You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Fiction’ tag.
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.
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.
NPR interview. Could have been me. Sounded like me. The writer’s struggle between the demands of life and the life of the page. The challenge of human relationships in a headspace where the art is all.
One of the most telling comments was in answer to the question about how the writer dealt with comments from those folks closest to her who read her work. Her husband, a writer, was the person whose involvement promised to be the most challenging. “You want people to be honest about the work,” she answered; “…to be honest and love it.”
A number of the readers with whom this writer shares her work understand that abiding need. A few do not. Some, like dear, wonderful friend Kay (who is reading for the first time) have the thoughtful good sense to ask how the writer wants them to respond; what sort of response would be the most useful. Others have the lovely consideration to tickle one’s vanity in harmless ways, knowing how much certain types of sharing mean. Some say exactly the wrong things. But they mean well.
Such foolish creatures, we writers are—like children presenting handmade valentines to beloved teachers. We want people to read. We want them to like what they read. Overly sensitive wretches we are, who listen too hard to what is said to us, interpret it too critically and react too strongly.
When we receive half the reaction we hoped for our pique fills the sky.
Sometimes we find distance and balance in what we hear and how we react. But not often. Our reactions are as unguarded, unreliable and uncontrollable as our tenuous relationships with life.
Our lives come complete with moments of fear. Some of those moments approach terror…realizations that real life is not what we think it is, what we want, what we know, what we’re comfortable with. The standing-outside-ourselves that casts a hard, harsh light on a spare, inward, dedicated, isolated existence.
A life of the mind is such that the outside world can be stark and ugly in comparison. Sometimes, we don’t hear the answer we want. Sometimes, we don’t even hear it from ourselves.
The truth of the writer is a phoenix-truth: every day we rise from the ashes of the previous day’s shortcomings. In each new day at the page, we have the chance to get it right. To do it better. To find the small, exquisite alchemies that bring us closer to the ideal that keeps us alive.
Tough task, that.
Doubt is built into who we are. We are our own mythical serpents, swallowing our better selves whole, from the tail up. Grace is tough to come by when we have a mouthful of our own refusal. And it’s nearly impossible to find self-forgiveness when we’re choking on our shortcomings.
I’d rather write, I tell myself, than spend time crafting a letter to the agents who will take this burden out of my hands. In the limited time (and with the more limited energy) I have to fight for a chapter or a paragraph or a sentence after the workday is done, I’d rather craft a half-assed few words than the other, hated task. I’ll tackle the submission letter when I’m done with this book. Or the next one.
I know that’s a procrastination, even though there is truth in it. And the procrastination is a knowledge as shaming as it is genuine. But how does one un-swallow one’s self? What happens to the writer if she succeeds, sadly, in consuming herself?
We do not vomit ourselves back into the world. We do not decide to untangle our lives as we seek to untangle the locked-in secrets of the story. We wish that someone were there to take the burden away. We are chewing on our own tails. And the bite sinks deep.
This space has been a writer’s love song. To notebooks. And tape recorders. And self-created book soundtracks. And improvisation as a path to inspiration. Now, another way to find one’s way into a scene through the labyrinth of thought.
I’ve always done this technique, in a sense; collected notes scattered over pages, assemblies that contribute to the form taking shape in my head. And today, a variation. The lightning round of coerced innovation.
The laundry list.
A little background. In this scene, the main character turns the beautiful creation that he has come to love; remakes it into something dire. Vile. Fear-making. An inescapable “sticky darkness” that will be his self-defense, his weaponized wonder. The chapter—the experience of those foul creations—is written, as they all are, from the POV characters pov. A living of a bottomless dread, of the worst of a human soul.
Enter The Laundry List. And yes, readers, this is an open book examination.
Thesaurus.com is my cheat of choice: From it, I drew a list of words that described the abhorrent, the impossible, the foul, the unbearable. Already knew what the contributing categories would be…simply set myself free in word-wonderland to gather up the grandest, most horrific gems I could find. I let them fill me up inside, until my brain was afloat in them; until my thoughts foundered near drowning. A kind of total immersion method acting, with words as prompts rather than memories.
Did it work? At this moment, I think so. I’ll know with a re-reading, the perspective of distance. I’ll let you know.
Love and kindness are easier for me to write than pain and cruelty. At least, that’s what I choose to tell myself. An end-of-relationship scene in a previous book, drawn from a memory revived, laid me flat for two days. Not this time.
In this new technique, a strangely painless source of despair-memory. Something worth going back to when we need to write from the most difficult places.