Something of the Fool

I recently came across this quote from the writer Joy Williams: “A writer loves the dark, loves it, but is always fumbling around in the light.”

I love that last part, about fumbling about in the light. I always feel like this when I write, like I’m blinkered, and it has to be so, and yet I also need to receive light to illuminate the manuscript I’m working on.

And now at the risk of sounding like a dabbler with his hands in a magician’s hat, I do think that there is a sort of magic to writing. For seconds, for hours, for days, for weeks, for months, for years, I sit with one self in the world of things and one self in the world of phantoms. It’s like I’m living in the perpetual strike of midnight and words are the only way to stay the hands of time from moving me on. Words that spin out of me and then at some point will be read by another person. It’s like I bounce a ball and then that bouncing ball migrates inside a reader and it’s strangely the same ball I imagined, although maybe it weighs a little different and it’s paler or brighter, but the bounce is still the same in a reader’s mind.

That bounce. To conquer with a bounce. To seduce with a bounce. A bounce I just made up. But a bounce we all can recognize. Maybe that is art: a bounce that makes its way through eternity always one step ahead of us all.

Maybe that is why I never feel completely nourished or pleased or satisfied with anything I write. The bounce just wasn’t high enough. But how can it be? The work always shuns, accepts, but shuns. Pushes you out, the self-conscious you who seems to know what’s what. But I don’t know. I’m always panting after the ball. And the pant I do alone at night in confusion, in hope, an awkward flapping after flapping after flapping only to discover nothing that’s left rises off the page and delights. And so back I go, forcing myself forward for hours, crawling dumb and stupid like a caterpillar, munching my way through words, knowing I serve something greater or else get devoured by something rapacious and alarmingly close.

It’s not always like this, though. There are times when the writing is goal after goal after goal and the crowd is jubilant and a sweeping cloud of birds rises and falls and the sun shimmers in every blade of grass and the referee is crucified on the goalposts. I’m having a good writing day and I can feel the shape of the story and I’m tinkering with sentences as I move forwards and backwards. But this happens in the din and wreck of a moment and then the shark’s fin cuts the surface of the trance and ploughs towards you.

I think it was Joy Williams who wrote that language feeds off writers. Who else could it turn to? It needs someone to give it life, make it perform, make it just a bit better than it wished it could be. And when a writer fails, then words gather even more gravity around him, force their way in, take bigger bites, devour whole. And just then, at that aperture of wisdom, a writer knows he can succeed. But in a blink of a pinprick of light, he suddenly realizes he is the dark matter at the heart of words, trying one word at a time to illuminate not just himself, but the whole world.

A writer fumbles in the light and stumbles ever closer to the dark.


Descent of One Man

I recently heard a piece on NPR about the new fad of nanobrewing. And I wonder, is there something going on? What with local food movements, local talent, local beer, local idiots and geniuses, maybe this is a new direction, maybe even the world of books is moving towards niche markets where writers sell to a select few and not loads of people. Or has this always been the case and I just missed it all?

Here’s something daring I just told myself: I like to live in my own mind, regardless of other people. And so why do others seems to dislike this?

“To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.” Walter Pater

What else have I got for you? Big flakes of snow falling in little icy dances. No, that’s passé now.

So, you know how Papa Hemingway always bitched about the heroic struggle of writing, well, I’d say contemporary writers have it a lot worse, Mr. Hem and Haw. Let me explain: we are hardly read as much as Hemingway, we have to fight to get any kind of presence, begging through social media for someone, anyone to buy us, and still we go unknown to the many.

I’m not complaining, no one ever said the writing life is easy, well, besides those who know no better. But sometimes, when I feel like a tiny flea on the back of a very shaggy dog, it’s overwhelming, the insurmountable amount of oblivion you have to endure and then the scrabble and fight to get notice. But then I guess we all have to fight in some way to survive, and writers even more cause you’re selling your tribe of one when most people are sold as a large mass.

I don’t know what I’m yammering on about. Just sometimes I think, God, what an odd life to have to claw my way out of obscurity with no real assurance that anyone is actually gong to buy my book(s). I mean I know people still read, but will they read me? And is writing a good story simply enough now? How do I grab attention for myself without being too ostentatious or even too manipulative or worse obstreperous and having no humility? I know the kinds of writers I’m drawn to read and be excited about, but are there people out there like me who would feel the same about me as a writer? And are controversy and antics the way to go? But how long can that sustain you as a writer until a new court fool comes along and knocks you out?

I think I’ll just hang on like a toenail to this advice that John Cheever gave someone: “All fiction is experimental and don’t get caught up in fads.”

Ok, time to take off my Donegal wool cap and scratch my head.

Drones, Horse Meat, and Wasabi Nuts

I have a new love: wasabi almonds. They are so good, I could put horse meat in frozen lasagna and make people buy it.

I’m eating the piquant nuts all the time. Even at night, with the moon like a slim almond in the sky, you will see me, if you looked out across Penobscot Bay, popping wasabi almonds into my mouth like an addict shaking with imagination in the quiet of the night. The nut in the man. The man in the nut. Who can tell on a night like last night. I also have them for breakfast with my horsehair shirt on. I have them for lunch with my jodhpurs down. And I even stash a few under my pillow to keep my incisors sharp and my molars in practice for the sweet fruit of the mandarin.

Which I also love at this time of the year, the sudden tart shock against the back of the teeth and the stringy white bits caught in my long incisors or in the back among the sightless, wordless molars. All day I imagine I have the sun trapped between the ageless grove of my teeth, me biting down on another sunrise or sunset and yet nothing I can say alters a thing. At least not yet. I speak real words at night, alone, unsure, a little dazed and drunk before my computer, calling up phantoms, luring words cause I’m scurvy without them.

What’s that old crocodile, with a clock in his gut, say with a tear in his large eye? Oh, yes, there’s a sucker born every minute who needs a frozen dinner and only cries pot pie when he or she finds out it’s horse meat and not the dog’s dinner. So, you were lied to. Are you telling me nobody has ever, ever lied to you before? Schoolteachers never lied to you. A government never lied to you. The family priest never lied to you, of course, as he seduced the farmer’s daughter. And, god forbid, your personal God never lied to you when he said the innocent shall inherit the earth.

Lasagna! The easiest dish to make in the world. All you need is some pasta, tomatoes, a handful of herbs, and some plump goat to make it delicious.

What is this croaking all about? We eat cow, chicken, rabbit, and no one becomes a burning bush. We partake of the flesh of others, so what does it matter what flesh it is?

I don’t think I could eat a horse — well, ok, the rump or the fetlock of a horse. I’d much rather ride one. But, where were all these people when glue was being made? Sniffing oil lamps?

Droning on and on about drones. What’s not to like about a programed killer that doesn’t have to eat, pee, or think? Let’s save an entire army of young lads and send a drone for the price of a stamp. Plus, drones are so easy to knock off. Didn’t Chewie take one out on the cold planet Hoth with just one shot? I think it’s because drones have a self-destruct button, a bit like a nervous and anxious writer who can always give up the writing and become a celebrity writing instructor to the young and utterly glib.

Tempted By the Quote of Another

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.” Rilke 

“The theme of art is the theme of life itself. This artificial distinction between artists and human beings is precisely what we are all suffering from. An artist is only someone unrolling and digging out and excavating the areas normally accessible to normal people everywhere, and exhibiting them as a sort of scarecrow to show people what can be done with themselves.” Lawrence Durrell

“Allowing space for change is allowing space for grace. That’s what I get from good writing.  I have nothing to say that will change anybody’s mind. Nothing. Being didactic is uninteresting. But allowing space for people to remake their minds about things, to change—or to get angry—is a viable literary purpose. That I fail at this over and over is my reason to continue. Failure is edifying. We break the lights.” Colum McCann

Keats said, “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination.”

“Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it. Ignore the authors who say “Oh, my God, what word? Oh, Jesus Christ…”, you know. Now, to hell with that. It’s not work. If it’s work, stop and do something else.” Ray Bradbury 

“The waking mind, you see, is the least serviceable in the arts. In the process of writing one is struggling to bring out what is unknown to himself. To put down merely what one is conscious of means nothing, really, gets one nowhere. Anybody can do that with a little practice, anybody can become that kind of writer.”  Henry Miller 

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song.” Plato   

“I keep thinking about writing another long piece of fiction. Then I lose heart because fiction has to have some fight in it. By which I mean it shouldn’t be smooth as a tube to glide along. Imagination is an interruption; it interrupts repetitive thinking, predictable thinking. It jolts the mind. Trouble is, the mind likes what it knows. It enjoys a cheap thrill, sure, but it likes what it knows. A real challenge is never just about content; it is some stranger way of seeing the world.” Jeanette Winterson

“Without creative, independently thinking and judging personalities the upward development of society is as unthinkable as the development of the individual personality without the nourishing soil of the community.” Einstein

“Of all the arts, fiction is the most powerful, since, with no materials other than a pen and paper, a writer can convince a reader that a man has changed into a monstrous vermin.” Will Self

Leaning Against A Shovel

I feel fine. Resuscitating my blog has given me literary notions to live indolently.

God, the last post I wrote was way back in August. Tempus fugit. But I’ve been busy, right. Busy with master stuff. Like brainy stuff. Stuff with brains in it, like headcheese.

I’m now the happy owner of an MFA in creative writing from Stonecoast. Honors and privileges have come my way like a stray dog, and like a stray dog, honors and privileges have sniffed me, raised their legs, and trotted off.

At my very last residency as a graduate student, I met with an agent. She wasn’t interested in my novel. As she romanced the other two writers, I drifted away like Pluto, no longer a planet, just some large chunk of ice.

My ears did perk up, though, when she went on a about Twitter, how authors need it like a chamber pot under the writing chair. But I just don’t know if I’m ready to Twitter yet. I mean, why would I Twitter and have 2 or 3 followers, if that? How sad is that. I’d rather go for a walk and bump into a couple of strangers and ask them if they prefer a culture of perpetual complaint or one of unlimited imagination.

I like what Mr. Wilde has to say about Twittering: “The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

You wait, though, when that day comes when I eventually have a book deal and a pound of stolen chocolate, I’ll be asked if I would care for a cup of Twitter and I will go giddy in the knees and say, yes, bring on the 140 dancing characters.

The thing about these tiresome social platforms is that we are being intoxicated by them while not getting truly drunk. All we have to do is look back, oh, I don’t know, 10 years, and how on earth were writers reaching readers then? Who was picking up books then? Did nobody fucking read 10, 20, a hundred years ago? Why have we thrown the baby out with the bathwater and don’t believe that before these social platforms people did read, read lots, found writers out (I know I did), because look at all the authors out there, surely they didn’t come fully formed through social media, right? I’m sick of hearing that all these social platforms are the new sliced bread.

Write the books and they will come. But the thing is, publishers, agents, even writers don’t have patience now. Every book must sell right off the press. What ever happened to building a readership over time, nurturing a writer, writing and living and even having another job? It’s all get to the shagging now, no time for seduction and courtship and romance.

Yes, I know, I’m an old crone in young man’s boots. But just because something is “new” it’s not entirely satisfying. Being satisfied shouldn’t be equated with 50 Shades of Gray.

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” Wilde

Like everyone else and their colonist ancestors, I’m enjoying Downton Abbey, the new class struggle. But, my interest was waning. There was just too many subplots to keep straight and not enough family secrets in the pantry. And then what do I get? Lady Sybil dies! There were so many buckets of tears at my manor, I had to haul them downstairs. Why did they have to do that? Couldn’t they have at least had Edith try to lure Sir Anthony Strallan to a wheat field and a combine harvester cuts him down or couldn’t the Countess of Grantham be found in Ethel Parks’ bed?