Thursday, October 02, 2008


"I think fiction writers tend to be mullers and grudge-holders and slow-burners and people who go over the same incident over and over again wondering what went wrong."
--Michael Chabon

I'm currently reading Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union and to call it brilliant is not near enough. I've mentioned this before about Chabon: Not only is he a joy to read, he also makes me want to write. I can offer no higher praise. And so it has been again.

He said the above in a 2007 interview, which I read yesterday. I do these kinds of things. I get involved in a book and somewhere in the middle go back and read the reviews.

What he says is absolutely true, of course. Regardless of whether I consider myself a real "writer," this is the process I go through, artistically. You need to know why your characters do what they do, right? So you dig in, dirt under the fingernails, and come at the situation from every angle until it makes sense. Or doesn't.

The problem in this is that I write from personal experience. So these events I describe have some basis, to varying degree, in my real life and while trying to gauge the whys and wherefores, I have to be careful not to pull my day-to-day down into that morass of relentless examination. Must make sure the creative time does not bleed into other areas, that when the writing's done, it's done, and not a looming cloud that blackens my mood. Because, let's face it, I don't write fun stuff. I'm more interested in the shadowy corners than I am in high noon.

And you can't live a healthy life in those corners.

"I don't have that ability, or the desire, to look around me and say, 'Here's how we live now.' I don't know how we live now--and I won't know until we don't live that way anymore."

Therein lies the problem. The present is too crowded. Too close, like pressing your face to another's; they become distorted in that nearness. Circumstances and the emotion of the moment obscure the long view, the big picture. That claustrophobia lends itself to thrashing about indiscriminately, without forethought or finishing purpose. Feeling trapped, so you can't get to the places you want to go.

I look back at what I wrote when X left and a lot of it is wrong. Abject, but wrong. The process, however, of getting all that shit out of my head and heart, was ultimately successful, not just in listing where change was needed and where focus must be trained, but in the stuff that didn't matter a whit out in the harsh light and seeing it for what it was. I was able to leave those superfluous issues to wither there.

The fact remains, it wasn't the spending of all that emotion that saved me. It was logically piecing together the whole sorry affair. Not WHY it happened, but WHAT happened. Once the puzzle was complete, once it made sense to my literal brain, I was free.

And now that I "don't live there anymore," I know what it was, see it with the surety of a detective.

Since, I've been trying, in fits and starts, to discover what my own motivation is for the rest of this life. What it is that I need.

"A mistake has been made; he is not where he belongs. Every so often, he feels his heart catch, like a kite on a telephone wire, on something that seems to promise him a place in the world or a means of getting there. An American car manufactured in his far-off boyhood, say, or a motorcycle that once belonged to the future King of England, or the face of a woman worthier than himself of being loved."
--"The Yiddish Policeman's Union

I've known all along, of course. Resisted my obvious purpose. Fear, stubbornness and weakness being the attending culprits. No surprise one is unhealthy with that trio ruling the roost.

It's not the places I've long wanted to go. That's not the focus. Rather, purpose depends on the shape I'm in when I get there.


At 9:17 PM, Blogger DrChako said...

Two thoughts:

1. For the longest time, the lead in quote on my blog was, "Experience shows that it doesn't matter how you get here, it's what you do after you arrive that counts." I think that's what you are getting at.

2. One of the biggest problems with writers is over editing their own work. I'm not sure what you mean when you say your writings about X were "wrong." They touched me (and many others I'm sure). Isn't that what it's about?


At 10:28 PM, Blogger Joe Speaker said...

Thanks, Doc.

You're right. It was true as far as I knew it then.

Just that I'd like to disavow some of those emotions now.

At 6:10 AM, Blogger Daddy said...


At 6:53 PM, Blogger bastinptc said...

Good post, and worth an occasional re-read.

Perhaps regardless of "when", writing is an act of generosity to ourselves, and not only to others. And, as the good Doctor points out, the generosity is reciprocal.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Fuel55 said...

Chabon is genius, pure genius.

The line about the landlady in Kavalier & Klay referring to her considerable share of her and her husband's alcoholism was classic. A line for all times.

I am 1/3 threw Yiddish.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger andrew123 said...

One of the biggest problems with writers is over editing their own work. I'm not sure what you mean when you say your writings about X were "wrong."
Andrew William

Win a share of 1 Million Euros for 5.50

At 5:54 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Reliving the past via writing versus living in it, is my biggest daily struggle.

Thank you for put this into text.

Don't feel "wrong" nor "disavow" emotions, they were there for a reason. Don't deny that.

What you do in the now is more important (which is what you wrote).

At 8:28 AM, Blogger BigPirate said...

I managed a band, a songwriter with rotating musicians actually, for a long time. Every once in a while, I would notice a song drop off the set list. When I would ask him about it, he would give a reason along the lines of, "It was a stupid song. I wasn't a very good songwriter back then." Of course, it felt like a kick in the gut to me, the guy who loved the song and considered it a part of his life soundtrack. If the guy who wrote it thought it was a horrible song, who was I to say differently? To me, it was the perfect representation of a part of my life. To him, it was a painful reminder of his perceived shortcomings.

I soon reconciled this dichotomy by realizing he could not fathom the effect the songs had on others. To him, it was more important that the songs he played reflected where he thought he was in his life. Retrospect is a helluva thing. I understand the artist moving on. Thank you for leaving your work behind though for those of us who took, and still take, something from it.

I was against you writing as you did back then from a a legal standpoint and worried about the ramifications it might have had in a litigation setting. That didn't stop me from checking in every day and hanging on every word. There are some things you wrote that still resonate with me and color the way I treat others in my life in a positive manner. I guess the worth to you was in the release of writing. To us, it is the application of any lessons you may have imparted, knowingly or not. It becomes less valuable to the creator as time passes, but remains valuable to the user as long as we can remember or re-access.

At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "what" is the situation (universal) The "why" is the story (personal.) Readers identify with situation and are then provoked, inspired, enticed, angered, or moved by the story. Situations are cliche. Stories are art. You need both.


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