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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?

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This, heard a line from a recent movie (the ad for it; it is not a film I will ever see), a character speaks a thought that I’ve heard often and considered much:

We get the love we think we deserve.

What does that say for the likes of me? The love we think we deserve—when did writing become mine? Or has it always that way?

I’ve always felt that I deserved a great love. It hasn’t happened, not in any lasting, daily-intimate way. Spending endless hours at the page keeps you out of the possibility pool. Then age does. After that, who knows?

Do some of us substitute writing for the love that has not—may never—happen? Would I write as I do, speaking into the tape recorder at 2 a.m., if a beloved warm body lay beside me? Would I turn away from the human complications of the day as I do now, fleeing to the one place that I understand, if a loved one was waiting at home?

Is writing the thing that fills an empty space? Or is it the thing that pushes everything else, every other need, away? When is the compulsion to create an evidence of a dedication, an adoration of craft? When is it just pathology?

I don’t know. I don’t know that I ever will. I find the question more curious than concerning. I wonder why it doesn’t trouble me more than it does.

Words are demon lovers. They are irresistible and inescapable and seductive. They are the daily banquet. They are an enriching company. They take the place of options that may never come true. They are a reality so real that we do not miss the real.

I do not mourn my life. Far from it. I am not sad or limping or wounded. We make choices—inexplicable ones, sometimes. We choose relationships that have no possibility of a future, as wonderful as those relationships are. We spend years with a guy, a situation that turns out to be a disaster. Writing has been the one choice in recent memory that has made total sense. But it doesn’t make dinner for us or bring us a glass of water in bed or send us the unmistakable look that can end, wonderfully, in only one way. It’s the life that lives nowhere except in our heads.

How did that happen?

When did life get away from the likes of me? When did I learn to love its surrogate so very much? And when will I start being sorry that this is the life I chose?

I’ve talked about the imago for my male characters, the photo I carry to remind me of the look of them, the research, the gleaned psychology, the innocently stalkerish obsession. It works.

But what, I was asked recently, about the female leads? Who are they?

That’s a little simpler. They’re me. All of them.

This post will probably be a little more self-disclosure than is necessary—or wise. My female characters in the last two works have been thorny. Difficult. Insecure. Unsure about how love works and how they fit into that eternal puzzle. With a sometimes befuddled instinct to live the life of the giving heart.

As I said: Me.

That’s probably more than anybody needs to hear…but isn’t one of the first tenets of writing “Write what you know”?  That these women find some greater understanding by the end of the book, that they become more aware and comfortable in that awareness…that’s me, too. The madness, the snark, the uncertainties…and the gifts. All me. The best and worst of me. A laying-it-out-there that is the most honest self-awareness I can muster.

We spend our lives trying to come to some small understanding of who we are in this changing, mentally fickle organism. As writers, we get to work it out not in therapy but in chapters. Maybe no writer is secret. Maybe it’s mostly all out there on the page. With embellishments and exaggerations, certainly. But us. Our blood and skin. Our hearts. Our quirks. Souls in words. An endless hope in the possibility of love. The deepest truest things that connect us to others.

The secret me. Open to the world.

How long can you live on two hours sleep, one night after another?

How long can you love it?

Life is both an experiment and a revelation right now. Anticipation is a drug. I am stalking my imaginary friends into all hours of the night. If this were real life (oh dear, isn’t it?) I would be arrested.

Writing is a relationship, with all the characteristics of a flesh-and-blood one. Sometimes I hate it, sometimes I love it. Sometimes the words seduce me. They have their way with me, in odd places around the house, at the strangest times. Other times, they’re not speaking to me, for reasons I don’t understand. Sometimes, I’m not speaking to them. Sometimes (most often, fortunately) the relationship is passionate and pauseless. That’s where I am right now. But it does screw up one’s sleep.

I keep a micro tape recorder by the bedside. It saves turning on the light every time an idea speaks. Last night–as I immersed in the refinements for a pivotal chapter (and one of my favorites) in the book, the ideas were so persistent that I slept with the recorder strap around my wrist, a new addition to the bed that the cats viewed with extreme suspicion.

I’m not alone in the habits of madness. My friend Liz (whose blog link is there at the left) acts her dialog into the mirror. In this quirk, she is not alone. Good character development requires the skills of a peerless method actor.

I can’t speak for Liz (whose husband, the sweet Matt, has learned to accept these vagaries of a writer’s nature), but I am afraid to write in public places: I talk to myself. The little tape recorder has become the repository for whole chapters read aloud–– the “read test”, played back to myself after I turn out the light; my bedtime story, the deepest test of the music in the words.

Writing is a compulsion. An obsession. There is delight and despair in it. Like being in love. And if there’s one thing that’s truest about me…I love being in love.

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