Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Time to Write

The last time you might have caught up with me, we were wrapping up our trip to Florida. So, in the interest of time, let's fast forward a wee bit: Joaquin is crawling all over the place; my parents had a nice visit with us this last week; Belmont Station is now serving Top Sail, Full Sail's smoky Bourbon Barrel-aged Porter (yes, it's worth writing about!), and the Giants have won the SuperBowl in an upset bound to be forgotten too soon by those of us who just don't care (sorry if you were rooting for the Patriots, but remember friends, it's just a game!). These were the highlights of a week and a half that has left me by turns happy, exhausted and ultimately too busy, with too little time to write.

What did I do instead? I read a great book, Helen Slavin's "The Extra Large Medium". I won't go into the plot, but to say it's about the life of a medium, Annie Colville, who sees the dead, easily identified by wearing chocolate brown, from an early age. Her life is riddled with spirits who want her help wrapping up "unfinished business", most often the messages have something to do with where the old shed key is, where the old collectible tea sets are, and sometimes, a more personal last word or two to living loved ones. I fell in love with Annie, concerned for her and her eccentric life that keeps her from finding acceptance and comfort in the land of the living. Her journey and the events that befall her kept me turning pages until a most satisfying conclusion was reached and it felt safe to leave her on her own again. Funny how a book can do that.

Anne Lamott talks in her book, Bird by Bird, about how the act of writing doesn't always make us great writers, but it does make us better readers. I must agree that I enjoy books more, for deeper reasons, than I did before I deciding that writing should be something I do as often as possible. It's safe for me to say that I am not a great writer: far from it, sometimes I am a shitty writer, writing just to please myself, which is about as self-indulgent as you can get. And if you've ever edited your own (or someone else's) work, it's often true that the self-indulgent, super "This is brilliant and so witty I can't believe it, I love myself so much" kind of stuff is often the first thing that you need to cross out and throw into the fire. And I'm sure this, and my other writings, are probably riddled with kindling.

But, if the payoff is that it makes me a better reader, then it's a good one. Reading is such a pleasure to me. Unbelievably wonderful.

So, if you are wondering why I have neglected dear Bethany for a little while, life has been grabbing me by the collar and forcing my nose into a book. I take away a little something that I'm sure I'll use in my own writing, somewhere. Books fill me up and put something in my writing bank. I came away with the sense that I want people to care about Bethany the way I cared about Annie. More goals, more sense of what drives me to write. Serving the character, being concerned about all the people in her little family. I don't know how her story ends yet, but I'm interested to see how it turns out. This is what keeps us turning pages. I think this is also what keeps some of us writing. Our created people are our friends, or enemies, but we have to know how their story plays out. Good readers and disciplined writers have something in common, we work toward a conclusion, even if it's only an illusory one. Even if we have to fill in a lot of blanks, or gather together the evidence and conjure one up ourselves. We wonder what happened next after the snapshot is taken and the shutter closes to black. Our imaginations kick in. We must know.

It's this compulsion that feels most definingly human to me. I think this is our stumbling block as to accepting the Mystery of the Divine Spirit, and it's our most fearsome downfall, our desire to know all and our certainty that what we know is right above all other answers. This is where we really screw ourselves, our pigheaded belief that our way is the right way, the only way. From the biggest of questions to the smallest of actions (how to cut an onion, when to brush your teeth)...we all have our own way/how/when of doing things, a myriad million of 'right' ways that most of us would never even consider. We know these ways through our personal experiences, and we tend to forget that the personal is not global. Our way, our "right" answer doesn't work for everyone. Once we understand this, the better off we all will be.

Wow. Don't know where that came from. The brain gets excited like this--and maybe, in a nutshell, this is why I write. Not just to tell an story, but to see which words are going to come next. It feels good. Perhaps, (very, very) self indulgent. But I love it.

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