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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.
Call it fortunate, call it pathetic, I have always had a habit of detaching. Not emotional detachment, really, although that’s part of it. This is mental.
When I get thinking, the world…goes away, sometimes. And when it does, I am simply not here.
It’s always been like that for me, those moments of going-away. It is not an affliction…not a fugue state….more like an unintended skill that comes in handy for a writer. Most of the time.
This practice has had unfortunate consequences, on occasion. An adolescent episode—a thoughtful hand-to-face gesture with a hot iron in the hand—comes to mind. Another, a chess game in a King’s Road antique store in London. And then there are less problematic instances. Like today.
In the lofty, impossible chapter I am trying to master, the world is not there. And, as I contemplate it, neither am I. On this morning’s walk, in the deliberate, contemplative pace of the morning, I was one place, then someplace else. One moment here; the next, further down the road. No idea how I got there. Lucky the road is a straight line, lucky there’s very little traffic.
What do I learn in this practice of skywalking? No idea. I’ll listen to the taped notes that came out of it and find out.
Why is it that writers seem craziest when they’re not; sanest when they are farthest from sane? The intensity of feeling is extraordinary. And exhausting.
Maybe my mom was right, all those years ago, when she told me that I think too much. The question is, how do you not?
Where is the heart of the imagination? Can it live in a single word?
An extraordinary session last evening with the “core salon”—names you’ll begin to recognize here: Melody, Blake and Kristina—wonderful people; questing minds and creative souls all.
Our extra-conversation exercise for the evening was a lightning-round version of the Dadaist “Exquisite Corpse” exercise, in which each person in the group adds to a device ( a story or a drawing, typically), sometimes without seeing what came before it.
Our variation was E.C. poetry. All parties were permitted to see, and to draw upon, what went before…with the ideal of a one-word contribution (and a limitation of no more than three; Blake publicly cheated once, adding four)…punctuation and building of stanza structures at the will of the current “owner”, no editing of previous entries permitted (I cheated once, changing a punctuation and suggesting a choice of a word I couldn’t read.)
Although each of us served as the starting point for each work, and circulated the cards simultaneously around the table, interestingly, “ownership” is the wrong word for our roles in the exercise, because the collaborative effort takes on a life beyond any individual’s ability to own anything. With each word, new meaning emerged and evolved. We laughed. We challenged one another and ourselves to discover the direction hidden in the words, to change it, deepen it. We threw curves in the way of the easy progress, with an outlandish or unexpected twist, or a finalizing, defining use of punctuation. We chided one another affectionately for taking an easy road to the end. The mission of the exercise was not to forge a cohesive work, but to let the poem find its place through the psyches, spirits, and imaginations of the participants.
And each of these small, invigorating miracles was accomplished with (for the most part) a single word. A single, powerful word with the energy to change the course of a flowing river. An example of what the writer faces in every sentence through the course of the several-hundred-page flowing river that is a long form work (or the even pithier disciplines of the short story or graphic novel.)
Each “poem” found its own rhythm, it’s own message and its own stopping point on the cards stained with food and colored by laughter. And each realized itself in perhaps ten minutes. By the time we got to a discussion of how to end, we realized that the end was already there. Each was read aloud by whomever was holding the card at that moment. Whoa.
Want to see the results of this extraordinary exercise? Check back, I’ll be posting the texts and images shortly.