I’m thinking of posting more fiction in here, vignettes, episodes, the like. I haven’t read or written much fiction since graduating from Columbia in 2001. There are a number of reasons for that, but one of the ones I came to grips with happened when I was home with family over March and April. When I was in high school, and angry with the world as high schoolers are, I chose to do things my way by writing things. Usually novel length things that may or may not have turned into anything publishable, which isn’t really the point, anyway.
The point is this: I read fiction to escape. It sounds obvious, yes, but that’s what it was. It was an escape, a way to bide time, a way to be in a place I preferred instead of the onerous real world with its minutiae and obligation.
I reverted to my 16 year old self for the length of April. Honest. Fortunately I was self-aware enough to watch it happen, and take the opportunity to understand it, because this turns out to be the sledge the rest of me rode when I really began writing.
Before Tom Waits married Kathleen Brennan, he was well on his way to becoming a drunken-sot stereotype who sang only one kind of song, regardless of how masterfully he wrote and rendered them. And the way he got there was by being that drunk, by doing some really unpleasant and horrible stuff. And he came to the conclusion that you don’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they feel.
Well. I didn’t have to keep doing the awful things to know how they felt, or to write the damn things down with any semblance of versimilitude.
The problem with my 16-year-old methodology was that I went on the ride, completely and unreservedly. If I was reading something really devastating, I’d be devastated. No wish or desire to be in the real world at the dinner table having steak and potatoes. Same if I were in the middle of a hellacious scene. And I cracked that wide open while I was home, a world of sensation and hurt and awe that I hadn’t gotten near in decades because I couldn’t aford that kind of disconnection, not when rent and utilities were on the line.
The trick here, see is that these powerful feelings — they’re what make something real. They don’t have to be front and center (in fact, they’re less effective if they are), but they need to be there in the distance, casting a pallor or sepia wash over the scene they inform. A stage play scene is all emotion and the push-pull between two or more characters. A good scene, anyway. A compelling scene.
So what I’ve been learning, over the past few weeks, is how not to squelch that powerful emotionality. Instead I’m trying to find a way to harness it, or surf it, keep it from commanding me and still being able to let it do what it needs to and have it inform the work I create.
It’s friggin’ hard.
But these past weeks have been illuminating. I’ve had characters crop up that I really feel invested in, that I love no matter how rotten they are, and I find myself wanting to know just what they’re going to do next. This bodes well for the latter parts of my degree, but for now I need to be a bit more academic and things are getting a little out of hand.
Well, I can throw my arms up and drown, or I can learn from what’s happening. So off I go. And hence the little bits of fiction here and there. A safe outlet, small doses to relieve the pressure cooker without derailing the missions at hand.