You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Bwah, ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee.... (madman's laugh).
Well, I don't know whether I've done the thing or not, but I do know that I've lived through this horror, having spent a weekend in the Dark Ages—laxity's revenge. It struck a dissonant chord. Just me and a raging war, a bubonic like plague weakening my limbs, squelching my strength. Shuttered in the room of my own, no symphony, jazz, good reads or movies. No theatre, museum, library, shopping, friends or family. Not even NPR! I spent a century in the Dark Ages, hours writing just the first sentence. Or so it felt. Not a beam of sun, or moonlight. Not a drop of culture (ok, except for a middle school basketball game, if that qualifies as cultural experience), alone in that room of my own, in my tattered pj's, with nothing but crumpled paper, stained coffee cups, spent ink cartridges and trace cookie crumbs. I'm not sure if I even showered. Wait, there were no showers in the Dark Ages (except for those spurred by the Gods), so...
Oh, but what came from it! The drivel. The nonsense. And alas, the Ars Poetica.
**Warning, read no further if you are not interested in academic codswallop.**
(And I promise I will return to my old self, later today, once I've handed in this mess to the English Dept.)
My first written words of the semester were tossed randomly, like dice on a craps table, prefaced by an apology that I was no writer, and that I hadn’t the authority to roll out my cursory version of what makes a story. Those early words muttered that story should be told with honesty, humility; should be relevant, compelling and believable, so as to capture its reader, suspend all notion of disbelief, regardless of how fantastical, unreliable, improbable the story; they stumbled that story should deliver a message of hope, contain substantive value, and heart; and, buzzed that its message should be transformative. They sighed about responsibility.
The short list of literati and authors that influenced that anemic summary of story, as well as my wrting: Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ayn Rand, Richard Feynman, Martin Heidegger, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus. Regardless of their style, the common thread is a matter of being and essential truth, whether channeling metaphysics, perspectivism or existentialism. But these days, I find that the writings of Jorge Louis Borges, a poet and novelist guided by the "chaos that rules the world and the character of unreality in all literature” is writing at its best—long, winding prose and magical realism in non-linear time, weaving stories that illustrate truth, at best, to be elusive.
But writing is getting at the truth, no matter how illusory: the truth in reality, in fiction, in the smallest gesture and grandest idea; it is a tangible manifestation of both my gentle dreams and nightmares, my need to create, expose, illuminate and provoke. It is the process of finding these truths—as I perceive them—through storytelling, which is at once terrifying and freeing. It’s a treacherous white-knuckled drive through an ice storm, the roads are salted and pocked, slippery and questionable, a pole is missed only to tumble into a ravine; but the vehicle is restored and skates on, unsteadily, to its intended (and sometimes, unintended) ending—the ordeal nothing but a calamitous blur.
Although I attempt to write deliberately, my best work springs from a subconscious domain, one where the ideas, dreams, incubate as if in some sort of disorganized hatchery. And once the story has been laid out it invariably tells me the same truths, these universal truths that I long to share, as if no one already knows: life is full of hypocrisy, absurdity, disappointments, it drags and stalls, it begs to be spat at; and it pleads for vigor and meaning, cries for warm hugs, compassion, laughter, love; its core dreadfully complex, yet, so simple.
And while writing can be staggeringly arduous—and though I may have little skill or sway—it is important, because I write to make sense of things, get perspective, explore, question whether essential truth is “a mystery that pervades the whole of human existence.” I aim for honest, original prose; to never displease, mislead, deceive or indite gratuitously; only satisfy, captivate and ultimately illuminate with a measured optimism in reverence to the reader. I mean my writing to portray reality as, indeed, magical and timeless. This is authorship, and I suspect there is a bit of authority and responsibility buried somewhere in there.
So there, take that Professor B. (Oh dear, I have a feeling her sword is mightier than my pen.)