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I know some. Not all. Not yet.

I know the sound of your voice.

And the shape of your body as you stand.

I know why you smile. I know when.

I know you, fingertips and feet, and the gray in your unshaven face.

I know you in the morning, your eyes across the pillow.

I know your silences and your guilt and your mistakes;

your secrets and the mask you hold against the world.

I know what you do in this world—I know what you intend there,

although I don’t yet know why.

I know the passion you will not confess.

And your resistance and refusal and the generous you.

I know what will shatter your world,

and the assassin role that authors play.

 

To write, we must first love.

And hope that our plot obeys that love.

We must know the character down to the faintest breath,

and still hope, always, to be surprised.

To imagine completely, love helplessly, ruin willingly,

is a control, a luxury, that real life does not permit us.

Did we see these moments clearly and remember them well,

in the hyper focus alive behind the writer’s eye…

or did we  merely imagine them?

The adoration of  characters in a created world

elevates our private silences, and yet spoils us for so much else.

It sours us for the mundane, even as it exalts the fleeting and the ordinary.

And, in our most closely held honesty,

we know we have surrendered the truths of the beating-heart life

for something that will never keep us warm or hold our hands;

the friend that a solitary grownup can cherish,

perfect, outlandish, imaginary, and undeniably real.

 

I’m going to tell on myself.

A once-a-year quirk, a lapse, a moment of ditz: In the excited anticipation of an event, I show up early. Sometimes a week early. Sometimes, as in last year’s Frieze art show in NYC, a whole month.

In the minutes of puzzlement about why nobody else has appeared to attend the event, I learn to laugh at myself. I look for the lemonade in the lemons I’ve handed myself. And it’s okay.

Sometimes, it’s more than okay.

Tapas, I told myself tonight…a way to redeem a gaff from total loss status (not that any redemption was needed.) A few blocks’ walk. A restaurant noisy with an after-work gathering of fellows.

Suddenly, in the willingness to bare myself to myself, the writing comes. Nothing earthshaking. Not the ahahhh lightning bolt that I’ve been waiting for. But instead, that rare place where apartness and honesty come together in something wonderful.

I am alone; separated from the intimacies that other people take for granted. I like it there.

My mind is free to wander without distraction. My own reflection in the restaurant’s mirror tells me a truth about myself that will become part of a character for the next book…a me-in-part, as they all are. The apartness soothes. It embraces. It stings, then kisses the hurt place better.

In the mile-plus walk home—and the choice to walk rather than cab ride the distance—in the milky light between storms, in the reflections that soften the hard glass of tall buildings, in the streets emptied of outliers gone home after the workday, wonder is. And it belongs to me utterly.

I don’t know whether I’d be willing to trade this cherished apartness for the human pairings that seem so normal, so desirable, in everyone else. I exist without the mechanism to shut out the world. In constant companionship my attention is channeled in the direction of The Other; pulled like a tide to an unavoidable shore. I can’t be alone without being alone. And knowing that I have loved ones in the world is made even more sweet by the absence.

I’ve always been apart. And on evenings like this one I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

We hear voices, writers do. A word, a thought, an expression, a rhythm, an idea.

In the sweet silence of our self-defined isolation, we close ourselves off from what the eyes can see, uncork the tops of our heads and let the universe float in. We marry the invisible. We know mystery. And joy. And ecstasy.

We don’t try for this, not deliberately—not in the blessed woolgathering phase of a book’s creation, anyway. Is just…is.

Charles Wright called it “the silence that turns the silence off.” But sometimes, in that silence, in that waiting, we are alone.

Without the voices, who are we?

I’ve been living in the limbo between worlds, facing the realities of selling the current book while making space in the head for the next one. I have three books in the hopper, and energy enough to work toward selling only one of them at a time.

And the silence right now is only silence.

Knowing doesn’t help. Knowing that the voices will rise in me like a choir. Knowing that my voice will find a shape. And an audience.

But now, the high, tight ringing in my ears is the only thing that comes close to a word from elsewhere. The characters and the world they inhabit still stand at a stubborn distance, knowing what they know, yet sharing none of it with me.

I am the slow-witted, patient animal in the empty field, waiting for her master’s call; hearing nothing but the damndest silence.

Sing, self. I’m ready.

Long days in the office and the limited energy they leave in their wake. Too few hours left, claimed by too many things. Cooking dinner. Eating it. Feeding cats. Changing clothes. To exercise or not in those rare remaining minutes. Or to write.

This is what I want.

To spend time with me. And with my characters. To immerse in the mind of a man who knows that this will be, if all goes well, the last night of his life; the man observed by a woman who is trying desperately not to believe what she knows to be true. The reality of the things you can’t un-know.

What I want: I want to be in love. And I am.

It is a sacred trust, this partnership with the invisible. One gives all or gives nothing. To be full of the melancholy of it, to be a paper boat on its rough waters, to dive so deep that there is no other night, no other room, no other person; a writer owns a gift that is closest to being in love—which may be why so many of us exist without love’s outward manifestation.

The ecstatic lives here. All possibility does. And in that inconstant realization is the thing that conquers despair and defeat and the challenges of not-good-enough. Do we have our crippling doubts? Yes. Always will. But the grace of moments like these when the Unseen smiles at me, when I’m actually looking across the room at the person who was the physical print of the main character, when I know that in a few minutes I will run home and throw myself to the created world as if it were a lover waiting between smooth sheets…I’m holding up my end of the partnership. The things I sacrifice are not sacrifices at all: They are choices gladly set aside for a greater, grander choice.

This is the life I live because I choose it to be so. A silence that is far, far from empty; a self that is fully self, fully given. Isn’t that what love is?

Jury duty. It happens.

It’s a responsibility I take seriously—although I haven’t yet had to draw the line at the kind of cases that would demand my excusing myself. And, as I waited to be called for a panel, another kind of learning.

A woman was sitting within my sightline. Young. Serious. Had her little laptop open, writing something. I watched her, trying to get a clue from the pages’ formatting what it was she was working on. I had brought my laptop, thinking that I would use any lengthy delay to do what the young woman was doing.

And no.

A page is impossible for me to tackle when I know I’ll soon be interrupted. But there was something more significant for me in the hesitation. I found that I couldn’t devalue the act by carrying it out in a public place. Writing in that court waiting room would no longer have been the magnificent act that demands everything of me; it would have been expediency.

What we do in private, and what we share with the world are two very different things.

For some, writing is extroversion. Or concentration so perfect that the world goes away. Not for me.

Having 15 minutes is not like having 15 wonderful ones. One does not make love on a street corner. The world is too present. The energy of passersby and higher skies do not make the act richer. I am the writer of the closed room and drawn curtain. We love in the light, but we love apart from all, in magnificent isolation.

Was it insincere, what the young woman was doing; an affectation? Of course not. Is there a right way to work, a right environment? Of course not. She did what she was comfortable doing. And so do I. I will never be a writer who works in cafes and coffeehouses and waiting rooms. My public displays of affection will be confined to kisses and handholding. The rest is a series of acts in a most personal of spaces. This writing is mine. Until it’s ready to fly free to a heart other than mine.

The prospect of delight. A day dictated by no other will but one’s own. A day to be fierce about; committed to.

Writing with a full day ahead is an incomparable joy.

Commerce demands that the working writer work at night, applying whatever scant energy is left after the wringing days are done. Some nights, many nights, there’s nothing much to spare.

Possibilities live by daylight. And fearless judgment. And forgiveness for mistakes. And ways out; ways around. The world is bound by the steps between bedroom and writing space, and yet that world is infinite. Whatever happens on the clock has no place here.

When a writing day is ahead, the writer goes to bed happy. She faces forward, even as her eyes close, full of what’s to come. Even when doubt stalks the story or a problem stubbornly resists resolution, night’s door will open onto fresh possibility. There are pages full of beloved people waiting. And they are hers to discover with everything in her.

The 100% days. The reality-I-make days. The where-did-the-time go days. Whatever is wrong, is distressing, is worrying, is uncontrollable, is irresolvable, cannot be as strong as what may happen in that full-energy time. A day at the page does that. Nothing else can.

And writing on cloudy days: Those are the best of all. Grey is strange hope. The veil drawn against changing light. Forgiving, quiet light, soft in the eye. Light not harsh, not challenging. A melancholy that matches the mood of the tale. An exterior much like the inside always is. Sometimes we draw the curtain against the sunshine, to dull the contrast between out and us. Sometimes the day never makes an appearance, even when it’s there.

We can’t quite explain it. Couldn’t expect you to understand it. Isolation in full attention can be an extraordinary gift.

Today is Wednesday. 72 hours before I can come back to me. And happily turn myself inside out for a world that only I can see.

“There but for one consonant,” Dorothy Parker is reported to have said, “is the story of my career.”  It’s also one of the explanations for my absence from this space.

A writer gets tired of her own voice, sometimes.  She gets tired, period. The little energy leftover from the workaday world leaves little energy more than is required to drag oneself to the sofa and wait for an hour not too early to curl into bed.

And then there’s a matter of readership. I cherish the dear folks who follow this space and offer generous observations of their own. But the crawl toward an expanded group of friends with whom I might share the labors, it’s sometimes disappointing.

The frank addressing of reality tells the writer that no blog about writing is ever going to rocket to must-read status. A single news story about Justin Bieber has more potential. But make no mistake, this is not a whine. it’s just one more element in a combination of elements that’s put the brakes on this space. For a while.

Still. I find myself drawn to the exercise; to the share. I want to share my deep excitement about the book soon to be finished. I want to reach out and touch. So I will. And let the readers’ eyes fall where they may.

Hi, everybody. It’s nice to be home.

Okay. No posts for a while.

I’ve been circling, waiting to land.

Sadly, the act of circling feels very like being a passenger in the Rod Serling plane condemned to fly forever. Nothing bloggish to say. Nothing original sprouting in the grey matter. No energy to communicate it, even if a solitary brain cell ever did condescend to land.

The circling has invaded the bookspace, too. The end of the book is, literally, pages away, but the writer hasn’t had enough energy at the end of the workday to do anything but scrape over already-scraped space. Dogged, yes. Determined, kinda. But driven—ummmm, no.

The pilot has been asleep at the controls.  And circling on empty.

But.

A glimmer through the haze of exhaustion. A hint of landing lights, perhaps. A wispy suggestion of the joy that writing is, the purpose that animates us and draws us home at the end of the day. The prospect of denouement; of falling in love with character and words for one final farewell. And, of course, the hard-work-joy of the rewrite, the step away, the clean objectivity of the edit. The understanding that we live to create, not just to exist. These are the Bernoulli Principle of the creative heart that lifts our mental wings and lets us soar.

Sometimes we crash. Sometimes we thud. Sometimes we splash down without Capt. Sully’s Hudson River grace or composure. And sometimes (a feeling so rare in me, lately), we see the magic in the final approach; feel the tickle of the air as we bank out of that Twilight Zone arc and line up our ideas with joy and precision.

Tonight, the mental control tower tells me this: Circling itself can be a destination. Even if the addled pilot hasn’t quite figured out what it is.

This is what it feels like.

The chapter—the momentous act that the entire book has been building to—owns me. Before I wake and once I do. In the choices I make for the day. In what I eat. In the shower I don’t take. In the exercising I don’t do. In the head-clearing catnaps I time to fuel me for what will be written next.

I am the woman in the bubble, holding her breath against the world’s getting in.

The feeling. The overwhelmingness of it. The slam. I stand in front of the avalanche that I called down upon myself and I invite it to come. Breathless, knowing how hard it will hit. Excited and resigned, knowing that, once I’ve called it, there will be no running away.

I write through the fidgets of avoidance; through the sudden, needless urgencies that ask me to do this or do that. On weekends spent at the page, I give myself the evenings off, to let the internal batteries fill. I go to sleep with it inside me. I wake with it still there.

And the day at commerce is intolerable.

The glittering, fragile, horrid, consuming, wonderful bubble is still around me. I nurture it. I don’t want to let it go, this umbilical that binds me to the breathless place in the ethers. I sit at my desk listening to the music that has decorated and informed the scenes. And I am crying…thinking what madness this would be if any of my co-workers should catch me at it…feeling the desperation of knowing that I cannot, can never, hold on to such an ethereal thing.

This is not a thing that can be called up at will. It is a welling from the inside, rich and tenuous and terrifying. I don’t want anything but this. Ever.

Draw the curtains. Take away the world. Leave me be. The writer is not here. The writer does not want to be. She is busy holding her breath. And the world may not come here, where I am.

Commerce wants my days. It’s the trade I make. The stuff I must write so I can write the stuff I want to write.

The gift I give me in the morning…the last thing I do before preparations for the day consume me: I read myself. Not my moods, or the creakings of a body still strung with the spiderwebs of sleep that I can’t brush away–this is a reading of a paragraph or two from the earnest-but-way-too-tired efforts of the night before. A paragraph whose singing might carry me through the day. A reminder of who I am.

It is a spare gift, admittedly. But it is full of grace and light. A reminder of why it’s worth it, those hours of adapting my desires to demands that are beyond my natural ability to love.

Even the half-cooked meal that is an unfinished passage is brain-food. It is my own personal Breakfast of Champions with the power to carry me into the day with a well-nourished fortitude. Ask me whether I would be willing to cast off the job entirely to live the twilight-life of the hopeful writer…not sure that I would. I trade the luxuries of a wonderful apartment, spur-of-the-moment decisions to hit the steak-frites trail and the handy, pantried case of wine for the teeth-gritted tolerance of writing for others’ needs.

Commerce makes us expendable, despite the best we can do. The nature of business makes us disposable; lambs too easily sacrificed on the cold stone of the bottom line. In the space in which we write as Writers, the act comes first. We worship in the house of the sacred word. The considerations that come once we are published…well, that’s another carton of curdled milk.

For now, I carry myself into the 9-5 hours with sentences full of promise. The mysterious deer that wanders into Central Park, an urban wonder soon to be slaughtered by dogs. The steeple bell that sounds in an imagination that sees the darkness that will end the day. The man who has lived by the graces of his art, only to bring himself to the dire understanding of what that commitment will really cost. Even when the writer is willing to open herself to exactly and only what everyday life offers, the Glorious Ordinary is limited and small next to imagining’s gifts.

And so I remind myself. I hold the better me with the same cramping fingers that grip the life vest that spares one from drowning. The gift I give me is the understanding—despite all the tearings and assaults of real life—of who I actually, truly, am.

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