Okay, a self-confessional week; product of the gravity-shifting return to a different solar system and the 14-hour drive that brought me there.

We write as we drive. We immerse ourselves in the music of character and plot and language; we propel our progress through our thoughts with the actual-music soundtrack of the story. Sometimes we hear magic. Sometimes, perhaps, we just delude ourselves.

An example. Sunset over the Great Plains, the last segment of the long drive. Behind me, a dusty blue that collected on the eastern horizon, a pursuing and inescapable night. To the fore-left, the first view of high mountain peaks; a fuchsia and orange sunset behind them that threw soft spikes of gold in all directions. All around, grassland gone golden in the last light. Laughter at the vision; delight. A brief and brilliant perfection.

Closer to Denver. Cats sat up and pressed themselves against the air vents, recognizing the smell of the city. Traffic began to congeal in late Sunday-trafficked lanes. In the distance, the city towers rose, a miniaturized version of downtown appeared, smaller than they seem when living among them.

An image, suddenly. For the book. The finish of a scene that I didn’t know needed finishing. A breathtaking response to tragedy. The returning of a gift.

I couldn’t get the words into the tape recorder. I blubbered as I tried. In the playback, the tape gave back a broken series of sentence fragments, all I could get out before emotion choked them. The road, already bleared by nearly 900 miles of driving, smeared and stretched with tears. I sobbed. I blubbered.

Was it exhaustion that took me to this place? No doubt. Was it the weakness left behind by the blitzkrieg flu of the day before? Maybe. Was it the psychology of the return to the real-life life I’ve chosen and the separation from a life I love? Yes.

And here’s the most important question: Were tears a genuine response to an emotional story moment given whole? I hope so.

I have felt such an emotion perhaps three times in my recent writing life: once at the end of The Spiritkeeper, a long passage that still makes me weep; once again in a passage near the end of Everything, the revelation of the breathing lighthouse, the thing that calls us home. The third was this night.

The best thing that can happen after a moment like this is to find that, yes, the passage is genuine; the expression of grief that is universal in loss. The worst is to find that the emotion is maudlin and overblown, and beyond the redemption of simplicity. That night, and in the workday since, the sobbing is still too close for me know for sure whether this is true coin or false.

Love it, wisdom tells us, but not too much. Love it, and hope. If the long drive had any gifts at all to give me, that advice to a sobbing self was the best of all.

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