This weekend I did two things that taught me something about my ability as a writer. First, I visited a friend's home that impressed me with its decor and serenity. Muted palette, lots of white, old moldings and door brasses retained or replicated, uncluttered space, kitchen appliances disguised as cabinetry. But my description falls flat, lacks spice and depth. The other thing I did was to read excerpts from Jack Kerouac's prose. And beat my fist against my forehead. How is it he can put me right into a buggy, deep Mexican night so effectively and I cannot say just how it felt to be in that elegant home that I visited?
I let my frustration steep and started over in my journal. Only when I added action to the mix did I begin to catch what I had seen. Experience--that's action. Otherwise I am a visitor in a museum, feasting only with my eyes. Kerouac acted in response to the mosquitoes that shredded his skin to hamburger. He took off his shirt and put it back on. He climbed onto the roof of the car to sleep. He spoke to a sleepy constable. A perfectly designed and decorated room does not move. People in it have to run their fingers over an antique music cabinet, sit in the padded wicker chairs, peer into the bird cage, empty but for three large blue eggs. Someone has to eat off the perfectly yellow plates and drink from the sparkling stemware. Without action, the scene is a still life; with action it becomes life.