I am told to do things that do not compute and to be earnest. Colum McCann told me that. Well, a facilitator gave me a hand-out that told me that. ‘Transcend the personal’, ‘make justice from reality’. My spirit was lowered as his one liners of advice continued. At least at the end, Colum wrote that he tells me this with love, so I do something else he tells me to do and persevere.
It has long amused me how successful writers discuss, pin point, and like to explain about the complexity of writing. Writers often tell us about their own processes of writing as if they have found their holy grail and are following it diligently with honour, gratitude, slavish prayer and a smug ‘fuck you’ face. Of course, as a new or ‘young’ writer (as Colum describes me despite my tender age of 56), I sup at the aspiring writers table for a few crumbs of wisdom and to imbibe from greatness, but as I do, the old curmudgeon in me says this is self-indulgent, egotistical crap and another distraction to deter me from my writing brilliance!
I read recently in Stinging Fly (another distraction) essays that discussed the existentialism of writing. Hugh Fulham McQuillan (a great name) tells me that the story exists inside the writer like a ‘dream’ but when it becomes words, ‘it is transformed.’ Indeed. I have never found existentialism a troubling philosophy. You exist, you are, you act, you are, you don’t exist and no longer are responsible (well, at least we all hope not). But it does seem rather obvious that as you write, the story changes, like life. The core refrain of existentialism (as I understand it) is the individual’s responsibility for her own actions. But indeed, too much freedom and too much choice becomes paralysing – hence the grappling with the word on the page that writers experience is explained. Da-Da! (please read as a musical triumphant flourish rather than a surrealist artist, though I like the image that his mention will bring to mind). Yes, it is comforting if not encouraging to experience that ‘light bulb’ moment when you realise that indeed you must be a ‘true’ writer if the anxiety you experience of pulling that creature of a story from your guts is in common with all writers…particularly writers such as Sartre, Camus, Kafka. But, before we get carried away, maybe it is important to remember that creature inside of you is often no good. To go back to Colum McCann: “the best work comes from outside yourself. Only then will it reach within.”
You know what? I feel the need to stop reading and start writing. Now how to inveigle that creature within out…that is the question. Maybe a drop of tea? Or maybe forget him and cast around outside. Here goes:
“Three giant green and grey slithery eels writhed incessantly betwixt and between themselves. Often it seemed they were one gross, undulating monster. One day, as they were thrashing around in my stomach, I leaned down, stuck my hand into myself and pulled them out.”
To be continued…