Kinetic Thinking

I am a kinetic thinker. By that, I mean that my brain works best when I am doing something active, moving in some kind of direction. It is this motion that helps me though problems of not only day-to-day concerns but, more importantly, the logjams and black holes of writing a book. I often can’t figure out what a character is going to say or do until I get moving.

Living in New York City, I am most often compelled to use the elliptical machine or stationary bike to give my brain the illusion of going somewhere, just as the father, John, does in an earlier work, Black Ice.

John liked this part – pushing the red switch, climbing on, setting the program, everything the same – 200 pounds, Level 5, 30 minutes, Mountain Program – the dread in him strong. He knew himself in the bright little room, not alone, but inside himself and ready. His knees felt weak, nerves, how it came out of him. He could feel his breath coming up, deep, hollow, the sweat leaking out, itches dotting his forehead and across his face, already at Nine, serious about it, his breath getting hard, eight minutes, 210 calories, 765 feet and feeling good, flushed, not touching his skin, a perfect heat, his.

His feet were cramping, wanting to come in, up and down with the silver and black piston, he was into the Seven, fast too soon, scared at that, the hill and speed ahead, sweat streaming into itself, down the edge of his nose, from his eye and falling, into the Three, fighting, nothing but his sweat, wet stars dripping on the rough black, dripping into a messy constellation, pooling down the sides, and only if he pushed harder, knowing that, that he could. He was at the top and coming down, the hill little, his legs tired, ready, the back of the Three and Five just ahead and the Seven and Nine. He would make it.

I have also biked across Europe a number of times and found that the ideas can flow very well, especially on the long tough uphill climbs. I wrote about this in autobiographical trilogy entitled Buzz.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains loomed. Buzz was sick of the wind and wanted the climb. He attacked the first ascent, eyes straight down at the road, standing all the way, up to the switchback and then sitting, gearing down and settling in. Trucks toiled past, not another cyclist in sight. Nobody dared the ascent over Paseto de las Pedrizas. He would be the first. He drank, finished the bottle; sweat streamed through his sunglasses. He would make it to the rise. It was just ahead, just ahead, after the next switchback, the next. It didn’t matter where it was, another hundred switchbacks, he would make it, back and forth, climbing, climbing. And there it was, too soon, the sign, Paseto de las Pedrizas, 780 metres. He slowed, leaned forward over the handlebars, stretched out his back and held his legs and arms taut as he glided around the first bend and down the steep slope between sun-bleached rock.

A car and another and then nothing, the air still, the sticky speckled asphalt foaming past, he leaned down, his thigh tight against the crossbar, stomach and arms flat, stretched out, face tucked into the handlebars, beside the singing wheel, the silver hub still, forever like this, his hand to the ground. He would never fall, faster, toward everything, around another long bend and a tunnel – a tunnel! – darkness, screaming cool, insane into it, faster, and for a moment nothing, not the road, not the bicycle, and out again, heat and light, a hurtling thing, flying into another tunnel, singing into the heat and light, a sheep and more, everywhere on the road. He braked, swerved, toppled over, a complete somersault, into a bush, a fence and lay still, his face against the ground.

The best place for an active mind is hiking. There nothing else but the trail ahead, albeit the occasional creeping fear, as evidenced in the second section of All In.

I went along the trail and then stopped at a cliff and leaned over to see anything in the mist and trees. I went back on the trail and then followed a water pipe that went up the rocks. It was starting to rain. Water was dripping and then running down the rocks. I stepped up again and looked through the bushes. There was something green on the ground, a green shirt tag. I went around a hollowed-out stump and into the underbrush. The sun was pushing through the clouds. The forest arched down, and there was a crow coming up from the ridge and then through the gap in the trees. The path curled off into nothing. I was moving quickly, going up toward the cliffs, and I was back on the trail going toward the saddle before going up to Crown Mountain.

There was a chain hanging down part of it. I was feeling better here. I knew the bears wouldn’t bother with this steep rocky part, and then I heard a sudden crash, like a tree being snapped up, and stopped. I went along the rock edge to a small muddy section by a pair of bent trees, their roots bulging up against the rocks. It was a bear, staring back at me. It wasn’t big. It looked more like a dog. “Hey! Hey!” I clapped my hands, and it sprinted down the ravine. It was gone; I couldn’t hear it anywhere.  My legs kept going ahead; it was just automatic. I was almost at the saddle, and it was getting darker in the trees, going down to where the bear might be.

Not a Writer, Still a Writer; Still Not a Writer, Not a Writer Still

My failure as a writer runs deep, with successes few and far between. I won a short story contest in Grade Four, received an honorable mention in a Hires Root Beer contest, wrote film reviews in college, sports for community newspaper, ad copy for Toto toilets, was accepted to a Kenyon College writing program, and most recently serialized a speculative novel for which the publisher lost interest.

The failures are much more profound – nothing published, nothing at all, after 40 years – a few friends who bother to read anything. Not that I write this for sympathy but rather to underline the reality that despite all of this, I still feel the writer, still, as Highsmith says, only know myself when writing things down.

Coming to terms with who I am, remembering the pain and mistakes, not negating, just coming to understand the little wounds and think on the words that give those cuts dimension, not just typing to see the night to the end, but that essential thing coming out like riding my bike into the half dead forest, stripping down, throwing everything away and being naked. It’s the only thing. Or insufferable. One of the two.

Post-humous publication appears the best of chances – to be remembered by a species devolving into apps – and together we go into the ether.. 

Waiting (from “All In”)

I’ll be standing there thinking I’m faking it, just staring ahead, and I’ll feel like I’m just pretending, waiting for someone to rush to me, the poor lonely kid with no one to love. Screenshot (106)I feel like that when I’m doing anything, eating, walking, crying, anything, and I’ll think that when I’m dying too. Screenshot (109)That’s how I am.*

(From “All In”.)

Remembering 9/11: Excerpt from “All In”

It was that plane – that was it – vanishing, a plane into a building and then that smoke billowing out, that sideways hole, and the other, turning as it hit, nose out perfectly and fireballs, screaming on the ground and crap everywhere and watching and watching, the building coming down, its radio antennae like a hat, a boy’s hat, and puffing out, all of it sinking, the dust of it, bits sticking up. space view 911And then everyone saying childish things because that’s all they had and listening and waiting for better angles and thinking it might mean something, to give it meaning, something like this, this thing, impossible and obvious, and not doing anything, just watching, footage, pictures, and thinking that it must be something. 9-11. A phone number, nothing. * (*From All In)

All In: Writing about 9/11

My last novel, All In (2005), centers on a character killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The book is told from three different voices (his brother, niece and wife) months and years after the events. The most powerful voice is, of course, that of his wife, Cheryl. Phone 005We argued. That’s how I left him. I walked away because I wasn’t listening. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t even an argument. And then I was on the elevator. There was a stout woman across from me; she had folds in her arms, bulging layers at her elbows and shoulders. It was ridiculous how I never said what I wanted. I was angry at him, and I didn’t know why. It was all so ridiculous. I waited in the sky lobby. There was an attendant there from the restaurant; the express wasn’t working. Her fingernails were red. I wasn’t going to call him. He would call me. And then I heard it; it was a vibration and then much louder than that. I stopped and was going to turn to see what it was. I knew it was somewhere else, this sound coming in. I held myself there, twisted against the ground. I couldn’t move. There was only the light on the floor and my hand out in front of me. IMAG1398I was on my side. I couldn’t hear anything and then it was sharp and bright, knocking me flat again so that I was holding against myself, thinking of what I must have broken and where my purse had gone. I was looking across, how the light was orange and grey, and there was the woman, the attendant with red nails, hunched and then standing. I wasn’t going to move. And then I was sitting and trying to think. I smelt gas. It was something they would have to fix. I could see out the window, and there was smoke or fog, something that made it so I couldn’t look out without my hand on my eyes. I couldn’t understand why no one was here. And then my phone was ringing. “Hello?”

Names: Short and Long Form

Rarely do characters have just the one name. For example, in All In, the main character is called Michael by most, but also Mikey by a colleague and Mike by a niece. Why the difference? What makes him more of a Michael than a Mike? Is it the formality? Is he more of a two-syllable guy? What makes him a ‘Michael’?mThis is a key issue in my bad side. Everyone – family, friends and colleagues – call the main character “Dee”, until she arrives in Newfoundland, where all the people she meets call her “Deirdre”. She actually tries to correct them, but they won’t listen. It is a moment of transference that she has no control over. deealoneMany of the characters in The Life and Home of Gerbi Norberg are Ojibwa and therefore have names which are hard for the Western ear: Bezhinee, Pamequonaishcung, Zawanimkee and Asawasanay. It is nonsensical to shorten the names to Bez, Pam, Zaw and Ass. As much as that may help the reader move through the text, the lyrical nature – and hence integrity – of the characters is gone.garden-river-this-is-indian-land-bridge