19 November 2009

Hunger, Fear, and The Novel Surplus

The advice was free, so I'm sure he hasn't taken it and I don't have to feel guilty for possibly killing a Great Someone-to-be in his own womb. I didn't know him. He just came up and started talking to me. He looked so unhappy, he said he was ("always") "so depressed". He told me that in a few days he was going to have his second nano something after his first, only a year ago.

Anything nano sounds suspicious at the least. His eyes squinted in at the nose with what looked like dread, or was it raw fear—of what? I imagined some cutting-edge foray into the guts of him in which nanowarriors slash at hordes of cells that must have repopulated him after the first war last year, and was anyway, going to kill him soon—or would it be the nanoslashers he feared more than the disease? Whatever, the prognosis didn't look good, and I really didn't want to get to know him well enough to ask his name, as I'm overbooked in sympathies—but curiosity made me want to know more about the warriors inside his body—or his brain.


"You don't know?"

Someone touched my arm. "They have to write 50,000 words in 30 days."

He nodded. "For National Novel Writing Month."

"I feel so depressed all the time," he said. "Every day I sit there . . . "

Eventually I asked, "Do you have anything you want to say?"

"No." He not only didn't elaborate, but seemed to have run out of words.

"Do you get out and observe?"

"How can I? I've got to write." He told me that everyone in his writing group agreed. That he felt such a failure. All the time. That he wakes up every day feeling like a failure.

I told him to quit trying to write the novel. To live, get out and listen, observe, feel, think, engage himself in the world and stop thinking of himself as a writer in any form, to stop thinking of himself any more than a real journalist should—at least for a while. I told him to, when he feels refreshed by the act of being in the world, learn to write haiku. That then he could learn the power of a few words, and the lack of being able to write a good haiku if there is nothing to say, but only words to state. I told him (me being in full unproductive rage, and unable to control myself then. If only I could have kept myself to say, 25 words or less—not that free advice is taken no matter how many words misspent) that while writing haiku, he could next begin to learn how to write something else harder to write than a novel: a short story.

Not that I was raging against him. He was as hard not to adopt as a sweet dog from a bad home, at the pound. I just hate the way the prevailing culture smothers what is natural in all of us—curiosity, the ability to be quiet so we can listen, watch, and learn; to reflect and deliberate instead of communicating either in reactions (often group-determined) as if the brain were a leg meant to kick when the knee is hit with a hammer, or "writing" with the purpose of putting as many words as possible out and writing fiction just to do it (plot? no matter. a reason for a story? to write—a circular reason if there ever was one), because the technology to do it, exists.

We all, humans that we are, have such a wonderful gift, and all the great stories that move us stem from the storyteller using this: the ability to climb out of the first person (and the present tense), to think and feel, What would it be like to be this other person (or life-form) living this other life?

We didn't get into the advice he's probably also following or feeling a failure about because he isn't tw'ing. Even though we humans haven't translated what birds say, their twitters are far from mere comforting noises, and come in endless variations, even from birds with brains smaller than the thought that goes before the average sms.

All this reminds me of the time that I advised a smoker who'd stopped five weeks before, to smoke and live.

Overheard dialogue, October 2009:
Prospective novelist: "We try to top each other. I won with 10,000 words one day."
Novelist: (after about ten seconds silence) "I don't believe you."

No comments: