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The holidays can be tough enough. Throw in a case of the flu and the challenge becomes more…interesting. Interesting—a nice word for it.
Christmas retreated from my catalog of enthusiasms a number of years ago. In the bad, long-term relationship that I wasn’t self-possessed enough to escape, I adopted a smiling, benign indifference to it. Safer that way. In the years since, I’ve used the cherished silence of the house to let words find me; in the vacation week between Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve braved the chill in long, thoughtful walks on the goes-nowhere road outside and let the universe find me. Days were filled with the page; nights, with the thought of the page. The hours were full.
Not this year.
Being between books is hard. Being beset by the challenge-to-confidence that is the search for an agent makes everything harder. Keeping one’s emotional balance is a difficult thing when the winter silence is silence only. Then, enter the flu.
The 900-mile drive to the house was almost alarmingly easy, even after a 4 a.m. departure. No visits from the Muses during the long drive…but never mind. By the time I’d arrived and unpacked, the illness set in for real: the body-twisting cough, the hammering exhaustion, the Niagara of sinus.
Keeping one’s heart open to creativity is pretty impossible when you’re sleeping 18 hours a day. So be it. Job One is the dutiful avoidance of self-pity. Exist to get well—fair enough. Do the dishes five at a time, the length of time one can stay upright. Read. Indulge in movies that take little attention. The other stuff, the good stuff, the stuff that takes psychic strength and confidence…the reassurances that yes, you are a real writer and, yes, it’s just a matter of time and added effort until an agent finds you and your friends actually get around to reading what you’ve written and, yes, the story is in there even if it’s hiding…those understandings will just have to wait until you’re well.
When you’re sick, the darkness lets the black dog in. The holiday is a festival of expected happiness and the promiscuous see-what-a-wonderful-life-I-have celebrations of others. The night is not Possibility, it’s just night. The silence is just silence. The blessed, glorious week of solitude is an hourglass of lost minutes. And that damned, ever-present self doubt, that knowledge of the too-thin veil that lay between you and the big, empty, indifferent world: That, my dear ones, is the very real wolf at the door.
So, here is the list of tasks at hand. One: Get strength back. Two: Find the joy that’s so clearly around you—the peeks of sun on grey days, the birds in the back yard, the eagles circling behind the house. Three: Get back on the horse. Write those letters. Transcribe those notes. Pet a cat. And four: Kick the black dog out into the darkness from which he came. You can’t overcome a feeling by pretending it doesn’t exist. Feel it, face it, move on. We are not held hostage by truth: The door is right there, and the key has been in our hand all along.
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?
Has spring come early?
There is something in the air; something in me. I am hearing the higher music that moves me to the page. Nothing is changed. Nothing is different. And, for the writer’s moment, everything is.
I don’t understand it. I am not visited by the consuming clarity that is the finest, favorite moment of the craft. I come home from work too tired to commit to anything but snipping stray threads from the chapter in progress, and yet I’m not fidgeting about it.
I read the word-count exploits of other writers and I smile, pleased for them, but not pressed to march to that drum. I spend the time before sleep finding my way to the immersion that will turn the current scene into a labor of love…we write best when we write from inside the chapter, remember? I am breathless at prospects…still as uncertain and insecure and rejection-phobic as always, but not minding it so much. Why?
I told someone very recently that I am content with my life but not complacent about it. Is the contentment the product of the work or the cause of it? Were I able to put these moments and thoughts into a little box and bring them out when I need them.
I write. It’s who I am, and what. And in these breathless days, it’s enough.
For me, it’s an inevitable; a consummation (pun intended) without which the book wouldn’t seem complete. I enjoy considering love scenes, writing those exalted, magnificent moments; enjoy even more the natural reaching-point that they represent for the characters. These comings-together are beautiful occurrences that I am fortunate enough to share, as when love comes to dear friends.
But what makes a love scene good? What makes it wonderful?
I’ve written before in this space the limitations and minimum requirements that fulfill the moment for me. Graphic passages? No. Squishy bits? No no. We create an idealization as exquisite as the moment can be. Some of that is experience. The rest is a wish made manifest; an encounter leisurely and consuming and full-hearted in its physicality, and, yes, pure.
Where does the love scene come from? Where in our lives does it fit? Is a well-wrought love scene a kind of wish fulfillment; a fantasy externalized? Perhaps. And is there anything wrong with that? Ah, it’s question time.
I have often wondered about folks I’ve known, male and female, who maintain fantasy loves in the form of actors, fictional characters, musicians. What does the love scene represent in the light of their real-life relationships? If the writer has a partner, is the imagining, the executing, of that perfect fictional moment a form of cheating? Does the creating of an idealized love represent a betrayal of sorts?
Writers, like actors, maintain a tenuous hold on reality. Imaginations fly to impossible places. Lines get blurred. Little wonder that actors who love on film often drift into love in life. In writing, the gathering and manifestation of faux-love are a bit more problematic. We write beings to life; often they are based on flesh and blood people…more often, still, people we are well aware will never be ours. There is titillation is innocent. And it is dangerous. The real can equal the unreal; can even surpass it. But knowing the difference and living by the laws of real—much tougher.
What is a good love scene to you? What makes it good? How does it coexist in an existence where real love lives? Those are the questions of the day. Asked with all the love in the world.
The knack for observing aspects of character: Happened the other day in the office. Asked, the writer noted some qualities of a co-worker’s nature. Was asked to repeat the feat for someone else, a breathless “Now do me!” moment. Funny.
It’s an ability surprises some people. They regard it as some sort conjuring trick; parlor magic. Not to me.
To me, it’s a symptom. Of something writers spend our lives doing.
We sit in the high, Emily Dickinson window of ourselves, watching what happens around us; watching what other people are, seeing how the pieces and parts move.
Don’t mistake this observing for judgments on people’s characters. It’s not that, although judgment does happen. It is, instead, a holding-apart of ourselves from safe distance. That high window is our protection, our safe vantage. Where we sit is where we prefer to sit. It is the place that wants us to return when we stray from it. The place where we are happiest.
An observing nature makes life complicated, sometimes. The adopting of a single committed viewpoint among many can be difficult when the writer finds value in most of them. We seem wishy-washy. We seem to be without strong opinion. It’s not that. Not at all. Call it an omni-directional point of view, an encompassing vision. It’s what we are made for.
We are the high window, the Emily Dickinson perch. And the one who looks out from the world from that sacred, quiet place. And, in a way, we are what we view. The view has an isolation built into it. And we like it that way.
A revelation. In a voice. The Voice on the Tape.
I’ve discussed it here many times: the tiny tape recorder the writer uses to capture the fleeting muses of late nights. And in that little spool of vinyl, a learning. A question. A concern.
I sense that I have been removed from myself, scribing emotions on the page without feeling them. The quaking wonder I feel as I move into a chapter, the emotion that plays back so completely when I read what I have written…it’s been missing. The writing may be satisfying to some extent, craftsmanlike and, at times, even thrilling. But the super-saturated feeling that brings it truly to life—gone.
The texture and smell of a great meal in person and the seeing of it described disinterestedly on paper: not nearly the same thing. I feel it in the creating. I can hear it in analog, in the playback of notes…the difference between the writer immersed and the one going through the motions. I can sense the empty air in the chapter readback that should hollow me out and leave me goosebumped.
I don’t know why this has happened. I don’t know where the emotion went. I am
detached from that essential umbilical of emotional commitment, that immersion in sheltering non-reality, that gift that lets us write the world and yet stay gloriously removed from it. And here’s the question: Can we write emotional honesty—or even represent emotional development compellingly—if we do not feel it first?
Detached from the master-class-method-acting emotionality that writing is, without that investment, we are merely writing words, as felicitous as those words might be. Can any writer really create feeling without owning feeling?
This is something I’d better figure out. And fast. Writing without emotion is, for me, not writing. Life without writing is, for me, not life.
If I should have no other night, let it be this one. Let it be filled with the colors of another’s brilliance. With the known love of a friend. With the possibility of me in all that I understand, all that I know, all that I might be.
This is my thanksgiving. This is the moment in which I am absolutely certain who I am, and what I have been given. If nothing else happens for the rest of my life, give me that faint remembrance of what I know to be true.
This is tonight. Tomorrow will be different. Let this realization be what it is.
Jeanne Bessette, thank you.
Please remember that I am here.
I have dedicated myself to cosmic service, trying to forge the link between you and all of us; to help us find our place in the Greater Thing. I count on you to hand down the occasional crumb. To point me toward the idea.
When I lay my brain open to let the Big Whatevers come in, I’m not asking for the thunderbolt (although that would be nice)—I am asking for a whisper that will remind me I’m not alone in here. I’m asking you to remember me when luck is being passed around.
No, I am not expecting payback. Not for the hour upon hour spent touristing around the ethers. Not for the isolation. Or the removal from the Real. Not payback for anything. Just a small sharing of the Abundance Unseen. A way to know that the small, still voice is being heard.
I’m having a hard time finding the door. I am small and unconnected. I know that the Greater Thing turns on its own axis, in its own time. Slow me to its revolution. Give me that at least.
We are made of the same stuff, shapeable, some say, to our Wills. Show me that.
Show me something.
Today, the Writer needs it. Much.