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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?
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.
A writer’s experiment, this. To see what wonder I can pull out of the morning, without a thought going into it.
Saw a quote, recently, on a FB feed to which I subscribe. A quote from William Morris, whose work I have loved for years. “Have nothing in your life,” the quote read (or something like it—this is too early for me to go hunting) “that is not useful or beautiful or both.”
I have writing.
The difference in this writer between the abandonment of her life and her reclaiming of it is a marked one. My world is divided into two parts, BW and AW: Before Writing and After Writing. This is by far the happier one.
I was recalling to a lunch companion something that had happened a number of years ago; realized that this was a time before my work and I had found one another again. How empty that memory seemed. The horror.
To co-opt the Morris quite, writing is, in my life, both beautiful and useful. It is the glory of a man who gathers souls to himself, to give them a place to rest on their journey. It is the sacrifices of love. It is a man who pursues himself to the ends of the physical universe. It is a character who conjures light out of his deepest despair. These are the beauties among which I am permitted to reside.
And it is useful. The filling of a life. The joy that a lifelong reader feels—but from the other side of that looking glass. The challenges (and, yes, even the doubts and the awfulnesses) that one must master. Food for the mind that keeps the soul alive.
Writing can be a meditation, a workout, a balancing act, if you let it be. Especially on days when one is inclined to pull wonder out of air.
It’s what writers do when they’re tired. What writers do when they feel the need to be doing something, but are way too burnt to do anything big.
We read. We read again. We change a word, a rhythm, a clunky sentence. We don’t have the mental energy to turn the chapter over to our most critical eye; don’t have the time to do the slash and burn that the chapter might well need.
It’s like trying to eat a wax pear. In the dark.
We take little bites around the edges of the work. We hope that we’ll chew through to the greater meaning. We hope that maybe we can set aside how tired we are just long enough for something good to happen. We try to forget how hungry for inspiration we are.
This is not creative sustenance. It is a pauper’s meal. The bowl in Oliver Twist’s hands, nowhere near the “more, please.” The silent film comedian salting a photo of a steak. We rattle around in the silverware drawer in the dark, knowing that there’s nothing on the plate. Our imaginations are growling inside us, and the growl is the loudest sound in the room.
Nothing we can do will make is better. All we can do is wait for the food; hope for it, work for it. And try to be strong enough to accept a dish that we might not like. In order to keep ourselves alive.