Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Business of Sweating and Bleeding

To my experience, the act of writing is the act of fighting with oneself. It means constantly questioning- things like, is this good? Could it be better? Should it be more like (blank) writer? Is it too much like (blank) writer? Is it funny? Should it be funny? Is it boring? Is it clear? Is it honest? Can my family read this? Am I wasting my time? Are people just humoring me? Will I have to explain this? Has this been said before? And taken far enough, it all tends to bunch up into one, wrenching question- what's the point?

I think about that one a lot. What's the point of telling a story? I don't think of myself as someone who has all the answers, but I find myself doing a thing that tries to give some. When I was a kid writing was a kind of reaching out to communicate. It still is, I suppose, but that's not a piercing need the way it is during those hormone times. However maybe it is still just for me, maybe the act of writing is how I focus on things other than myself, picking apart a story instead of myself, my working out the answers on paper because I can't do it aloud. Maybe, if you'll forgive a borderline lame joke, it's cheaper than therapy. But if that's the case, why let anyone read it? Doing that might help me, but it doesn't do much for them. On the other hand, finding that someone else has the same thoughts, the same issues, that they're like you in some way, that can be comforting for them. That can be important.

On a larger scale, I see the importance of storytelling historically. So much of what we know of dead cultures comes from their mythologies, their passed down stories. Writers intending to set a scene end up documenting the minutiae of their world for future peoples. Their words tie generations together. Even the smallest, most unknown books float from store to owner to used store to garage sale to owner. People seem unwilling to throw books away, as if there's a responsibility there to preserve something, pass it along.

My general answer, the one that satisfies me most days, is simple- it's that I love art. I fill my house and my time with media, with frozen, thawable experiences shaped by the fingers and eyes of others. It's the closest I come to worship. Music, novels, comics, short stories, movies, television, video games, paintings, sculptures. I love, love, love these things. So what sometimes satisfies that question of why, why, is that I want to put something back into the pot. If I can make a thing that other people like me can enjoy, use to pass the time, get lost in beloved places, connect to and be part of and take as their own, then I'm paying back the favor and hopefully in the process becoming a part of that massive, messy shape that tumbles on.

I don't know if the fights with myself will ever stop, and maybe they're not supposed to and that's part of the process and it makes the product stronger for it, but the good thing is that these days I win more fights than I lose. I've been doing this thing, this storytelling, intentionally and with purpose at least, for what I estimate to be almost twenty years. And yet only recently did I come to the point where I think I know how to do it. I don't mean that to be deceptively humble or self-effacing for the purpose of compliment fishing, I genuinely think I got by for a long time by writing quick pieces caked in every fancy word and trick I knew, in an attempt to run-stumble to the finish line of decency and quality. That, coupled with youthful impatience, amounted to my inability to reach novel length.

And that was still my problem when I started writing A Chemical Fire. But a few years later, when I quit my job and decided to make that book my job and got down to the actual grind of daily writing, I started the process of learning how to actually write. And now having continued that learning and finding myself some forty-thousand words into The Scapegoatist, I find the whole thing becoming more natural, more authentic. I repeatedly find myself saying "Oh, okay. That's how you do that." I feel less and less like a guy trying to impress and more a guy who decided to tell a story and who is going about doing it. I used to think that making that switch would sacrifice style, and maybe sometimes it does, but I see now there's a balance to find. It's dead middle between dry, chronological recitation and crushing heads with the witty stick.

Things are going well now, better than ever before. I'm aiming to have this book done by year's end into next year's beginning. After that I have two definites lined up and a third eventual. I'm setting myself up on a schedule of a book a year, minimum, so long as I have a job slowing me down. When that's no longer a factor I'll see about speeding it up but never rushing it.

I don't want to sum this up with one, single thought, but there is one more answer to that question of why, why, that seems to answer without answering, to put it to sleep without gutting it, ruining it, demystifying it. It's that I write because I always have. Because I sort of have to. That I can't remember what it was like before I did, and that seems like as good a reason as any. At least that I'm ever going to come up with.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pushpull Fascinations

They shake their heat all over us,
Lost in their liquor shimmy
To the pulsing, to the
Dwindling wick of fornication
Retro Disco Figurines with Realistic Grinding Action

We stand as land-locked lovers at the
Center of their sweaty sea just
Watching, just
Stage-facing, just
Hugging tight against the Dancestorm

Needful nuclei with
Bonded cell membranes
Refusing to split
"This has always been my rhythm leg."