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It is a known scientific fact: the combination of pavement and white lines have a proven psychotropic effect on the writerly head. The chemistry of open road and automobile is a thought generator. Characters come to sit beside you in the passenger seat. Plot points ride shotgun.
I look forward to the drive down to the house every Friday evening with a calm but crazy joy. I can think while driving in a way I never could while riding the subway. Having that breathing asphalt stretching out in front of me is a meditation. The Ohm of rolling wheels. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance of steering wheel and curve. The white line ticks like the ticking brain.
On those weekly drives to the house, on those near-empty roads, my head speaks to me as it does almost nowhere else. The road disappears.
You know you’ve driven carefully on those lightly-traveled two-lane highways (you’d wind up skiing down a mountain if you hadn’t been), but you don’t remember the ride. You may ask yourself “well, how did I get here?”…and the only answer is the tape recorder in your lap, warm with minutes and minutes of thoughts; thoughts that demand to be transcribed the minute the garage door to the river house is closed.
This is the entry into the parallel existence of created world; the best way to live on both planes at once. Meditations on Asphalt. Buddha horsepower. Driving among the stars inside.
Strange thing, waking up without someone in your world.
I remember my mom saying, just after my dad died, that she would go outside and realize that there was nowhere in the world she could find him.
It’s that was with characters. And lovers. And folks who you believed in your heart were friends.
Characters walk away. They decide for themselves, after a while. They make up their minds. They go their own ways. They don’t ask you if that will affect you in any way—they just do it. They have their own lives…they always did, maybe.
It’s a surprise when it happens. Every time, it’s a surprise. And how incredibly painful it is, that’s always a surprise, too. Don’t you remember how much we meant to one another? you ask. Don’t you know that I created you?
Answer is, no. They don’t.
Characters will do what characters will do. Their logic, their loyalties, their love is not made up of anything you can understand. Being abandoned by a character—without a word of regret or farewell—is as real and immediate as when it happens in real life. Knowing this makes you angry. And resentful Sometimes, it makes you wonder why you leave yourself open for hurt like this. Sometimes it makes you wonder why you made the effort at all.
I admit to a darker side.
Yes, I smile in the rain. But there is also the occasional Lynn who wakes in dire blackness, an inner dark that has nothing to do with the lateness of the hour. Usually, this is the cancerous by-product of some uncontrollable self-doubt. It is not constant, not by any means, but it is there.
Here’s the gift in it…. Good things have come of those heebie-jeebies: On two recent occasions, I’ve managed to turn those unwanted, uninvited moods into understandings that have richened my beloved characters; an unexpected grace in something so unpleasant.
Yet, the gift carries a question.
At what point must a story cease being an inward drama and begin being an outward one?
This ain’t Proust, after all. It’s fiction.
Especially in a book like the one that occupies me so completely, right now—a book that tells the tale of a cosmic and spiritual quest (and don’t worry, that’s not as unapproachably lofty as it sounds)—at what point does the character’s quest begin acting upon the outside world as well as the inner one?
I don’t know of all that many recent, wildly popular books that were so possessed by the inner world that the outer world has virtually disappeared from them. So many best-sellers seem to be preoccupied with somebody being chased somewhere, or with some interaction between the main character and outside forces that loom huge and threatening. Is there a place for a book dedicated to the revelations of inner world with necessary forays into the outer? What is the right balance between the two? And what does the writer do when the quest for that extra-inner-something seems to be the one thing worth writing about?
I think I know the answer. Perhaps there is room for both—without turning the quest into a mad conspiracy plot of gun-totings and high-level political double-dealings. One must have feet planted in the real world, after all. Even if it’s not the work’s main focus. Even if one’s head remains in the ethers.