We drove the freeway, red taillights in the dark
Until that ribbon curled and lifted away from the world
And I fell into night.
I have no words, now
Only vibration which runs through me
And certain bare feet upon your floor.
Should dawn break into dream
Sext me pictures of your heart
Touch me with kindness I cannot feel
Look into another’s eyes and see mine
Pierce the void to
Find my lips with yours
And kiss me
He writes, of course, the kind of story I like best, and in a superior style. His prose, at times, unfolds the most sublime metaphor – the kind which can blur the line between prose and poetry.
I’ve read a paragraph, alone in some corner of the world, and felt compelled to exclaim aloud the fucking brilliance of his fucking words. And then I’ll read that paragraph a second time for the sheer joy of the tickling in my skull it produces.
I don’t hate my favorite author because he shows me what could be, but that I can never bring to a page. Now that I think about it – maybe I do – or should – hate him for that. Just a little.
No, the reason I hate my particular favorite author is because he does all this, and keeps me glued to every word, with an outsized use of the passive tense.
It does not bother me when I am reading it. In fact, it is perfect.
But as soon as it is my turn to write, all I’ve got is “the sea was stormy” and “the plan is rotten” and “the sex will be gray”. The intruder never storms the castle, the hero never forsakes good advice, and she never takes him by force – he is just taken.
We all know the trite saying that you are what you eat. I keep waiting to wake up and find that I am a bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, with an extra cheese packet added. Maybe that saying is not quite true. I live on that hope.
What we read, however, can affect what we write. We pick up more of the form than the brilliance, it seems.
The logical conclusion is that you, if you’re a writer, should read mediocre authors who follow Strunk and White’s rules.
P.S. Thou doth best avoideth Shakespeare and the Bible when thou art writing.
Last night, the voice of a dead man thundered as I lay in bed. I immediately put my book down. I looked around. In my best Scrooge voice, I asked the ghost to stop toying with me, and I let him know that he might just be an undigested bit of beef. The voice faded away.
Then, as I started reading again, the dead man’s voice picked right back up.
Why I listened is hard to say. What can the dead know? They are, after all, dead, and we alive. They can be no more than echoes of what was, and we are what is. For now.
Not realizing his irrelevance, this dead man talked to me as I lay in bed reading. He told me of a Hero’s Journey, and a thousand myths.
The next day, I promised myself, I would take that book to a graveyard, and bury it there, next to the head stone of one Mr. Campbell.
Some things I know. Modern story is not about heroes and myths. It is about the elegance of language. It is about knowing and breaking the rules. The modern world has nothing in common with the worlds of old. We, as human beings in this age, are unique.
I shall not worry about whether the not-yet-living would want to read my book, should I one day be a ghost, I told myself. I shall not worry about whether my tale illuminates some universal struggle within men and women. My work is above all that.
It had gotten late, and the fog was wafting in through the open sliding glass door. There were sounds outside, strange sounds, and I could not see from what they came.
Being a modern man, I Googled poltergeists, then I fell asleep to kitten videos on the Internet, as the sound of chains rattling crept into my dreams.
When I woke inside my sleep, a journey I had no interest in undertaking awaited me. But I knew the plan.
His clothes fit for 30 years, and then they did not. Nothing fit.
The words popped into my head, the spear tip of a story piercing right through the fog and into my conscious mind. I could feel the whole shaft in that first prick of the sharp words. I could sense a story, I could almost touch the whole thing, complete.
For a moment it felt good. Like crack.
Then the alarms went off. Oh shit. This is how it starts, the literary thinking.
In a moment, I’ll find myself rushing off to find paper and pen. I’ll be curled up in some dirty, dark alley, a month later, scribbling, smiling, and talking to myself.
Begging pencils from strangers.
I have to stop it now. I must resist.
Let it go. Do other things, I told myself.
I went onto Facebook. The status box asked “What are you thinking?” And what I thought is: I could write a a few lines in there, or even a page, a short story. Is there a Facebook word limit? I could probably cram 80,000 words right in there. Once I start, it’ll be easy, like falling off a cliff, but believing you are flying.
No, no, you don’t. I closed the browser, and brushed by Microsoft Word as quickly as I could before powering down my laptop.
I took a walk. Words followed my every step, lurking just behind me in my subconscious. I felt a theme, ever so gently touch my shoulders. I walked faster, but the words quickened, too, more and more of them, and ideas, right behind me. I felt a little high, a little feverish.
I thought about getting a drink to drown the words out. Then I remembered Hemingway’s warning: Write drunk, edit sober. There are words in drink, he had tried to warn us; alcohol gives no quarter.
I knew I was on the very edge of falling into writing.
What I needed was some literary methadone.
I found Jill, who leads my writing support group, at Starbucks. Jill is my sponsor.
“Tell me about your story,” she said.
“And your themes,” she added, “What about the climax, and turning points?”
I told her everything. I released the ghost of a story right out of my mouth. I gave the virus to her, and she took it all, selflessly.
And then I was OK. The story was gone.
I went back home, never more thankful for belonging to a writing group.
If you want to waste your time writing, drivel, I read somewhere, go ahead and write about characters you have no understanding of.
No, it would be better if, instead of writing, you explored their backstories first. Get to know their fears, their flaws, and what kind of cereal gives them hives.
This is what was in my head when I pulled into the gas station in some strange part of town.
As luck would have it, my debit card didn’t work. I didn’t feel much like going in and talking to the attendant. But I knew Harlan, the twisted antagonist in a story I should be writing, would have no problem with it at all.
So instead of going in to the attendant, I sent Harlan.
When the police had left, and the attendant stopped cursing, we both laughed a little.
I told the poor gas attendant some of the horrific crimes Harlan had committed – in the backstory to my story. We agreed that Harlan was one sociopathic MF.
It was quiet now. The streets had seen the Tuesday night commuters come and go, leaving us alone there in the dark by the pump, save for the glow from the neon sign out front.
The attendant was quiet, his mind far away. Then he stood up slowly. He looked down at me, a slight grin slipping out.
You’ve come home from whatever it is that you do for money while pretending not to be a writer. Now there is that fear: If I find myself alone, I may be obliged to write.
Never fear. This is why this blog exists: to show you that, even when the whole universe favors you writing, there are still ways to avoid it.
Let’s have a little popcorn snack. Get some oil smoking and throw some dead corn seed right in there.
That Air Popper someone gave you and your third ex-wife for a wedding present – the one thing she let you have when she kicked you out? Oh please, the only place to use it is in a story as an ironic murder weapon. In real life, you cannot feed a soul on hot air.
But I see you there at the stove – you threw the popcorn into the smoking oil then looked for the right lid as kernels started exploding. You were brave, you told yourself, for looking for the lid only after you’d thrown the kernels in. Your life needs a GoPro.
You get the whole greasy mess into a bowl, and your fingers follow – ravenous fingers that toss the hot crunchy, oiled and salted mini clouds into your mouth with abandon. The glory of the popcorn!
But what seemed so promising falls into your gut as a quagmire of dead greasy corn seeds, and the guilty grease won’t wipe off your fingers. Not completely.
There is no way to write great literature with greasy fingers.
Now all that’s left to do is call your third ex-wife, a dying bottle of Jack Daniels in hand, and beg like the humiliated almost writer you almost were.
At least you did not use the Air Popper. This time.