Monday, December 22, 2008

Words Just Get in the Way

"I saw a historical fiction book today and thought of you," She told me once. "But I didn't buy it for you. Figured that if you cared, you'd go out and read about the actual history." This, I think, came at about the same time She told me I didn't read enough fiction. Maybe it didn't. For all it matters, though, it came at the same time She questioned whether or not I was really all that interested in writing. I talked about it a lot, She said. But I rarely seemed to actually write anything. I think about this sometimes, now that I am becoming the person she thought I should be. I'm coming to love fiction. I used to read some of it. Christopher Moore, sci-fi, the occasional book that caught my eye. I tried to read Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full once and couldn't get past the dense, poorly chosen, self-important prose to see anything resembling a point. Every once in a while, ironically enough, I did read historical fiction. I've always enjoyed Rutherford's sprawling histroical epics and counted Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth among my favorites long before Oprah's Book Club brought special edition paperback copies to the shelves of Barnes & Noble for $24.95. Now, though, I'm experiencing fiction, perhaps truly for the first time. Craig Ferguson's Between the Bridge and the River, Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller, Anne Ursu's The Disapparation of James. Just yesterday I finished Kit Whitfield's Benighted (Bareback, for my many overseas readers) and began digging in to Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. It's no coincidence that as I read more and more fiction, good fiction, written by thoughtful, creative writers who are truly seeking to understand their world, my love of writing is reawakening, increasing exponentially. I want to tell Her, let Her understand. I don't even want Her to realize what's happened and come back. Or, I guess, take me back, since She kept pushing and pushing until finally I let her push me away. I think the thing that haunted me is that I finally stopped fighting and went away at the moment she stopped pushing. Or maybe that's just my imagination, my need to paint myself as the guilty party, that tendency I have to recognize my self-righteousness at doing what I have to do and assume that because I'm an ass, that means I was wrong. Maybe I just want to remember her as better than she was so I can pretend that the two years I spent trying to convince her that I was worthy of her time were well spent. The truth is, though, that we can't get back the past. Nobody should know this better than me. And time now spent chasing after it is wasted just as unforgiveably as the time that's already been thrown. The thing is, more than anything else, I wanted Her to be my Muse. I think She makes a better Muse now that she's miles away, hiding behind a curtain of silence. She gave me the old, "It's not you, it's me," speech once. It's strange, but I believed her then, or, at least, I believed she wanted it to be so. Even now, when it would cost me nothing to believe she was a lying, self-serving bitch and it might actually make letting all those memories go, I believe she meant what she said. I think she always thought I should be better than I was. I think when she questioned whether or not I was actually a writer, when she chided me for not reading enough fiction, it was her way of trying to help me see what I should be. As long as I was focused on being a good historian, I was never going to grow as a writer. Up until recently I wrote almost exclusively like a historian. I detailed in long-winded sentences all of the specifics of the situation. I cited all of my sources. I tried to put every thought, every sentence, every breath in to proper context. I hid my words behind the words of others. I didn't think they could stand on their own. They needed a prop, a bigger, more respected name to latch on to, to lend gravitas and importance. I still do it to some extent. It's why so many of these posts hinge on song lyrics. But my words increasingly stand on their own. As I construct sentences, paragraphs, and stories I see them getting tighter, quicker, more even. I see myself kicking the scaffolding away, taking on faith that I can communicate, that my audience will understand, that I don't have to make sure every word is perfect, every idea properly cited and defended. She used to accuse me of not fighting fair. This is a common complaint that women have about men, but in this case she had a point. If we disagreed my general strategy was to unleash a torrent of words. I remembered almost everything and what wasn't memory was usually a believable story. I pummeled her with words, with citations, with justifications, with everything short of what I should have said. "I'm wrong." "I'm sorry." Or "You've hurt me." "I forgive you." Some words have to stand on their own. Admissions of guilt, offers of absolution. These are overwhelmed and deadened when combined with long, self-righteous justifications. It's funny, too, because while she was giving me the old, "It's not you, it's me," I was thinking the same thing. It wasn't her, it was me. I wasn't good enough, no matter how hard I tried. I was in love with this idea of things being difficult. It was, I guess, an easy excuse, more words to hide behind. When I wrote I used to do so with an eye towards writing the great American novel. Or, at least, a best seller. I secretly believed that I wasn't about to come up with anything good enough to be a great American novel. I was also afraid of those little letters that come from publishers and agents, the ones that say, "Sorry, not right now." I held on to writing as that thing that I was good at, but don't you dare try to challenge me. I wasn't much of a writer when she was around. I hated writing. I hated it for what it took from me. I hated it for what it refused to give me. Now, as the memories begin to fade, as time continues its march, I turn to writing. As a historian I catalog the past. As a storyteller I create the future. I turn the memories over, study them, hold them in my hands. And then I release them, one by one, knowing that they're never really gone, just fading in to the background, becoming a part of the mosaic of pain and joy that is the wellspring of all good art. I don't try any more. I don't push. I let the words come to me. And they come, like old friends who moved and came back. That's what writing is, that's what friendship is. Falling in love with difficulty simply creates difficulty. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. After two years I was on the precipice. I was beginning to hate her for what she took from me. I was beginning to hate her for what she did not, could not, give me. I wonder what she would make of me now, surrounded by fiction, hearing words echo in my mind, coming up with plots and characters and stories faster than I could possibly write them down. Would she turn me away, would she still say, "It's not you, it's me?" Would she be proud? Would she be horrified at the direction some of my stories have taken? Would she be amused that now, in a weird, twisted way, she has actually become my Muse? Would I, ultimately, have the strength to say what needs to be said, and this time let the words stand on their own? "Thank you." "I'm sorry." "I forgive you." "I love you." And, ultimately "Good bye." Live well. Be happy. Love. Be loved. I only wish for you the world of good.


Fiat Lex said...

Ah, more goodness.
Been listening to "World of Good" more myself these past few days! It's got a good vibe for transforming a potentially maudlin mood into one that is hopeful and optimistic.

Will you read Lois Bujold now, or have you? I didn't notice her on your shelves, but I know I've been plugging the lady for years. Wunderkind of modern sff. Baen Free Library has one of her books for free, even. Or I could lend you one. :)

Isn't it cool how one's taste for different kinds of books, music, movies, all evolve based on what personality construction one is working on? Like the body craving different foods when it's burned a lot of calories running around, or has run low on a particular vitamin.

As a person who believes (mostly) in a lot of useful invisible things, lemme say this. You can make her a symbol for your Golden-Haired Muse all you want, but it would be to your benefit to keep that symbol/person diversified. Your Muse will evolve as you evolve, the vanishing point coming to rest on different landscapes as the horizon marches on.

You make a great point about falling in love with difficulty! I know I only met her a few times, but here's more of my two cents. Nice chick to hang out with, but I wouldn't want to live there. Even if things between you went perfectly, you two never would have seen eye to eye--as you've discussed in previous posts. (I still recall the metaphor of trying to arrange one's furniture in an apartment, that was a good-un.) The gulf between your two worldviews seems to be part of what made her attractive to you. Being involved with you constituted walking on the wild side for her. Maybe seeing yourself through her eyes, seeing yourself as exotic and mysterious and difficult to control, maybe that was part of what made her attractive.

Here I venture even further into potential rudeness, with unsolicited matchmaking advice! The eternal pastime of the happily relationship-ified female. Please--forgive, indulge.

So you're looking for a real, breathing woman to be your Muse and partner. The essential quality she can't do without, is that when she looks at the world, she sees in it something you usually miss, something you value and desperately desire to see. Think of "Is She Conscious" or "The Whole of the Moon." These songs are about a woman who sees something beautiful and eternal in the world, whose soul seems to communicate effortlessly with that beauty. Her understanding of beauty is so deep she herself is hardly aware of it. The speaker, the singer, may be delighted and attracted by what she is, but he is absolutely blown away by what she has.

Which is why I keep telling you that it behooves you to worry less about women and more about the things you are talented at and love to do. I think the type of woman who is right for you would be more impressed at your ability to pay homage to the things you both value than your ability to praise her, herself. (Though like any human she probably wouldn't dislike being praised either.)

A partner who is fearful and self-centered makes it impossible to write because you are always worried about disrupting or ignoring them. Somebody, on the other hand, who looks into the universe and sees things to love and get excited about, makes it almost impossible not to write.

Geds said...

Good catch on the Saw Doctors there...

Your comments are far from rude, as well. They are, in fact, welcome.

I actually wrote this post maybe 12 hours after I wrote "This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, Part 6." It's no coincidence that I hit the point of healing with god and with her at the same time.

Your invocation of the diversified Muse dovetails nicely with a conversation I had with a friend last night. I mentioned the switch I made, quite subconsciously, between the us of "she" and "her" as proper noun as a convention to using the simple pronouns. He brought up the most common use of capitalization of pronouns is in cases of deification.

I'm beginning to wrap my mind around one of the more (most?) dangerous conventions of the evangelical world from which I departed. I shall be writing about it soon, but the whole single-point Muse and evolution of symbolism thing is deeply beneficial and locked something in to place that I hadn't quite pinned down.

As for the idea of the right kind of woman. My short response is yes. You're absolutely right.

My long response doesn't belong here or in any further posts, really. The proper response to truth is activity. And until I cut between the Gomers and the Golden-Haired Women to discover someone real and someone truly inspiring it does me no good to talk about her in theoretical terms.

Fiat Lex said...

:D Hear, hear! Please imagine applause and one of my singularly ungaunly attempts at celebratory dancing!