The Loneliness of the Long-Format Author, Part 5

When I first blogged about the tortured agony that often (usually? always?) comprises writing, my old friend Rick responded and said, “The problem with writing is the lack of supporting toys. Musicians can always buy or futz around with new equipment, secure in the knowledge that this is almost the same as actual music. Ditto for filmmakers.” This is SO TRUE. We writers do not have toys! And therefore, built in ways to procrastinate on a regular basis! And always in the service of your creative process and your work!

Unfair!

Judging by the musical types that are direct blood relatives of mine, musicians spend vast oceans of time trolling on line and in stores for new instruments, things to add or subtract from those instruments, cases to put them in, devices to make them sound a little different, other devices to make them sound a little more different, and that’ s before we even get into the whole other ocean of stuff you need to record your music! 

Visual artists, likewise, have their own ever-expanding universe of materials and media.  Dancers and choreographers have shoes, and costumes, and cute, weird little knitted things to cover very specific parts of your body so they don’t get chilled.  Even with the advent of digital photography and the disappearance of the darkroom, there is still plenty of paraphernalia that amateur and pro photographers alike can pour over and obsess about.

The way I see it, every other creative endeavor/art form has equipment, props and toys.

Back in the older days, when I was first writing really amazingly bad poetry for which I got a shocking amount of misguided encouragement — but I digress — I was very particular about my pencils.  I could only sit down to write if I had at least three fairly new pencils.  #2.  Nothing else.  The erasers had to be intact.  The points had to be sharp to a surgically precise degree.  A fair amount of time could be consumed in the sharpening process, but hey, nothing compared to, say, strolling into a guitar star and noodling around on a few different instruments for most of an afternoon.  The pencil thing was as close to toys as I ever got.

Now, it’s just me and my one laptop.

I have been artistically gypped.

The Loneliness of the Long-Format Author, part 4

For me, writing long-format works (novels, in my case) is like chasing a picture that continually goes in and out of focus in your mind.

There are moments of enormous clarity, little miracles, in which the characters and ideas that are burbling around in your head suddenly and unexpectedly come into sharp focus.  You know exactly where your work is going — what must happen, what each character must say in a situation that must be created to compel your work forward.  Ha.  Unfortunately, these miraculous moments of clarity can evaporate just as easily as they appeared.  And they do.  And because these times of clear vision are likely to happen any old time — just as you are falling asleep, or during a long walk, or any old time whatsoever — it is shocking, maddening, confounding how quickly and totally they vanish, very much like dreams that you remember in exquisite detail, even going over the eventsImage in your mind upon awakening, only to find that you have no recollection just a short time later.

Sometimes the clarity has vanished even by the time you get yourself in front of the computer keyboard.  No matter how quickly you manage to drop everything, clear some space in your life, plop down in front of that screen, it can still happen that there you are, confronting that keyboard, rarin’ to go, only to find yourself…blank.

It’s gone.  Utterly gone.  There you are on the beach, after the wave has crashed, trying to make out any remnants of the words you wrote in the sand.

I wonder — is it like this in all creative endeavors?  Composing music?  Creating a sculpture?  I think it must be.   

 

Why Write, OR The Loneliness of the Long-Format Author

 

“We use words to tell stories for different reasons, all of us.  Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas said that he wrote for revenge.  My friend Linda said she writes because it is either that or vomiting.  Because it wells up inside of her, fills her, threatening to burst from her if she doesn’t first disgorge it in the form of words, clicks on her keyboard.  My daughter Kate said she writes to make things more real.  A flower that would otherwise be shriveled, decayed, lost forever; any moment, perhaps the first tentative smile that suggests a flicker of interest between a boy and a girl; any gesture, perhaps when he nervously reached up to scratch the side of his face in his shy hopefulness.  Any of these, all of these, can be detailed, described, made to last forever, made real when they would otherwise be lost, gone.”

That is a quote from YOU, IN YOUR GREEN SHIRT, my first novel.  I have been thinking a lot about this again, this business of why we write.  I am brand new at blogging, and have been browsing through other writers’ blogs, many of which have names such as “The Joy of Writing” and “Ecstasy of Words.”

Really?  I mean: really?  Am I that different from so many of my brethren?  Am I alone in thinking that writing is, generally speaking, one very small step away from torture?

This reminds me of when I began running, more than ten years ago now, and knowing my newbie status, everyone kept asking: “How about that runner’s high!?!”  “Don’t you just love that rush you get!?!”  So for weeks, which turned into months, I thought I must be doing something wrong.  I waited for it.  I watched for any little sign.  Mostly I felt like I was going to keel over or vomit every single second, but was pretty sure that neither of those feelings qualified as a “high.”

What I did experience was this: jubilation when it was ALL OVER!!!  When the run was complete, and I had LIVED (!) and could feel an enormous sense of relief and a slight feeling of accomplishment.

So, yeah, that’s pretty much what writing is like for me.

The process of it, the putting forth or words onto a page (ha-screen) is something I find arduous (and can I just mention here that I went through 40 HOURS of labor with NO MEDICATION, so I KNOW arduous), soul-sucking, lonely, grueling, and yes, at times, truly torturous.  So why in the world do it?!

Because when it is done, when the words are on the page, and you know, really know, that you have managed to say exactly what you wanted to say, there is no better feeling in the world.  None.

OMG it’s an author blog!

Which I have every intention of attacking with great seriousness of purpose, just as soon as I determine exactly what a blog IS.  I have two published novels, which I strongly encourage you to READ, REVIEW, and be in touch with me about anything and everything you got in the way of commentary and feedback.

I am currently hard at work on my third novel; and unless blogging and life in general prove too distracting, watch for it before the end of 2013.  It is tentatively titled PUSHING THE RIVER.  Hey, why don’t I post the first page!  Here goes….

            I am the heart of this house.  The soul, too.

            I am one hundred years old, will be come this spring anyway.  I am one hundred years old and I have reached the point where I ain’t no earthly use to nobody.  I am used up, washed out, spent, good for goddamn nothing.

            Last few years, I been tired as hell, too.  Oh, every so often they bring somebody in who looks me up and down and says, “tsk, tsk, my oh my,” and sticks things at me and does a tinkering here and there before saying the same damn thing: “I’m so sorry, but there’s just nothing we can do.”  Oh, course they lah-di-dah about how well I’m holding up, considering my years and all, but then they  point to the same damn parts every time and say, “here’s where the problem is, right here,” and they scratch their dang chins and shake their dang heads and look all hangdog long-faced forlorn, talking about me like I ain’t even there.

            Well let’s see just see how dang well YOUR parts hold up when you reach the age of one hundred years I think to myself, let’s just goddamn see.

            Shit show.  That’s what these last four months of my life have been.  Never thought I’d live to hear myself to use such language, neither, but there just ain’t no other words for it.  I learned that expression from the little one, too, except of course, she ain’t little any more, she is all grown up.