I keep learning - life is rarely one or the other thing. Almost invariably it is both. Opposite ideas walk side by side down twin corridors. The corridors are separate. The ideas, opposite ideas, live separately. Joy keeps pace with sorrow - all of it simultaneous but strangely apart. So much interior, but we aren’t split in two, even what we hold in total secrecy, privacy the more polite the notion. We relegate and move forward. No wonder then the madness of life. In the middle of the happiest moments we are struck with grief, ineffable (whether by choice, convention, or requirement) but present. Just like the mourner who stares at a casket and inwardly smiles. It’s not one thing. Unlikely to be clear, ever to be clear.
Novels fall flat (to me) when intentions of the writer are made too clear. Clarity is best left for windshields and those needing steering. Clarity isn’t the same as honesty when you take to your work. Honesty traverses twin corridors as well. Honesty is harder than clarity, because it rests with the responder, and response may vary. Allegory interests me but it supposes so much. Commonality is all around, but so is staggering diversity.
In pursuit of characters full and round, falling back on what we think we know never works. It is easier to write the extremes, harder to hack out a center space. It’s all that interests me right now.
It’s odd work lately, an ongoing conversation with nobody but myself. I feel hollow as a straw.
Over the last six months, for the first time I can remember, I didn’t want to write at all anymore. I have never felt less like a writer. I didn’t know what to do next.
2012 was a slow year. I wrote a few stories. The stories are shabby, too - weakly pleading a case for sorrow unearned. Sometimes I felt the happy flip of my stomach when a sentence came out shiny, but shiny sentences and dime-store sentiments are not the thing.
I realized, slogging through the sodden attempts, pages heavy with trial and error that fell to the side of error - what the problem was. I saw myself on a trapeze swinging wildly between caring too much and too little. I cared how I did things more than what I did, and cared how I said things more than what I said.
Whether I like it or not, I’m a solid person happiest in the kitchen with a pot of soup and a radio. The revolutionary inside me lives mainly in my heart, and these last years, like Bukowski’s bluebird, I’ve rarely let him out. It doesn’t help.
I’m not as edgy as I think I am. For example, I like symbolism. To admit this, I feel like writing’s stodgier version of Margaret Thatcher. I want to write about having, and not having - money, love, and hope. But not the way I thought I would. All I know has undergone tremendous schism - my private world warm harbor, life outside it ever more roiling.
The mind gets lost in it. I still find myself wishing for a thing that will not come. I think instead about a wild-eyed woman on her front porch swing holding a bottle of unopened nail polish remover, a dog in front of her, and a flea comb. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” Fortitude is a funny thing. Keep your mouth shut and end up shorn. I think of the same woman half a world away with her hands on the plinth of a classical deity's statue, it’s marble mouth poised to swallow the sun. Lamb or lion? I still dream of lions.
I’m freer now. I worry less. This creative thing I do, quite privately now, is a strange business. More than ever, by necessity, it is very solitary. I don’t talk about it anymore with anyone, because I’ve said too much already. I write about it here, but mainly as a record of my own thoughts. A year from now, I won’t feel the same, and with these ramblings I can see what I thought today.
I think about it now, digging into work I never meant to do. Sometimes I feel like the shepherd tending little, lost lambs, and (ever less but still some) I am also a lost lamb looking for a shepherd. That is what the work demands. The work is the work, not my identity or connection to the world around me. This quiet distinction makes the world new again through my fingertips.
There's a writing prompt in there for you somewhere. Are you a lamb or a lion? Sheep or shepherd?
Certain streets are driven hundreds of times, arterial and venous, a system to circulate people in transition. One drives them almost eyes closed, the life on their sides largely unnoticed. The storefronts and gas stations, the bowling alley facades, whatever. It blurs, ongoing, a tangle of traffic signals and directions.
There is nothing unexpected. If it is explained to as such, it makes sense, listen: for any given situation, there are infinite (nearly, or maybe there an unbound limits, real analysis, in the heartbreakingly elegant notations of infinitesimal calculus) possibilities. Unbound possibilities. Lots of things can happen, let’s say. In terms of probability then, it is likelier that an unexpected thing will happen than an expected one? Predictive or constrictive outcomes are less likely. But really, the unexpected things shouldn’t be labelled as “unexpected.” Chance is predictive. Chance is less likely? Or more likely?
Back to streets. So asphalt and rubber do their thing, and the human body moves along, unobservant. Until something different happens, the unexpected (is there such thing?) easier to notice.
It is impossible to say I expected to be driving, head lost in a million thoughts, swimming in thoughts, and look up and see something that swelled my heart and stole my breath for a second. The disparate rectified, when I looked up, and on the side of the road ahead of me, was the brightly lit window of a music shop I never noticed once the several hundred times I took this path. Glowing, soft butter yellow walled, with a row of hanging cellos (gripped by their necks, back to front, so only their curving ribs presented ) in such woody warmth I think I gasped. The contrast, the shape, the color, the beauty, the oddity, the overlooked nature of it, the perfection in the moment - revelatory.
Cellos hanging, their f hole wonders reminiscent of symbol(ism)in infinitesimal calculus, of the unbound.
Traffic kept moving. I wanted to circle back, but did not. A wall of cellos.
To glimpse such a beautiful thing, and so briefly, is unexpected. But there is no such thing. So it either did not happen, or it the experience or outcome was exactly right.
The whole rest of the drive I wondered, what just happened to me? And who knows what I did not see on the side of the road the rest of the way home.
Improvisational strings. Here you go: