Thursday, March 26, 2009

Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

I never know what will happen when I sit down before dawn and take up my pen. Yes, I still begin a writing project with pen and paper. Usually, the room is quiet but for ambient bird noise or the upstairs tenant doing dishes. Occasionally, I turn on classical music. Mostly though, I hear a running commentary in my head, often a scared voice telling me that this idea is weak, it won't work, people will laugh or look at me with blank faces, not understanding what I want to tell them. Then a different voice says, "Oh, go ahead. Just try it. It's not like you have to share this piece if it doesn't turn out well. After all, you have plenty of paper and a box of pens. Go on, write something." If I'm starting a short story, I often begin by describing the scene from a distance, getting my bearings in the environment, looking at what might happen in such a place. This week the place was a rented room in a tenement, similar to the historic one I once visited in New York. I wondered who would live there, what kind of people they might be. I sort of had it in mind to write a love story. Not a very romantic setting for that. But people love and hate one another in all sorts of places.

Pretty soon I heard a line of dialog from the narrator, and that was what it took. I knew he was an interesting guy and could see how he fit into that room. And how he related to his lover. I think the story works, not that any of us ever quite knows what that means, but it has stayed with me for about 36 hours now, like the memory of a good film. I still see Daniel and Ana in that place and feel their estrangement. No it's not a feel good, Cinderella story, but it does seem authentic. And for me that's what matters, that I met a couple of people with realistic strengths and weaknesses, and a hint of the impossible. No one else has seen it yet, so my satisfaction might be a form of motherly pride in another newborn, however wrinkled and innocuous. But this story would not have survived if I had listened to that doubting voice and not to the one who says, "Hey, you've done this before. Trust the process. What if . . . ?" So, I'm watching the snow blow past the window, wondering if I'll meet any interesting characters today, whether they live in New York tenements from the late 1800's or a futuristic biosphere with Pierrot paint on their faces. Some of my best friends are invisible.

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