Friday, November 5, 2010
Life Hungry Stupidity
I’ve been taking time to work and think of why I would do the wholly ignominious task of blogging about my writerly aspirations. Aren’t there better things for me to do? Yes, certainly, but every morning when I go into my closet I stare into my toolbox of writer craft books and, even just subconsciously, I am reminded there is as much science to this craft as there is art. There is so much to learn! When I read Susan Orlean or Yann Martel, I am transported, and I am always convinced that they sprang fully-formed as writers into the world.
Then I find their early work.
Often I see the glimmers and the big looping stitches that will become thought comets and tautly wrought language in the early stories. My response is always the same. “Hunh! They are human too.” Po Bronson in a closet with a head full of sandy hair is a version of the guy with silver foxiness who writes with authority on a range of topics. Neil Gaiman plying his trade as a journalist for a very long time to keep his family fed is the person who created the Stardust juggernaut, the genius beloved for Sandman’s haunting brilliance and an unprecendented Nebula award. Alice Walker had 10 books in print before she became a “name” and Toni Morrison was just a mother writing books in the wee hours of the morning before packing her children off to school and clocking in at Random House.
I look at the progression of Ms. Walker through Meridian, then The Third Life of Grange Copeland, and The Color Purple. There, I say, are the themes she kept wandering back to. Here, I say, s the leitmotif of the Mister character, but there is the science and the alchemy that makes Mister palatable and three dimensional when Grange Copeland is too exposed. Maybe it’s just perspective, which is another element of craft Ms. Walker adjusts kaleidoscopically in her books until she hit the perfect series of notes in The Color Purple.
Yann Martel’s Life of Pi rocked me to my core the very first time I read it. I was in the backwoods of a small island, surrounded by mosquito netting, lurking out back of a government hospital overrun with people in profound need. Life of Pi is a beautiful survival story and contemplation of life, and I’ve spent most of my life surviving one calamity or another. Some of us just belong to volatile times, or come from volatile people, or both. When I felt darkness begin to outweigh the buoyancy of my spirit, I would read of Piscine Patel on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger and think, “I can make it though this, whatever this is.” I could no more attest to the life of this character being fiction than I could imagine an alternative to the physical and mental pain that had defined my life since the onset of puberty. Read this passage:
My face set to a grim and determined expression. I speak in all modesty as I say this, but I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It’s not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others - and I am one of those - never give up. We fight and fight and fight. We fight no matter the cost of the battle, the losses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the very end. It’s not a question of courage. it’s something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life hungry stupidity.
To read that passage is to wonder what cosmic hand caressed the writer with such care and love as to make these feelings words on a page.
Then I go to an earlier collection of Martel short stories and despite feeling very game for the experience, I struggle, founder, stop, restart, and struggle more. I research Martel and his yen for seafaring, his peripatetic upbringing, his current whereabouts and writings and come to a conclusion (c’mon reader, you see this coming).
It’s as much science as art to this craft and I’m determined to learn the science, practice the art, build this craft. It’s why I stare at the toolkit daily, why I push poorly formed ideas and sentences into the mawping void of the Internet. Maybe I hope someone will read and relate, or just read, but there is real satisfaction in seeing my thoughts out there - beyond personal journals and lucid dreaming.
I do this because it pleases me; it is pleasurable work and my heart sings for the effort alone - regardless of the result.