I just got off the phone with a friend to whom I said, “I have to write everyday or I will kill myself.” That is not a literal truth, but neither is it a huge exaggeration. When I don’t write, when I spend my days avoiding writing, for whatever good reason, and let a string of days go by without stopping to record something, without stopping to reflect on my life I begin to lose faith, to doubt myself. The crisp image I have of myself, the firm identity I draw from writing, from being a writer, a storyteller, a scribbler and a poet, begins to dim, begins to fade from the page, and I am left with very little to believe in. And that is what I need on a daily basis, to believe in something, to believe in myself, to believe that I exist and that what I do matters somehow. I can’t tell you in words why what I write matters more than what I draw or what I design, but it does. On a metaphysical level I need these words to exist.
Posts Tagged ‘writing’
I want to write. I want to say something. I want to have something to say.
I had something to say once, or at least, I thought I did. I do not know if it came easily, or if I did not mind the difficulty of the coming. I am not the kind of writer who is any good at artifice; my falsity is seen through immediately. It is why I am not an efficient writer (an efficient anything, perhaps) because I have to understand it before it is real. There are people for whom this is not true, I suspect, but I am not one of them. It means, though, that what I do produce is wholly authentic, having been created and remade again and again until each piece of it is understood.
Oh, but it has been so long since something has been created, so long since something has been understood. Standing at the cusp of something inchoate and powerful, I imploded. Wrestling with what it meant to write, to create, to construct I fled myself for the ease of another, abandoning for a long time the set of passions and predilections that I called myself. Five years later I am resurfacing for a handful of breaths to clear the water from my eyes and look back on a dark string of years behind me where the lights flicker and dim, not extinguished, but not exactly shining either.
Now, reading Michael Chabon’s recollections of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (as retold in Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands) I am captured by the passion and fascination, the ambition and the impotence that he talks about, of stepping from one side of a line to the other, being willing to pour out pieces of his soul into a structure he isn’t sure will hold. There is something amazing about the amount of faith and trust it takes to make that happen, a force of will to carry that through, as well as a kind of need I haven’t felt in a long time, and am only beginning to remember as I remember what it’s like to read, read regularly and read deeply.
There is, I think a certain amount of self-destruction in my favorite artists. I think it’s what’s most compelling about the best stories, even if we as readers, viewers or listeners can’t see what it is of the artist that’s being destroyed. I don’t mean just the drama that surrounds larger-than-life figures like Hemingway or Amy Winehouse, but the kind of direct honesty about the things we think and do, about the things that our friends and loved ones think and do that threatens the way that they live their lives. A good and brave writer likely threatens her existence with every word she writes. That is a very dramatic statement, and I don’t mean it as literally as I would like to, but when I imagine the construct of my life and how much my writing threatens to tear it down if I am honest about myself when I do it, then certainly I risk much in even beginning to contemplate what I do and why I do it.
I am, I suspect, starting over. There are things I must relearn, but really, when I am honest, there is no learning involved. It is a rediscovery of passion and self, a rediscovery of purpose and intention. It is a coming home, a waking up. It has not been easy, and I suppose I wouldn’t want it to be, but it is a struggle, using all the tools I have in order to claw my way out of the darkness, the numbness and back into the chariot that will carry me to my ultimate destruction: scattered black fragments against a pale sheet of perfect white paper.
It’s hard to be both a writer and a perfectionist. I’m writ(h)ing a story now tentatively titled “The Stone Speaker’s Wife” and it’s about a tribe or town of people that exist in your typical fantasy world. Part medieval Europe, party mythological creation. The trouble that I’m having is that the tribe/town itself doesn’t have a secure context.
You can see in just the description what I’m struggling with. Are these people, the Stone Speaker’s people, the People of the Stones sedentary and agrarian or are they transient hunter gatherers? I don’t know. I don’t know whether I should draw from the medieval township model, in which their subsistence farmers paying tithe to the monarch, the wandering gypsy model of a roving band of rootless people within the blurry confines of the monarchy or scrap the entire monarchy entirely and have a wilder, more primitive land where people haven’t invented long-reaching government yet, and exist more like early Icelanders with bands of families determining the “law” within boundaries that are constantly in argument. (I realize that this discredits a lot of the law giving that the Icelanders did, what with their early adoption of parliament and all, but it wasn’t a monarchy and the towns/families were, for the most part, self-governing and somewhat lawless, the law coming into play when a blood-price had to be paid for someone that was killed, the law not having prevented the killing in the first place.)
What’s hard about this decision is that it is incredibly far reaching and determines a bunch of minute details, from the way they dress, the buildings they live in, the food they eat, the medicines they make, the magic they create, their rites and rituals. All of the minute details that we take for granted in our lives have long before been determined before we “decide” to take them on as daily rituals. Those details are due in large part to our styles of government, food supply, military, monetary system, and a thousand other things.
This is what I’m not good at as a writer, Making the Decision. I do my best to let the story flow out of me, and when I hit a snag like this it makes it very hard to me; so hard, in fact that I often just let the story/idea drop rather than doing the difficult work of hashing it out, because the details are sticky and seemingly endless, and I often feel at the end of the day that I’ve been rolling around in cobwebs and need a good hot shower. That is not what I consider an enjoyable afternoon, but I suppose the lawn doesn’t mow itself and the weeds don’t pull themselves and these details, much as I would prefer them to, won’t work themselves out.
I know at least that the people are rooted to a specific landmark, where the first major scene takes place. It’s a group of standing stones, menhirs, stone henges. Call them what you like. The wedding between the Stone Speaker (essentially the shaman of the People of the Stones) and the 15-year-old girl takes place there. The stones are a sacred site to the people, essentially containing all of the divine power of their ancestry. Now, if they’re a tribal people, they come back to the stones on the solstices and have their festivals there, possibly on the equinoxes as well. If they’re sedentary agrarians then they live nearby and come out for major festivals. I guess what I’m realizing as I write this is that it doesn’t matter which one I choose, but being who I am I feel that there’s a right answer, and that if I don’t choose the right answer the story won’t be perfect, will be fundamentally flawed in some way, visible to everyone, and it will have been a waste of my time. I feel that there’s some secret detail hiding from me, and that if I only think long enough I’ll be able to find it. Once that detail is discovered all of the rest of the pieces will fall neatly into place, and the story will be perfect and obvious to everyone else, and people will stand around scratching their heads wondering why they hadn’t written such an obvious and beautiful story.
That way of feeling about a story, and writing in general, doesn’t give me a lot of power. It puts the power in some secret, mystical ether that I have to grope through (spiderwebs?) in order to attain some divinely ordained perfection. In reality the course that would be most fruitful to take is to layout the likelihoods of both possibilities and see which one most closely matches the vision I have of these people and their story. Then, eventually, I have to decide. I have to choose one option and let the other one fall away. That takes a discipline that I’m not comfortable with. I often fret with decisions that I make, worrying that the decision I’ve made will be the wrong one. It causes me a lot of anxiety in situations where I don’t know either what the right answer is or what my predilection is. I can stand making a “wrong” decision if I know why I’m making it. I can stand choosing Chris Paul over Kobe Bryant for NBA MVP, even though I know the likelihood of Paul being chosen at this point is slim. I know what my definition of valuable is and I know that Paul fits it (though Bill Simmons makes an excellent argument for why Kevin Garnett most fundamentally fits the description, more than even Paul does).
It’s only when I don’t know what I want, nor what the right answer is that things become anxiety-ridden. I don’t know why, don’t know where this comes from, but I’m often more comfortable with potential than I am with actuality. I much prefer savoring the moment when all options are open to me than I do having firmly grasped one to the exclusion of all others. In other words, I have a hard time with commitment. It’s hard for me to say that this is what this all boils down to. It was a lot more noble when I was struggling with mystical variables hovering over me in the ether. It sounded much more high-brow to be cogitating divinely ordained plot points than it does to say that I’m just having a hard time committing to one story line over the other. And maybe that romance is part of it. Maybe I prefer dealing with the romance of wrestling with God rather than clichéd commitment issues. I can buy that. I guess now that I’ve cut that balloon loose there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s write the story.