Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What If? (Facing the Music)

What if you created a small, secret room, physical or spiritual, and you filled it with your ideas, evacuating it, as you went, of every unwanted intrusion? (You painted the walls a muted eggshell, hung curtains over the one window -- muslin perhaps, in two or three layers -- to admit the light only on your own terms, installed a small audio system, just adequate to the modern jazz and Beethoven sonatas -- all of them -- that you prefer when bent on an act of creation.) What if you didn't let it bother you, not really, that you hadn't yet found time to spend time in this room, but instead derived comfort from the thought that it was there, waiting, abiding, as you also waited, abided, resplendant in the faith that this room was inviolable, patient, welcoming, and that the purpose it served had no expiry? What if removing the distractions required months or years of burdensome effort, the labor more than once threatening to overcome you utterly, and still you persevered, sometimes moved near to weeping by your fatigue and lack of confidence in the wisdom of the endeavor, disinclined as you are to leaps of faith and recognizing in this enterprise the quintissential suspension of disbelief? And then what if you finally made the time to disappear into your little space, this shrine to your most heart-felt ambitions, and you felt nothing, no sense of triumph or satisaction, no inspiration, not even the backhanded compliment of disappointment, just . . . nothing.

On my little writing table, next to this computer, lie a legal pad and a steno pad, each documenting in sum several years of thoughts intended to move me toward any of a number of writing projects great and small. In a little blue paperweight my mother gave me, one with a diagonal slot for holding erect to view a small card or note, I have slid a scrap of paper from a pad that bears the name of my pre-law employer, making the pad (itself sitting on the farthest corner of the table hundreds of sheets unused) no fewer than four and a half years old. The idea it memorializes is younger. In full, in my near illegible script, I have written:

A guy keeps losing things -- wallet, keys, job? Why? We never find out but we find out other things.

Although I do not remember the impulse that led me to jot down those words, I can locate its origin at the nexus of two recent thoughts: first, that disturbing gaps in my memory have emerged of late, larger than those to which I've grown accustomed in my thirty-two years, lapses in background knowledge and failures of short-term retention so fundamental and inexplicable that it is physically painful when I discover another black hole where something I cared to revisit once had been stored; second, I seem to recall (or do I?), this was the first, and as it turned out last, story idea spawned by a sudden impulse to abandon the high arrogance of endeavoring to write something longer, a novel say, having written virtually no creditable short fiction, and nothing worth considering since college or soon thereafter, a decade ago.

There is no room, not really. But the impulse is real, and has been as palpable to me as a carrot before my nose as I've tried on three careers, excelled at one, and found only that one tolerable but still, somehow, unsatisfying, insufficiently romantic perhaps.

I eschew regret to the degree I can, usually with considerable success. Consequently, I have at great pains warded off the stray thoughts that sometimes incur that I may have made a grave mistake in acceding to my more practical side and my ever increasingly expensive tastes in choosing not simply to drop everything one day and say: I will write and I will make someone pay me to do so or I will starve. I will sing for my supper and someone somewhere is going to listen.

With the inception of this weblog, I thought to prod myself into action, my career fairly settled, my hours predictable, my life uncomplicated and comfortable, with the specter of more imminent unsatisfied expectations. I recognized -- self-knowledge being, quite possibly, the only perquisite of age, unfortunately offset by the countervailing stiffening of one's spine to the prospect of change in response to that knowledge -- that it would be enough for me to know that this site was out there, and that I had a few readers looking for my next post, to keep me showing up. This has proven true, with few infrequent exceptions. I misdiagnosed, however, my mind's capacity to skirt the rules, such as they are, and so it was only upon reflection that I realized that, far from spurring me to write in a way that moved me toward my familiar dream of Writing, this site instead moved me to talk.

Notwithstanding that there is no physical room, and futher notwithstanding the patent truth that one swallow does not make spring, there is a computer resting on a battered white table in the corner of my bedroom, and there has been a marathon push through closing on this house to moving in to settling into my new job and surviving the rigamarole of holiday obligations, all supposedly culminating in a night like last night, when my time was my own, nothing external called to me, and I could -- at last -- sit down to a white page in a quiet house and write.

Nothing came. Nothing at all. The few sentences I pecked out and summarily deleted were hollow, devoid of any visceral impulsion, dead on arrival. Years of aggregated ideas, which in certain whimsical moods seemed to coalesce into something grander, a major project of one sort or another, offered no counsel. I couldn't begin, not anywhere -- at the beginning, the middle. Indeed, to simply recite these various ideas inwardly to myself was to see them wither and collapse under their own weight. These were what I thought to comprise inspiration?

Of course, paradoxically, with greater self-knowledge comes greater compartmentalization, and with that a greater capacity for self-deception, one bureaucracy of thought burying another under red tape, phonecalls unreturned, a blizzard of forms designed only to guard jealously the issuing department's prerogatives. And it has occurred to me that perhaps that conditions under which I thought to write no longer obtain. Perhaps my mind is, indeed, stultified with law, crystallized like dried fruit. Perhaps I never had it, and have found sustenance only in an artfully preserved illusion, a fantasy that served me far more than its realization ever could.

I'm working on it. I'm having my people call their people. I am making discreet inquiries, invoking confidences and calling in favors hard-earned. This despot is not prepared to concede defeat to the functionaries he ought to have under his thumb.

But what if it's over, this idea of myself that's furnished the backdrop for so much of the action in my life? What if it's time to move on? How can I know?


Blogger isabelita said...

Of course you know I am not hugely sympathetic about your memory issues at age 32, but I know they occur, albeit for different reasons. My mind at age 32 was fried because I had a year-old baby to tend to, and sleep deprivation, remodeling our house, and chasing an extremely busy little boy all over the place seemed to drain every creative urge I'd ever had.
Well, okay, I'll retract a bit... I do sympathize with your creative frustrations, although at age 55, I wish I had a bit of my younger vitality back.
Your brain probably is stuffed with work-related information, but you do want to escape it. Do you dream? Fantasize? Tell yourself tales? You are obviously very literate and well-spoken. Is it fiction you'd like to create, or are you drawn to the essay form?
What is it you want to produce?
If that isn't clear to you, maybe some kind of exercise would help, such as making yourself write vignettes based on your daily experiences, or sketching out potential characters.
I hope you don't take offense at my response, but it does seem that you are frustrated, and even having someone with whom to argue over this could get you moving.
As with any kind of art, daily practice, no matter how unsatisfied with its results you are, is neccessary. I'm sure you know this.
Maybe you are expecting perfectly wrought pieces to flow. You are bery hard on yourself.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Kevynn Malone said...

Only problem with my perfect room would be that the rent would be to high to afford...

Oh, and maybe somebody's TAKING his things...using them for......

3:59 PM  
Blogger Shar said...

Even you writing about nothing to write about is more eloquent (did I spell it right?) than most of the stuff I read on a daily basis.

Um, I'd say more but I can't think of anything else... ;-)

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely said. I can relate to the desire to write, yet often finding it hard to find the time. And then...then one day, the calendar is clear, the laptop is setup and humming in a local coffee shop, it's a beautiful day outside, and...nothing comes. I write about the people around me, but it's drivel. I drone on about the day outside, and it's flat. I stare out the window and the thoughts drift through my head like dust motes in the sunlight...

I quit a good job in my early 30's to go back to school to study literature. (Earlier degree in engineering). I wanted to study literature to write, and one day, I realized I didn't need a degree to write fiction, I just needed to write. So, I did. I was newly divorced, working contract for my old company down in Mexico. I got off every day, went to the bar in the hotel I was staying in, and drank Tecates and wrote for about two hours. I finished a novel in 3 months.

I finished that job, started another back in Albuquerque, and rewrote the novel. 400+ pages. I met a beautiful woman, fell in love, got married. Submitted the novel everywhere and got the big...nothing. Quote a line from Lawrence Block that I loved...and I paraphrase here...surgeons don't do a perfect job their first day on the have to practice and get better. So, this was my practice novel. I started another...and about died. I've never really gone back, and I've always wondered if I used it up in that first book...will it ever come back?

I'm back as an engineer, I have a family to take care of, and I do so happily. But I wonder...will that chance come again? Will the time and the inclination return someday, and another book burst forth? I don't know, too early to tell...thanks for listening.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous May said...

The anticipation of the time when you will sit down and write is in itself a promise of happiness. It does not matter if the creation that you want to give life to has not yet begun. Any moment is the good moment to start it. For the time being, it lives in your heart.

2:23 PM  

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