I want to write like music. I want to write in a sustained sound. I want to write in a loop that goes around, on and on. I want to write with never-ending tension. I want to write like the opening of a door, the scuffle of feet, the distant sound of something coming soon.
I want to write like I dream and see my mother, looking young and sharp, in the car with me to the airport, our bags overflowing out the back, a starship flier picking us up before we even get there, continents vanishing in steam.
I want to write like it was left unsaid, like eyes see. I want to write in a burrow, like roots to rocks. I want to write words that mean something else in their unconscious self.
The thing about writing is that it draws from nebulous things that live in my head – memories, feelings, images and the words that put those together. But the real thing is they’re not actually things, but unthings, abstract nothing things swirled into a cloud of something, a story as it were, not building blocks but protons and ions, effervescence and frequencies, half like dark matter, a presence that can only be detected by its influence on other things.
My current project, Anori, has the following scene: Dee is driven by her ex-husband Tommy from Newfoundland back to NYC. The scene used to feature Dee’s Uncle Ralph; however the book needed less of Uncle Ralph and more of Tommy. The scene also requires a switch in scene, from California to Maine. The thematic elements will remain (distance from someone once loved) as well as key images, but the voice and setting need a 180 degree shift. And so the scene becomes a mangled corpse that has to be picked.
I could kill it all, wipe the slate clean, but I don’t want to do that. The dark matter of the old scene has an unthing I want to preserve. And scorched earth is stupid. Other things were hacked out. There is no more Dodgers game, no more sexy forest ranger, and no more porno shoot in the Hollywood Hills. (sigh)
I now have Dee and Tommy, still in love, but incompatible, stopping and starting in their conversation, exposing their history and feelings, afraid of saying anything to hurt the other but keen to let the other know what they still mean. There is much to mine from my own life here, long drives with things unsaid, guilt and pain and regret. This is the magic of the process, knowing the characters and direction and now searching out where it is they say what needs to be said.
Previous posts on The Fear I-IV were culled from an autobiographical work called Wreck of Being. It mawkishly details my budding understanding of existentialism through four moments: watching The Wizard of Oz, attending a Leafs game and two Grateful Dead concerts. The book concludes with trite, rambling reflections on what The Fear means.
Now for my truisms: “Bad layering makes for bad burning”. Like every layer – everything from our friends and family to work and dreams – we learn what we need so that survival can be as straightforward as possible. We cannot operate our intelligence without confining it to contexts; to attempt to grasp all facets of existence outside a framed perspective is impossible, would result in a direct confrontation with The Fear and thus insanity.
Truism #2: “Tightly bundled minds cannot breathe.” A perspective must be maintained, but it must not be too confining. The Fear has to be understood and dealt with from time to time, for The Fear is the lurking reality of our universality, of our very irrelevance. It exists and cannot be ignored. Perspectives are vital to living a sane life, but they cannot be fixed. To live within a box of work, wife, whiskey and whist only makes the inevitable meltdown all the more forceful.
And thus my third and final truism: “Layers and The Fear kept in the right balance makes for productive years.” The time in warm and cool layers – the vast majority of years – will always be remembered as the coziest, though the time with The Fear will be the most vivid and affecting. An equilibrium lies somewhere; each to their own.
The very first time The Fear hit me was when I was six or seven years old. We were having Sunday supper and were watching The Wizard of Oz. Everything seemed to be normal. Nothing of note, to the best of my memory, happened that day. This was probably the fourth or fifth time I had seen the film. And then, right when the witch appeared in a cloud of orange smoke in Munchkin Land I got this horrible feeling. I wasn’t afraid of the witch; it wasn’t anything like that. It was a much more general feeling. Everything just seemed wrong, bad, evil. I couldn’t sit still. I had to stand up and move.
I walked across the room – nobody, not my sister, brother, father or mother, seemed to take any particular notice – and sat in a chair in the corner. I figured that if I didn’t watch the movie the feeling would go away. But it didn’t. I walked out of the room, down the hall and around the quiet, empty house. I paced up and down the stairs, went room to room, floor to floor. It took some time, but it did eventually fade away. I never directly associated the feeling with anything, but the movie certainly did seem to have brought it on. I didn’t watch any more of the film that night, nor did I see it for another fifteen years.
For the next few years I had two consistent nightmares. One where a witch lived in the basement and another where I would be sucked in between the walls and into the pipes by some sort of foreboding evil. I saw The Wizard of Oz again sometime later. It was incredible; no horrible feelings. I laughed all the way through. It is one of the best films ever made.
You know that moment where you are at the cusp of something real, where you are wonderfully comfortable and still, where everything seems almost as it should be? You know that clear sense of purpose where you know what you need to do, where you know exactly who you are, where you think there could be nothing more to life? And then you know that shift, where it slips, where the edge is not as it was, that was just there and then not? And you know how you are suddenly out of it, where you are just as you were, as before, not sure about anything at all, least of all who you are?