Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Write Tall Tales When the World Is Coming Apart At the Seams?

Maybe it only seems like it’s coming apart at the seams.

No, it’s coming apart at the seams.

So why write tall tales?

Why do anything, but especially why write tall tales when the world, etc.?

Because this one particular tall tale I’m writing might be the one which saves the world, or at least makes a stitch that starts undoing the coming apart in one little shadow in one little corner of one little seam, or slows it, or distracts it, or makes it blink, or makes it think twice.

Because, as Flannery said, I’m good at it.

Because it’s fun.

Because somebody asked why.

Because it keeps me from coming apart at the seams.

Because it might keep somebody else from coming apart at the seams, if only for the length of the story or a sentence or an image or two words put together in a subtly outrageous way.

Because there might be an image or a line or a stitch of dialogue that will make somebody laugh or be glad they’re alive or look up and see differently or tell somebody they love them.

Because everybody dies.

Because ghosts may be at my shoulder waiting for the next chapter.

Because I woke up today.

Because if I don’t, my soul barks at every passer-by.

Because I’m depicting in the story in some way the world’s coming apart at the seams and an option or two taken by a character or two which fosters sanity and hope and which might be contagious through the words and might lead to somebody going out of the house and into that strange world for the first time in a week or a month, because they don’t feel so all alone for a moment.

Because I have nothing better to do.

Because it feels good.

Because I want to.

Because I don’t want to.

Because I can’t.

Because it’s all I can do.

Because somebody said that writing tall tales when the world is coming apart at the seams is a pointless farce.

Because God nudged me by giving me the talent to.

Because all the tall-tale tellers who I ever read and loved did.

Because somebody said they enjoyed one I told once.

Because I’m better at it than praying.

Because it might delay the final coming apart long enough to allow somebody to act, or to reconsider acting, or to have an absurd thought of hope for hope’s sake.

Because it’s not there.

Because it’s meditation.

Because I wonder what’s going to happen.

Because I imagine it will help somebody or something somehow in some small good real human way, or animal.

Because there are animals.

Because when I’m doing it I can use everything I have.

Because it’s the only real true thing in the world.

Because, as Bob Dylan says, All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

Because it is both lighting a candle and cursing the darkness.

Because it may lead to somebody else who is losing their faith to go ahead and continue writing that tall tale of their own, right now.

Because I can’t help it.

Because it’s too late to stop now.

Because I’m borrowing the oxygen.

Because the words are there tapping their foot, trying to keep from smiling.

Because the characters are raring to go.

Because I already made a cup of coffee.

Because the cursor is cursoring.

Because when I do death forgets.

Because my fan is clambering up the gate.

Because my foe is waiting for me not to.

Because eternity leans toward me and whispers gossip about my protagonist.

Because it relaxes me, and, as Thomas Merton says, Sooner or later, you got to relax.

Because my cat is twitching in his sleep.

Because my children are lost.

Because the war will never end.

Because, as Virginia Woolf says, A thousand stars were flashing across the blue wastes of the sky.

Because the end of time is sunbathing on the beach.

Because I love sentences, and paragraphs, and endings, and beginnings, and . . . phrases.

Because I’m human.

Because he wants us to call him Ishmael.

Because a fly flew in the window and out again.

Because I’m doomed.

Because the garden is watered.

Because I’m eternal.

Because you’re reading this.


Just because.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010


I tried. I can’t. I suppose I could if there were a gun
to my head, but there isn’t & doesn’t look to be any time

So, I write slow, despite a voice inside that tells me my
days are numbered & I need to start building up my body
of work, which is paltry to middling at best. That tells
me I’m taking too long to write whatever it is I’m writing.
That voice I find to be fading & losing strength fast. No

It’s not even that I write slow. I write as if there is
no such thing as time, no such thing as growing old,
no such thing as death. The fastest piece of long fiction
I wrote took three years. I’m currently working on a short
story, which I decided to do because I haven’t written a
short story in many moons, and because I wanted to take
a break from novels.

I thought I would knock off this story in a week or so
at most, because it had been brewing & bubbling for a while
in the attic. I thought it was ready to accommodate me,
just leap out & lay itself down there on the paper, the

It’s been five weeks. The end appears to be in sight, but
that is a matter of length, not time. I know how many pages
it’s going to be, roughly, but that is not about time.

Getting stuff published is not in my control, at least
compared to getting it written. My mind deals in time, so
it sets a schedule for my heart, or my intuition, or
whatever it is that’s in charge of my writing. But my
intuition doesn’t much abide schedules. It sees them
& takes note of them, but it doesn’t relate them, it
doesn’t respect them. It doesn’t disrespect them, either,
it just doesn’t really care.

It doesn’t pay much attention to fear, or money, or the
world, or anything that doesn’t have to do with the place
where stories get written. My mind thinks about all those
things, or a part of my mind, but that part doesn’t have
anything to do with the actual writing of the story.

I wouldn’t even say it’s about timelessness, either. It’s
a much simpler place than something as cruel as time or as
dreamy as timelessness. It’s beyond both. It considers both,
or uses both, in the writing, because a story about people
is a story about time, and I have a spiritual outlook so
timelessness is present, too. But time & timelessness are
just two more characters in the story, they’re not telling
me what to do or how long to take doing it.

I used to imagine being on my death bed & regretting not
getting a book published. Being so close, and being so, um,
frustrated by the process, has somehow allowed me to let go
of that fear some. Is my soul going to be truly altered in
some way by whether I get a book published? I like to imagine
not. Then I imagine being near death & wishing I had written
more, more books, stories, plays, published, performed, or
not, and I can’t really get much oomph going behind that fear

Now, I can answer the pressure of a deadline, which I did
when I incorporated hundreds & hundreds of little & big changes
suggested by my brilliant editor David Adams (since laid off
in the economic crunch) at MacAdam/Cage. So I can do it if I
have to, but I’m not talking about have to. I’m talking about
the normal day-to-day pursuit of telling the story just the
way it is supposed to be told, and the pleasure given &
received in writing it, in the writing, in the flow of
using everything available to the intuition in the making
of sentences, paragraphs, written conversation, scenes,
sections, and on.

I’m talking about my natural velocity as a writer, and it
appears to be the velocity of a turtle, a turtle in a rocking
chair on a porch, smoking the pipe of the imagination,
employing the skills of the craft given & learned, overlooking
the world of the story. (I just thought of a wonderful line
from some tough-guy movie I saw: "I hate scenery.")

It takes something beyond time to use everything you have
in doing something that you love so much. Death & failure
are no reasons to rush it.

I think I’ve finally come to accept that the venture that
is the creation of a story for me is so slow & so . . .
self-contained that all clocks stop in the vicinity. As
long as I do it every day I’m OK with it, I’m fine.

Of course I prefer to have a spiritual outlook about these
things, life, death, art, time. So, as far as what we do
at our best, in my view it survives. And if it does survive,
I want it to be the best, the clearest, the funniest, the
poignantest, the most loving & loved it can be, from the
words to the flow to the people & to life as embodied
in the story.

I can’t do that with time breathing down my back. Time
is not breathing down my back. Or it may be breathing down
my back, but if so I haven’t gotten the message yet, and it
seems that I would have gotten it by now if I were going
to get it. Things may change tomorrow, but today I am on
the timeless boat, the timeless porch, moving again through
the story from start to toward the end, which in this case
is going to be an ending that must have the time it needs
to find its perfect stopping point.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Two Paragraphs from The Unknown Man Story.

When he knocked on our door two days later, a jaunty little
tap-tap tap-tap-tap, I didn’t open it. I looked through the
peephole. "I’m the unknown man from the news," he identified
himself. I looked closer; he certainly resembled the man we
had seen on TV, even with the fish-eye view. The kids peeked
through the curtains on either side of the door. He apologized
for "pestering you unannounced." I was struck by his use of
the phrase "pestering you unannounced." It made me feel safe.
I thought about opening the door. No psychotic killer would
employ such a phrase. Then I imagined him butchering all of
us, me asking with my dying breath, "How could you have employed
the phrase 'pestering you unannounced'?" and him responding:
"It never fails!"


If people saw us and didn’t know, they would have thought we
were just a normal family out driving around. Somebody might
have questioned why I, the woman, was behind the wheel, but
that wasn’t as big a problem as it had once been. The side
of the unknown man’s left shoe tapped a tune against the bump
in the floor. I wondered what he would be like when his mind
cleared up. Would he be as calm and earnest? Calm and earnest
went underestimated in the world. And maybe knowing who you
were was overestimated. Would he remember us helping him?
What if he were a millionaire, a billionaire, who had soured
on humanity and gone undercover to find a good person, a good
family, who would be kind to him without knowing he was rich.
I wondered what he did. I bet it had to be something that
required a thoughtful and good-natured personality. I peeked
over at him. He was watching the sights of the town go by,
as alert as a dog himself, but a calm dog. He had a kind of
a neutrality or objectivity to his cheerfulness that appealed
to me. Some lucky woman and family were missing him, and I
felt sorry for them. And envied them. And, actually, resented
them a little, for losing him in the first place and causing
this uncertainty and turbulence in our life.

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