Most weeks, I attack this blog with an exact — or at least fairly specific — idea of what to write about. Today, though, I’m back inside two old cycles: “don’t throw stones” and “it’s too silly to spend 800 words on.” The way I see it, there are three modes in which I operate when it comes to spinning sentences: the day-to-day client stuff, most of which is topical, informative and not particularly inflammatory; the long-form, being-printed-inside-bound-books-someday stuff, which takes time and thought to percolate; and the stuff you see here each week — random musings from a curious human being trying to make it as a writer. And today, it all just feels like fluff.
Believe me, I have Things to Write About… capitalization intended… but most of them won’t fit inside a blog post, nor do they really belong in one. Although I’ve borne witness to things awful enough to beg plenty of in-depth conversation, it’s impossible to commit them to a page — or, in this case, a screen — without causing pain for those involved. On the other hand, I can wax poetic for ages about the silliest and most mundane of things, but even though it’s sincere and I thoroughly enjoy reading the same sorts of things from other people, I worry that I come off sounding about as substantive as sea foam. I’ve watched people around me deal with loss, illness, suicide, crime, infidelity, incarceration, poverty, addiction, depression, anxiety, and everything else that comes part and parcel. And while I’ve certainly been affected by it, in some cases much more deeply than others, I’ve still somehow managed to escape it and live a life that, while imperfect, has ultimately been sort of charmed. I’m nobody’s judge and jury, and it’s not my place to point fingers unless I want them pointed back at me; I’m also fully aware that, conversely, standing on a mountaintop and crowing about the fantastic, amazing, sublime perfection that is my life at any given moment is basically an open invitation for the fates to tear it down. But I know I’ve been put here to tell some kind of story, and I need to figure out what it is.
Like anyone, I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I subscribe to Emerson’s version of what that means (oh, wait, hello; apparently it wasn’t Emerson!), but at the same time, it’s not quite enough. I want to say something intelligent. I want to change something somehow. But the last thing I want to do is preach some kind of sermon, because what in the hell do I know? Or any of us, really?
I guess I’m trying to say I’m working on striking a balance before I plant myself inside the literary world and attempt to convince people I can write things worth paying for. There’s telling the truth, and there’s the amount of balls it takes not to run and hide once you’ve told it. If you’re going to summon up the latter and, in doing so, accomplish the former, you’d better be damn well sure your “truth” is what you say it is, and you’d better tell it in a way that isn’t foolish. I’m petrified to get it wrong. I need to get it right.
I had a conversation with someone recently about the way we each experience a story and remember it later on. We compared a few movies we’d seen together and talked about what we remembered from them, and the differences in our recollections were crazy. More to the point, we came to the conclusion that I’m crazy… and maybe incapable of linear progression. Here’s an odd bit of trivia about yours truly: I’ve seen Almost Famous — a film I list among my all-time favorites — countless times, and yet I truly can’t remember if Penny and Russell wind up together in the end. Look, I can illustrate the grabbing-the-sunglasses-off-the-ticket-agent’s-counter shot frame by frame, and I can draw a picture-perfect outline in my mind of the layout of William’s house and where everyone’s standing when Russell shows up under false pretenses… but seriously, are there things after that? Because I’m too busy knowing exactly who comes in on what note during the “Tiny Dancer” sequence and reflecting in awe at all the perfect glances between the two lead characters throughout the entire movie, and then, of course, there’s that score, which couldn’t be more brilliant. I stare in wonder at the artistry of the whole thing, but I’m clueless on some of the 1-2-3′s even though they’re right in front of me.
I’m like that about a lot of things in life. I get the deeper meaning, the basic message, and the underlying juju of it all, and I take in all the miniscule details on top as if my memory were photographic… but when it comes to the normal stuff most people pay attention to in the middle — major plot points, the bad guy’s motivation, where we last left character so-and-so — I’m blank. I have a fear, I think, that this will eventually haunt me if or when I make an attempt at fiction, and maybe that’s a sign that I need to stay away from it. Or, hell… maybe it’s a point on which I should start challenging myself. Either way, I’m on a self-imposed timeline here, and at some point I’ll have to pick a direction and go. I saw something earlier this week about the travesty of the fact that some of the world’s most incompetent people are the most self-assured and confident, while the wisest ones are pacing around, wringing our hands and second-guessing ourselves. I thought back over people I’ve known throughout my life who fit into each group, and the consistency gave me an odd sense of comfort that I might be in the latter… until I caught a whiff of my own vanity and started second-guessing it.
Either way, I’m sure of one thing: I know I was put here to write, and I’ve got a firm grasp of my voice. The question is: what do I want it to say?