubade in 1989, at a time when I’d done little reading for years except what was required for my psychology degree at Columbia and then for the first of my psychology grad schools. I’d had a narrow focus for years, with little time for self-reflection. The Introduction to Aubade is straight recall of events and how I remembered their impact on me. I wrote it straight through in a few days and changed almost nothing before I sent it off to the publisher. I remember thinking intermittently through the years that if I wrote that Intro now without checking back it would probably be very different, in ways I couldn’t predict.
I wrote the first draft of the Intro to Waiting in much the same way: straight through, and getting it off quickly to the editor so that he’d have something if I got stymied making further changes. But for another month I tweaked it, cutting and pasting, adding, subtracting. And not just adding events or impressions: adding personal meaning. It was the most pleasurable writing I’d done in years because I was so fully engrossed in the task. Each morning at 7:30 I couldn’t wait to get my hands on yesterday’s printout, because in writing I was learning more about what Waiting might have meant to me and to others.
After finally accepting the value of Aubade, I’m way more ambivalent about the value of Waiting. After living through them, I’ve become fascinated with the way different generations value different kinds of writing, and what different standards reviewers bring to books in succeeding decades. I’m convinced that today’s writers are far better educated, technically proficient, psychologically aware. Yet books written back when, without that proficiency and awareness, may still be far more deeply treasured by readers (and writers).
I’m also fascinated by what writers don’t—can’t—know when they’re writing and that can only leak through in their writing by accident to later generations. When I wrote Aubade and Waiting I took for granted the austerities of postwar Britain, the limited diet, the fact that even the poorest people were expected to dress up for their office jobs, though how they were expected to find the money for good suits on what they earned is beyond me now. At a time when clothes were far more formal, expensive to buy and to clean, it was inconceivable to most of us that it might one day be acceptable for many professionals to wear jeans to the office, or that we’d even be encouraged to work from home. And don’t get me started on the colonialist prejudices expressed by the hero of Aubade.

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