Sunday, November 9, 2008
I've written 22 pages of a play I'm tentatively calling "Night, With Ebon Pinion," which is actually the name of a late 19th century church hymn we used to sing in our church when I was growing up.
The play is not about the song itself, it merely acts as a centrifugal role in the action of the main character, Shep Danvers. That is to say, the song is a force within Shep that powers itself outward and acts upon the play's (Shep's) main action (what he wants).
And isn't that the way things are? We have things (past events, thoughts, damages - perceived and real) within ourselves that we are sure are buried deep enough; issues so embedded in the rock of our memory that they will never see the light of day even with the sharpest of miner's picks. And yet, somehow they manage to surface greater and with more meaning than we ever thought possible.
I'm struggling with this story. Greatly. Because it is a fundamental departure from my first published piece, Surfacing, which is a novel for young adults with a female main character who lives in the future and miles beneath the surface of the earth.
Folks, there isn't a shred of me in that novel, and that was done on purpose by yours truly. I've wanted more than anything in my life to be a writer, and when the time came for me to move to the level of published writer, I chickened out.
Maybe that's not fair. I love Surfacing for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is my firstborn. I love its story and its characters. But it is pure, unadulterated fantasy. The kind of what-if storytelling that you do when you're 10 and have the luxury of idling through your days scheming cool stories about superheroes and space flight and ... well ... unreality.
But I'm nothing if not all about the real. As an adult - since about the age of 22 - my story ideas have sprung from an inner well, as opposed to from something outside of my own experience.
So why then did I write a kid's book at 38 when I've got "serious" stories lined up in my mind like 727s on a tarmac?
Fear. Guilt. Shame.
That's the holy triumvirate of writers. The big three reasons we don't write what we know. Fear of failure. Fear of success at the expense of alienating our loved ones. Guilt about the revelation of "family secrets" (when we know deep down that these are amalgams of people and events, not biographies); shame brought on from the pain of that guilt.
I cannot tell you the number of titles I have started atop a blank page, the numerous paragraphs I have devoted to writing from the heart, only to see them balled up and tossed unceremoniously into a wastebasket.
So back to 'Night'. I will not reveal what the play is "about" because I don't know yet. It's unfinished, you see. And I refuse to tell you what happens, because then I won't write it. I learned that lesson a long time ago.
What I will share - or I thought I was sharing - is my sense of danger every time I sit down to write. I feel like I'm on an emotional precipice as I roll my chair up to my keyboard and look at the computer screen. Kind of like hanging your toes over the edge of the Grand Canyon and peering down. Am I taking a foolish risk by flirting with the edge? And what is this overwhelming desire to just fucking leap? To hell with gravity and the consequences.
I read what I have written (a cardinal sin, but one I am compelled to commit) and I "like" what is there. It's walking a path on its own and its pace and movement is natural - when it moves at all; when it isn't tethered by the aforementioned Big Three, which is frequent.
I guess an analogy would be to use a Jack London scenario. A man is in the rocky wilderness of the southwest, on a stony path. The only path he can take to get to safety. It's a journey that must happen under the cover of darkness of night (of course!!), and along the way he must go uphill (of double course!!). He is stalled by tripping roots and troublesome stones (guilt); he is thwarted by a buffeting wind that threatens to toss him over the edge of the cliff to his right (shame) and even if he succeeds in overcoming those, up ahead he hears a telltale rattle and does not know under which boulder the snake is hidden (fear.)
I like this. I hate it but I love it because I know now that the completion of the play has little to do with being successful and almost everything to do with what writing is supposed to be about.