Writing Hideout: Writing as a Mask

I hide in my writing. It is clear in my notes for The Young Chronicles series. I didn’t write about things that happened – seeing Beatlemania in Saskatoon, not even the guy who offered me a blow job – but instead about drivel that would embarrass an illiterate.

Reading through my notes from my Canadian Hitchhiking trip in 1983 is squirm-worthy.

Much of my writing is like that – everything from my bullshit poetry to my first attempt at prose – a lowlight reel proving I should have stopped long, long ago.

A thankfully brief extract from a story I wrote in 1984, Ulvand’s World. Even the titles…God.

I went on to write about prostitutes, 9/11 and outer space, everything but me.

Detail of a cover design from a story written in 1994

So why blog about it now, you ask? I’m getting to that. (I hope.)

Writing Process: Lost Images

As of late, I have been scouring through old images (prints, negatives and slides) in search of material for my Young Chronicles series. However there is one picture I cannot find, that of a boy looking back through the gap between a bus seat and the wall. All I can find is this lesser shot of his hand.

Boy’s hand on bus trip from Edmonton, Alberta to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Not being able to find the image of the boy haunts me in an odd way. I don’t know how I could have lost it and look for it again and again. To no avail.

The feeling reminds me of a fruitless search as a boy at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. There had been a exhibition on the Amazon that I had loved, but it was a temporary thing and had vanished forever.

Searching for the lost Amazon exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

That didn’t stop me from endlessly searching the corridors and rooms, peaking behind the dioramas, looking for the secret passageway that would lead me back to that magical place. I am still looking for that.

Writing Process: 3 Thoughts

#1 A story is not self about self. That is hubris.

#2 Do not describe what the reader can already see.

#3 In the end, the story is about the disgustingness of one another.

An Everything Thing

Here is a place I know. It is easy. I know where I am. I am here. I am afraid of it. I dream of living in this. It isn’t a thing that is anything else. It is the thing, all of itself. And I am here. Lucky me. There is a sound. It is quiet and not. Oh, an abstract thing. No. It is tiny and whole. It is physics. It is a big thing. It is the everything thing. But don’t say that. Too many steps back.

It is that thing in you, that thing you hold too tight, little too much of you that you don’t want to let out, that you might say no to, that you might think that is too much and is everything. And that is the thing, tiny as it might be that is everything. It wakes you and makes you remember.

It was a while back and I was different then. But I wasn’t. You weren’t. We were there. And we remember. And that is the curse. It is love. Or memory.

Virile

The thing is that you are here, simply and wildly so, what the beat guys said, that raw repetitive thing. You think you belong here and you do. You came to this place and were ready for it or not at all. On the edge of knowing. That is all there could possibly be. Almost there. Virile. All of that in you. One long impossible note.

And you think there should be more – because in all of that might be ahead and has been seen by you, by you!, the sheer cliffs, the little kids, everything tiny, remembering a mistake, lost, incredibly, delightfully so, and not in a memory, not a precise known thing, cherished, forgotten, that thing so exquisite as it must be known, there, waiting – and it isn’t.

And so there is that, the king of the universe in the hallway, flames coming out like they should, no understanding for the what or why of it, that nightmare you slip into and live in, there, acting like you are half sleep and probably are. And how did you get to that? Meandering, fine and easy. That is what you say and almost think at the end of it.

Impossible Script Pitch: I Am Elephant

A Bill Murray character pitches the idea of a long-time hockey fan who comes early to his team’s games to watch warm-ups and befriends the opposing goalie before the Stanley Cup finals by talking about gladiator mentality of the goalie, the defender of the universe. He helps him sort his game sticks as he realizes an opportunity to damage his confidence and so help his team win. He takes him out afterwards to a bar and tries to get him drunk, to no avail. The goalie, Elephant, sneaks into a private club which our hero tries over and over to break in and succeeds at the end, finding friends and family inside, with Elephant. He is admonished by all, but promises that there is a plan, citing winning the lottery as the first point. No one believes him until he locks into a death stare – performed by John Turturro and Elephant – during which there is a back and forth series of accusations which makes everyone tear with laughter. 

The agent loves the pitch and commissions it to his go-to – played by Tom Hanks – who sets up his work space into a giant white room like a hockey rink to begin the process. Bill Murray’s character is devastated and sets up his massive musical pitch “I am Elephant” during which a giant King Kong set arises out of the dim with the chant of “I am Elephant” as Murray holds up a placard and high-fives a series of animals – elephants, tigers, hippos, Tony the Tiger, etc. – who come out the King Kong door and then from the opposite way, as the scene devolves into chaos – llamas, sharks, emus parading past. However, the agent is sold on the pitch of the Murray character getting to write, and Tom Hanks bows out gracefully. Murray goes on to write the story in which it is revealed that Elephant the goalie actually is using the fan as part of his routine in the championships, always pretending and manipulating opposing fans to his side. Even with this revelation, they all still love Elephant who lets in the losing goal at the end.

Writing Advice From Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith revealed that in order to get herself in a different frame of mind, by pretending she was not herself, moving herself into a state of innocence, free of the day-to-day worries and anxieties of life. Her favorite technique to ease herself into the right frame of mind for work was to sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, ashtray, matches, a mug of coffee, a doughnut and an accompanying saucer of sugar. She had to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible.