Sunday, November 25, 2012

Like falling off a (b)log.

I just complained to my mother -- whose dining table I am sitting at right now -- that it feels like so long since I've blogged that I've actually forgotten how to do it. She replied, "I'm sure it's just like falling off a log." Thank you, Mum, for your oh-so-convenient post title inspiration.

It's the Christmas end of the year; the warm end, the sunny end, the end that is packed full with plans and dates and shopping and hopes for tying up all the loose threads of the dreams that were anticipated at the beginning of the year and now stand won, lost, fulfilled, or forgotten. Last week at the grocery store, I bought peaches. Today, I bought apricots. Stonefruit packing the shelves and Jingle Bells playing over the radio: just another sign of approaching Christmas.

Last night, we sat among twinkle lights and sailor's knots and, if we were artists of some kind, tried to embody the hope of what Christmas means by exploring it in some form of creation. If we were the recipients of that art, we tried to lay hold of what the artist was doing, what the artist in all of us is doing whenever we try to look past the dirty glass of the temporal and see the lasting thing that is hidden just beyond it. I was privileged to have some of my short fiction read publicly for the first time ever and, contrary to expectations, I didn't die of awkwardness while I sat there and listened. Rather, I felt the honour of seeing words I had chewed over, crossed and uncrossed, come to life in another person's voice and inflection and lovely enthusiasm. It was pretty special.

One of my little students enlisted my help to write out his Christmas list a few weeks ago. He didn't need my help determining what should go on the list; he just needed some pointers on how each item was spelt. He had all the big guns up there -- the latest branded toys I can't remember the names of, a Wii (or whatever the newest version of a Wii is), stuff like that -- and when he felt happy with the list, he pushed it forward on the table and left it there as a sort of offering for all of us to approve. I had already moved on to something else and was marking the work of another student. The little guy glanced at my hand moving over the page, and snatched his list back. "What are those pens called that are actually pencils and they click the lead out?" he asked, looking at the one in my hand. "Pacers," I said. He licked his bottom lip and picked up his pencil again. "How do you spell pacer?"

Another student was filling time while her sister had a piano lesson. From across the room, she interrupted a song to ask, "How do you draw a major?"
"Like, C major or A major? Like in music?" I asked.
"No!" she said.
"Like, in the army?" I offered. "A general or a captain or a major?"
"No," she said, getting frustrated. "Like, away in a major."
"Oh, that. Right. Yeah, that's called a manger."
"Okay. Can you show me how to draw one?"

Monday, November 12, 2012

My novel ate me.

Nanowrimo is proving to be an exhilarating, terrifying ride. Whenever I'm called upon to explain the project, there's an inevitable question that follows: "And... is this fun for you?" I find myself pausing before I answer -- a lot. Trying to formulate a response to this question has had me asking myself, "Is this fun? Is any of it fun?"

I've come to the conclusion that, for me at least, there's only a very tiny aspect of the writing life that is just pure, delirious, unadulterated fun. It's those moments when the story has a firm hold on you and the present world ceases to exist while you are sucked down into a vortex of words and people and places that have somehow blossomed into life, apparently on their own. Those moments, when you are just dragged along for the ride, are the most fun.

Mostly though, for me, it's like trying to catch a cloud and keep it in your hand. There is this nebulous, vague, but seemingly important idea or picture or feeling I am trying to lay hold of, and every word I write is either chipping away at the rock that comes between me and the idea, or putting a clear line around it, waiting for each little fragment of the drawing to join up and turn this transparent whisp of condensation into a clear shape, an outline I can recognise and understand. Proving my point entirely, in this paragraph alone I have stumbled into a thousand metaphors in my attempt to make things clear -- and still I've failed.

What I'm trying to say is that, mostly, writing kind of hurts a little bit. There are rarely times when it doesn't feel like very hard work. I write with my stomach clenched and a frown line between my eyebrows. I write slowly, methodically, imperfectly -- none of which sounds like the definition of fun. And when the slow, methodical, imperfect work is done, I must go over it all again, seeing if I can make the imperfect just a little more perfect, the unclear just slightly more clear. I bump up against my own failings again and again, which also is rather not fun, and I see just how not-good I am at forming words into pictures, of making the untrue appear true.

But for some reason, I still want to do it, and this is the weirdest thing of all about writing. In trying to find something to compare it to, the only example I've latched onto is that of exercise. Exercise is horrible. If you're not born possessing the sporty gene, then it's just something that you have to drive yourself to do whether you feel like it or not. You have to wear ugly shoes, and you know you will get sweaty, and you might get a stitch or an ache in that part of your leg where it feels like there's a split between two bones that shouldn't be there. You do it anyway, though, because you know you must, and a part of you hates it the whole time.

But another part of you comes alive, and starts thinking thoughts in rhythm to the beat of your feet against the ground, or in time to the revolution of the wheels whirring underneath you. And you get sweaty and sticky and there's a hard, sharp stitch that the hateful part of you considers might be the beginnings of a heart attack. But the other part of you revels in the humidity and the knife-edge of the breaths going into your lungs, and that part of you tells you to do just five minutes more, and then another five minutes more. And then you are done, and the only part of you making any sense is the part of you that feels most alive now, and you can almost think that you're actually getting healthier with each hard-drawn breath you take, and you feel lighter than you did before you started, even though there's an odd click in your ankle that you suspect wasn't there before. And you know that tomorrow night, when you are tired and you just want to sit and watch tv, you are going to hate the thought of exercise all over again, but that tiny alive part of you will nag at you until you start moving again, and once more you will feel happy and alive and like this horrible horrible thing is what you were actually meant to be doing all along.

I think writing is a little bit like that -- for me, at least. It hurts and makes me ache but it's a good ache, the sort of ache that stays with me into the next day and reminds me that I have flexed a muscle that was made to be moved, that is all the healthier for having been stretched.

All of which, of course, I did not intend to say when I sat down to compose this post. I was going to write, instead, about the hazy sunset my mother and I drove out to shoot last night, and to give you a little sampling of the pictures. I was going to tell you how the nano novel is consuming much of my writing time, and is using up nearly all of my meagre store of words. I was going to say that I have no words left to give to such paltry pursuits as blogging.

But look! My own blog makes a mockery of me. I suppose that's as it should be.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...