How can a story, or even a line of prose of any sort capture the sound of the morning wind in the city?
The traffic moving slowly, crawling through the shadows, that murmur that merges with the clouds passing above and the man putting out his garbage with the clatter-click of his beer bottles rattling against the concrete step. How does a line of prose capture that? And the smell? The chilly morning when the temperature is perhaps just at the edge, where one is unsure of whether to wear the spring jacket or the winter coat, opting (as I did) for the spring jacket and then leaving it unzipped so that the cold filters in and makes you feel alive. That smell then on the breeze, which is cool and crisp and fresh, the smell of spring before the trees have burst forth but after all traces of ice and salt have disappeared.
James Joyce wanted to include the world within his prose. Something like the above, written as a dialogue of thought using the functional mechanics of the mind, the way things actually work inside the brain. He included everything. His was an art of inclusion to the point of abstraction. Let’s juxtapose this against Samuel Beckett, Joyce’s protege, who went in the opposite direction, writing huge tracts about nothing at all. In fact, creating an art of nothingness, which seemed to summarize the world’s state so much better than everything…
And yet, they both suffered from the same constraint, the covers of the book. The story on paper. The novel. Beckett broke free by turning to the theater. He broke through the “fourth wall” if we must assign some metaphor.
Just yesterday, I heard someone mention Godot on the radio. They were talking about the Attorney General and the release of thousands of pages of information where everyone was talking about the AG and yet nowhere did he appear. How strange that Beckett would be mentioned in this manner, and how symbolic. Thousands of pages about nothing at all and yet the sum must add up to a whole. There must be a meaning to all of that _stuff_ and in the meaning is the man, the AG. The Godot of the scandal.
I wrote this in the cafe this morning:
Nothing could please me more than the death of the novel. This isn’t a vindictive statement. Not at all. The form itself does not displease me. I even derive pleasure from it when time permits.
That’s rather the point though. The novel as an art form requires a commitment of time and focus. Precious commodities these days.
When do we have time to consider the novel? On an airplane? In a hotel? Certainly not in our homes and certainly not in our regular daily lives…
I am a man who appreciates leisure. I do all that I can to fill those hours with meaningful pursuits. Obviously there is an inherent paradox in this statement.
Yet, if I cannot find the time to consider the novel (or establish that block of time by force), who can?
Then again, this isn’t quite pure either (but it is stuffy!). I want to end it as my primary form of literary expression. I want my writing to feel as real as that moment this morning while I was walking down the street, listening to the breeze and sensing spring in the air.
I feel alive, and alive in such a way that I cannot be concerned with whether or not my tale makes sense. It isn’t supposed to make sense. It is a state of Unreason.
I’ve read the essays of many novelists who have decried the death of the novel, but none that have openly welcomed it as I do. I find the novel a frustrating art form to grapple with in part because my interests are too varied and changing to spend a great deal of time polishing the knob on one particular vein.
This is a rather funny way of saying that I’m too lazy to write a novel, but it’s true.
I have enough energy to write thousands of words every day, but no inclination to go back and make them palatable. Besides, when I do that, when I go back and really work the words over, I end up making them so stylized and self-conscious that they mean nothing. They are pretty and forgettable. It’s a big world. I’ll leave that to someone else.
My wife asked me if I had some perverse need to fail, if I took comfort in the fact that I could not be a success. I scoffed, but in fact it is probably true. I like to fail. It makes me happy as strange as that sounds. And so, if I embrace my failure as a permanent situation, completely unavoidable, do I simply stop worrying about the outcome and then succeed by default? What happens then?
Well, that is a strange line of thinking and probably worth several thousand words, but today is a morning for other thoughts. There is no time to consider failure. I have time today only for love.
This morning I went out for a run. This was my first run in weeks. Over the last two years, I’ve gained something like 30 pounds. That’s a lot, even for a man with a build like mine (broad shoulders, a little above average height). So, to say that this is my first run in weeks is inherently untrue. It is my first run in years, though I’ve been running off and on.
While running, I tend to talk to myself. That talking is not so different than my writing, except that (of course) none of it gets recorded unless I remember to do so when I sit down to write. That sounds like an obvious statement, but my mind works like this constantly. It is always moving, from one idea to the next, from one sense to another. It is a hive of activity and despite my best efforts I cannot change that fact.
That brings me back around to the 30 pounds. Those 30 pounds represent my effort to cage myself. For two years, I’ve tried to be something I’m not. It started slowly but by degrees my world turned and grew inward. My external persona became more and more focused but my soul, yes my very soul, turned inside out. I began to expand, quite literally, breaking through waist sizes at a slow and steady pace until I reached this state.
This is not the first time this has happened. I once went on like this for five years and gained 170 pounds. Another time I gained 60 pounds. Yet, each incident was marked by a sustained effort on my part to conform to an expectation. That expectation could be my own (unlikely) or it could be some weird manufactured expectation an amalgam of sensory impressions, societal assumptions, and the flash opinions of those I come in contact with. Regardless, at some juncture along the way, I find that I’m living some strange life derived from someone else. I’m living, well, I don’t know who’s life but it’s not mine.
And then I go for a run.
That first run is so liberating and beautiful. It feels like the whole of the world is flowing into my body at once. I breathe in such a way that I taste the edge of night and birth of the sunrise. I sweat and my body feels good slipping around against itself. In short, I wake up and find myself human again. Fat, but human.
Being happy is not popular in the literary world. To feel pure joy at just being alive, well, this isn’t really acceptable is it? We aren’t supposed to feel happy. We’re writers after all and we’re supposed to be depressed and searching souls who are never quite satisfied with the way a thing looks or how it sounds. We can’t be happy. No. Who wants a happy writer on their hands?
That sounds pretty crass, I know. However, I think we might agree that it is generally true if we consider the plight of a happy writer.
We, societally speaking, have a hard time generating interest for happy writers. Smiling writers on book covers only sell when they are selling genre fiction. There is nothing wrong with genre fiction. I happen to like it myself. But in literary fiction there is supposed to be a deeper meaning. After all, if we’re going to wade through self-indulgent prose isn’t is necessary that we feel like we’ve learned something of the universal, a step towards enlightenment, the great sigh of satisfaction at having consumed an acknowledged work of art and derived moment of oneness with another human being who has plumbed the depths and returned with The TruthTM.
I am, by nature a happy writer, not a neurotic writer. A neurotic writer scrubs and scrubs their prose until it shines, until there is no flaw whatsoever. I do not love my warts, spelling errors, diction, grammar, and the like drive me to distraction. But I am not obsessed by it.
Hearing that, someone would say that I am not a writer at all. Yet I am writing. That cannot be denied. If I am obsessed about anything it is spewing all of these thoughts, ideas, words, visions, stories, observations, rants and rages, odes to beauty, raw emotion, poems, quotes, and more onto the page. I like volume. I like mass. I like a thing that is big and unwieldy. Big ideas excite me. Big ideas that are messy and undefined I like even better.
The unhappy writer though is never pleased with the big idea. It has to be parsed into its constituent pieces. Trimmed and hacked into a symbolic shell of itself.
I may be drifting towards being unfair to unhappy writers. I’ve spent a lot of time working as an unhappy writer, and so I think I’ve earned my stripes there. But perhaps it is unfair. The world does love it some unhappy writers though. You’ve got to admit it.
When a writer is happy, we wonder exactly what it is they have to tell us. Are we supposed to be overjoyed at their happiness? I mean, why would I read a book unless I was myself unhappy to begin with? Wouldn’t I want to spend time with someone as unhappy as myself? Perhaps so. It seems like it to me at least. The really happy writers are generally shunned, but perhaps that’s because they write too much about sex. The unhappy writers never seem to get laid and then that’s probably the plight of most people generally – not getting laid enough.
Does it make sense to summarize the entire plight of literature into the pursuit of sex?
I suppose I should end here now that I’ve completely exhausted the stream of thought. It is probably enough to say that I feel a period of intense and chaotic creativity coming upon me. I am going to do my best to keep it free-flowing, unchained, unpredictable, raw, but above all — happy.