Bring It On Home

It’s spring. Life is stirring again. But first, there must be mud, at least in Maine. And then there are the pigheaded strips of snow that refuse to trot off.

Darwin and his Beagle, it’s lonely being a writer. Not the physical solitude (I’m equipped for that), but the loneliness of never knowing. I probably shouldn’t have read Adam Phillips’ Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. Instead of inspiring me to greater heights of sufferance, I can’t nudge free the idea that I’m missing out on something.

And what do I feel like I’m missing out on? A gang of one’s own (instead of a room); John Ashbery talking to himself; a lovely coterie of friends; more involvement in the literary world (although I don’t even know what shape that should take); a vintage pair of jeans; a book deal.

“We make sense of our lives in order to be free not to have to make sense.”

My life at times feels like a boat in dead waters: waiting to get an agent to love me through the leafy vines; waiting for the sun to go supernova; waiting to hear if there is water on Mars; waiting for a physicist to find the God particle. If only it could be just Waiting For Godot. Why can’t I get a Golden Ticket like Charlie? “I never thought my life could be anything but catastrophe….”

But as King Lear told me the other night, “The art of our necessities is strange.” But the night before that, Mad Cyril told me: “The future is simply a ship in a bottle waiting for the right wave to let you out.”

What has happened to universities and the academic life? Send me off to American Idol with a song in my mediocre heart, but aren’t universities and colleges the Land for the Lotus Eaters? I thought it was the last refuge for exiles, eccentrics, the obsessed, thinkers, libertines, seekers, the disaffected, the lonely, those who don’t wanna grow up, those who fled the working world with Ginsberg’s Howl in their veins, those whose backs were pushed up against the wall by the world and who hopped over it into some cerebral paradise. How did all this professionalism and success and play the bonny tenured prof come about? Shouldn’t universities be letting misfits and miscreants and the mad teach the bright young things of the future?

Why is it that the middle class always work like dogs and yet never have anything to show for it but debt and mortgages and exhaustion and unfulfilled dreams? I don’t want that. I want the Alexandria Quartet in my backyard. I want the sun and moon to pass over my writing desk. And I want to someday go to Bruges as a hitman.

I have gone on long enough. I must get back to my bean field. If I don’t, somebody will think me a curmudgeon in the prime of life. I’m not that irascible. I just have this thing called life breathing down my neck all the time.

Sand in Pocket

At last, the temperatures in Maine are back to a thinking man’s idea of summer. No more groveling in the shade or taking my family to shop at the local Hannafords simply to cool down besides the dairy and cheese.

And my family and I have discovered a sand beach. We had no idea it even existed this close to our house. An idyllic strand hidden in plain view. Crashing waves, warm water, a circling bald eagle, the lazy beat of a passing blue heron, scuttling hermit crabs, and the slow crawl of sea snails, leaving straight lines in the wet sand. The best part, though, is that nobody seems to know about this small sandy beach. The day we went, we were the only ones romping about.

If I worked for a lifestyle magazine that enticed out-of-staters here with the promise of everlasting delight, I’d have to spill the location. But since I don’t, I’m not giving away its whereabouts. I’m keeping its location all to myself. I might even draw a map, stuff it into a peg leg, and forget about it. Or I may get the map tattooed to a spot on my body that hardly sees the light of day.

I’ll most likely continue to write about the sandy beach. It’s such a find. I might write about how I surfed to shore on the last wave of the day. I might write about finding a passport photograph of a young man with a moustache whose portrait gave no hint of the life he lived. I might write about the stone dog that washed ashore and came to life. I might write about the scrap I got into with a feisty hermit crab in a yellow periwinkle shell who almost took pity on me. I might also tell of the hermit crab who gladly offered me his shell in return for my bipedal life among giants.

I’m still pursuing a job the way the Snork Maiden pursues Moomintroll. I’m ready for something now to fall out of the sky and hit me on the head. I promise not to carry an umbrella. I’d also settle for an agent to pick me up in his or her strong arms, swirl me around, and point me in the direction of a publisher for my novel.

Ok, time to get back into my foxhole to write. Then I’m off to that beach for some extra solitude.

Here’s some Mission UK.

Kitchen Sink Drama

I’ve been hearing some hokey stuff recently, so I thought I’d write about it. Here are 2 that have struck me as the most suspect:

“The writer in everyone.”

And

“Creativity is a solitary affair.”

The first gave me a reason to pause because I can’t imagine that there is a writer in every person who is just dying to get out and write. That would be like saying there is a doctor in everyone and a lawyer in everyone an accountant in everyone (scary thought) a president in everyone and etc, etc.

If I suddenly started to try and balance other people’s money, I’m sure the IRS would soon be knocking on my door. Or if I suddenly put a sign outside my house that read: “The Doctor Is In,” I’m sure there would be a lawyer crossing my lawn in no time.

I do think humans are natural-born storytellers. It’s on our tongue, literally, to spin a yarn, be it about the weather or the chicken that escaped from the coop or the guy down the street who dries his underwear on the garden post. The tongue likes to wag some story or other.

But writing is not the same as speaking. Writing is not on the tongue. Not at first, anyway. It’s somewhere deeper inside. It springs to life in the head, if I have to localize it. But that’s not even true. A story begins like the Big Bang, in space. And, at least for me, it then begins to take shape and form in the head, and I hear fictional voices. And those voices can’t stay there. Now the old oral storytellers would have begun to speak. Not me. I begin to write. So I somehow silence the tongue and I only bring it back into use when words start to flow and I want to know how they sound. Do they have a sound that is worth keeping? Still, most of the sound is going on in my head and then to the blank screen where it, hopefully, gets louder and louder. (I’m not trying to make this into some esoteric art; just a spooky one.)

I’m not sure everyone, besides writers, takes the time to recognize and act upon these strange voices. And so, the “writer in everyone” is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

Now onto the second.

For a long time I’ve taken for granted that “creativity is a solitary affair”: a writer sits alone and writes. Then the other day I was doing the washing-up, squirting the liquid, and watching the foam rise…and it hit me.

Wait a honky-tonk second, I thought. (Picture the foam rising in the sink). I squeezed the sponge in my hand. (Picture more foam rising.)

Creativity is not a solitary affair! And I turned off the tap.

Here’s why. (And I shall use my washing-up experience as an illustration.)

Just like the washing-up liquid will not foam without water, so a writer can’t create without the presence of other writers.

Let me explain: Okay, I’m sitting alone before the keyboard, but, every writer (living and dead) I have ever read and loved is sitting on my shoulder. I can sense them there. Some encouraging, some snickering, some rolling their eyes, some yawning, some picking their nails, some typing themselves, some asleep, some shouting, some wandering off, some hooting and hollering, some attentive, some whispering words of advice and praise.

And just like the foam is an amalgamation of tiny bubbles, so a solitary writer is in fact just one iridescent bubble in the mosaic bubbles of life going on around them.

Let me explain:  Yes, I’m alone with my story. But am I really alone?

I don’t have my own writing room, it’s in the living room, the centre of house life. I try to make it a solitary space, though, by writing at night when my two young daughters are in bed. But even then it’s not as solitary as I think it is. One of my three cats might jump into my lap. A moth might bang against the window like a falling moon of white. A neighbour’s dog might bark at some noise. The lights might flicker. A car might grumble down the dirt road. A fox might scream and scare me half to death. There may be thunder. The wind might get the leaves muttering. Rain might fall in liquid drops. The moon might break free and gaze upon me. My eldest daughter might wake and wander down stairs….

How can I be alone with all of this life going on around me? And it’s not a distraction. In fact, it’s a gift. All this active life around me seeps in, fills me up, alters my mood, affects my writing, changes what I write. The life outside becomes the life inside the creative mind, feeding it, changing it, giving it that extra elasticity and energy to be something other than just the rote practice of sitting alone in a chair and writing.

Plus, as an added bonus, just as I can pull the plug when I’m done with the dishes, so I can pull the plug on the writing. Go back to it another day.

“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turn them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation, and a name.” Shakespeare

“People lie constantly every day by not saying something that they think, or by saying something that they didn’t think.” Marlon Brando

“There is a class of hardy men, old-fashioned enough to have remained rugged individuals, openly contemptuous of the trend, passionately devoted to their work, impossible to bribe or seduce, working long hours, often without reward or fame, who are motivated by a common impulse — the joy of doing as they please. They do not seek to dominate, but to realize themselves. They evolve, they grow, they give nourishment just by being what they are.” Henry Miller