onsdag, februar 14, 2007

An Epiphany

Now you can set out for the mountain in hopes of reaching it by dark, but you shouldn’t be down if you don’t reach it. Just have enough to get through the night, man.

First Thing's First: Cancer, You Lost This Round, Jerk

Let us celebrate Lyn finishing her breast cancer treatment. She kicked cancer's ass and now Lance Armstrong can kiss hers. Get on your fucking ten-speed, dude, and pay homage to a fellow survivor. Woo! I love you dearly, friend. You're one cool chick. Please have Lara play the "Three Cool Chicks" song for you from the's.

The beer I drank in your honor last night as we marked the end of your treatment:

It was a Belgian beer, St. Feuillien, and imbibed at the Happy Gnome. Really really tasty. Could be a new favorite.

Magnificent Bastards

*I include "Magnificent Bastard" solely for old sport in Tennessee, should he be reading this. Rommel can go to hell!

Joyce, that magnificent blowhard, referred to his short stories as epiphanies. Ever since, writers have made a religion of our mostly secular trade. We debate our canon, our archangels and saints, the existence of the Devil (The answer is Yes and his name is ________, by the way), the requisite penance/study for being held in proper regard, etc.

But I’ve no soapbox to construct on this point really.

Regarding the writing of fiction, I’ve not lost the fire for that field. It heats my blood and thoughts, daily daily much too much (again I link to Schwartz's brilliant poem "Baudelaire"), but I no longer get buffeted about by bitterness or carried away on any particular platform. It’s so much nicer to appreciate writing than to dictate how one should appreciate it, for one should never stake any ultimate satisfaction in life on the actions of others. (We might make certain exceptions for during certain episodes of sex, but let’s be honest: that better be a particularly singular situation, such as the imminent destruction of the earth, or those better be some pretty serious miscues. For example, yodeling. Or the television left on for 60 Minutes. Or your mother calling to ask you what is a Cleveland Steamer, Jana.) But it took me too many years to discover this not-really-zen-but-call-it-zen approach.

Probably because I’m delusional.


I woke this weekend with a rather amateurish revelation—or epiphany, dear J-man—about my fiction writing and why (perhaps) I have closed the gap on where I want to be but never get there. It was an amateurish one, but it was a welcomed one.

We’re talking about goals.

The thing is this: I have almost no goals in life. This isn’t to say I’m devoid of inspiration or ambition—I probably (which is to say, do) have too much. It’s just that life is a big thing. I may as well speculate on the number of hairs on the elephant’s back, but damn if the elephant has even a mildly hairy back. I wouldn’t know. I’m way too short to see up there.

So I tend to take things at face value. (In the case of the elephant, I might report back from his ass. And if the saying holds true, he'll remember that report!) I never think too long term. I plot things out, yes. Sometimes meticulously. I think so much about things that I wind up a little confused about the real and imagined conversations, and this causes me to hesitate or speak too far ahead of someone.

I can do the scrappin’ by things. I have a full-year’s budget, for example. Yay for me, sure. But I don’t say, “I want a big house. I want a dog named Gus.” We have very little control over that stuff, I’m sure of that.

Now you can set out for the mountain in hopes of reaching it by dark, but you shouldn’t be down if you don’t reach it. Just have enough to get through the night, man. And take note--painfully exact, painfully embellished notes--of what’s along the way, because that’s very well as interesting if not far more so than what you find on the mountain.

Am I writing an advice book? I don’t take my advice. Just keep that in mind.

Back to the Writing & Epiphany Thing

I don’t know. I just can’t cast a grand vision over life, perhaps because I think life is without tethers. (Do I think it’s tetherless?) It’s too transient to pin oneself only to static visions; that’s what I mean. Or perhaps because I’m just too hypnotized by it as it happens. Or perhaps because it frightens me that if I establish a gigantic goal—such as those blubbering fools who don’t make the cut for American Idol and who are finally escorted out by a plaintive mother who's dressed in matching clothes—I’ll be crushed to the point that I can’t do sensible things like change my socks or tip my waitresses and bartenders.

I think it’s the middle one. I hope it is. I adore life. I do. I don’t find it too difficult to find interest in life or the people who inhabit it. It's probably disastrously easy for me. The shiny object distraction problem--"My precious!" (Successful interaction is another matter. Dr. Phil’s goofy guess is as good as mine.) If something good happens to stick—a good job, a good relationship, a car that can make it through a Minnesota winter—then happy days, indeed.

So when I really force myself to name one goal, I come up with this: I don’t want to fail as a writer.

That's it, I think. That's the one, the one I can't handle not solving. That's strange. I think. Shit, that's strange. I don't want to fail my family either, but I think that's a brainless response. That is the me me, the eye of my I, regardless of who I want to be. That's life as it should be. That's what we hope we're born into.

I have been. I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends I consider family. I don't want to fail them.

But the one thing I have is not wanting to fail as a writer. It's the one thing I know is just me. Or what I think is just me. I'm not sure.

So. The epiphany: the real problem is I’ve never defined what success is. Because that hadn't occurred to me.

Is it publication of a short story in a particular journal or magazine? Publication of a novel by a certain publisher? (For example, anyone who didn’t publish Jim Crace’s Being Dead—obviously I still have some nasty thoughts!) Is that producing something that someday my parents and siblings and friends, who have extended me so much support and latitude, can look at and say without humor that they're proud of what I’ve done (not just that I’m trying to do it)? Or is it as simple as just making the turn? Of knowing the work is on the level for where it might be accepted by people who make those publishing decisions but without concern for whether the work ever is accepted? Or even reaches their desks or the desks of their underlings?

The epiphany got me only to the light. It did not show me what was illuminated. And hour by hour I change how I feel: outrageously happy, inconsolable. I promise to blog everyday. I imagine ending this site. I end friendships. I start new ones. I give up or never give up on America. I'm moved to tears by a photograph of Denmark. I'm moved to tears because I cannot keep Danish words together in my head.

That there's no such thing as settling; only a refusal to believe that things have grabbed you.

That all things remain incomplete.

That these things happen only in my head.

But there was this epiphany that's given me a very real challenge. And I am not afraid.

The Denis Johnson quote from Jesus' Son that hangs on my door for reflection each day before I go out: All these weirdos and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com