04 June 2006

lasers and cave painting and pompous delusions oh my

Every once in a while I have the supreme luck to experience a moment which reminds me in cold hard slap to the face fashion what it is about writing that makes me shiver with joy.

Because let's be honest, kids— it's not the long lonely hours staring at a blinking cursor which refuses to advance even one goddamned character's worth forward. It's not the late bleary-eyed nights sitting up in bed with a still warm-from-the-laser-printer draft balanced on your knee, a red pen on your hand and a confused "what the the holy hell was this crap about?" look on your face as you edit a manuscript. It's not the beautiful Sunday mornings when the rest of the world is mowing a lawn or playing golf or hauling a short board to the coast or biking some hillside trail while you sit in a pair of gym shorts, sucking 5 hour old coffee and trying to rework a flawed outline into a form which might help you find a path of the face of the impossible second act cliff.

I speak instead of The Moment.

The Moment when you hand a sampling of pages to someone — someone not your wife or mother or second grade teacher — and they start to read... and you sit and watch, but try not to let them understand and feel just how closely you are watching, and you stare at their eyebrows, hoping to see the tiniest little furrow signaling that Something Just Happened, and you watch the corners of their mouths, praying that you see the nearly imperceptible twitch telling you they caught the joke, they noticed the curiously wry phrase, they felt a pang of actual By God emotion at exactly the word where you had worked to make it happen.

The Moment when your words — your dark little splotches of fused toner, or smeared ink, or oil on a canvas, or charcoal on a cave wall — bridged the gap separating your conscious mind from that of every other human being which has ever or shall ever walk this rock. That moment when you scream into the wilderness and hear, for maybe the first and please God not the last time, a voice faintly answering back.

"I hear you... I feel you... tell me more...."

The Moment when you, as a writer, finally connect with the person on the other side of the page.

If you're a writer, or have it in you to become a writer, you understand exactly what I am describing. Nobody becomes a writer in order to become rich. Well, no writer does this, though likely many non-writers try the trick, never understanding just how sadly ludicrous the effort seems to the real writers in the room. You become a writer for the same reason that a salmon swims upstream in breeding season. That a goose flies south when the air turns cool. That a plant turns toward the morning sun and a drunk away from it. You do it because that's what you do. You can't not do it without risking a psychic groin pull.

And it's a horrible excruciating soul-devouring way to live, save for those rare moments when you have a page or ten to share with another person, and you summon the testicular fortitude to do so, and that other person reads your stuff and feels something.

I had that happen again this week. Three or four times, actually. (What can I say? "it was a good week.) Specific details about who read what are not important, but at least three different times this past week I showed scribbles to people and my scribbles prompted them to say something.

"Wow" or "cool" or (my favorite) "can I read some more?"

Being writers, we of course have to undersell our reaction in such moments, as writers are Cool People, and Cool People do not react to such situations by jumping up and down on the sofa, screaming "YAHOOOOOOOOO! THEY FUCKIN' LIKE ME!"

[That's actors who pull such stunts — a sad low class of people none of us should long affiliate with.]

No, writers have to remain detached and vaguely bored by it all: "Thanks. It needs more work."

But at some moment later, in private when nobody stands around eager, ready, and willing to judge, we'll pump our fists and hop up and down and grin like stupid grinning things and sing "I Could Have Danced All Night" and do a dozen other equally childish things try to endlessly replay that second and a half when we had our soul hooked up in a direct link to someone else.

Such moments are lightning strikes — flickering instants of brilliant blinding power which leave an afterimage seared into memory. Non-writers sometimes can see the flash or feel the thunder and enjoy the show, but it falls to writers (and chapel roof painters) to understand on the poetic level that these lightning strikes are not just arcs of static electrical buildup between cloud and ground, or even mere instants of shared consciousness. They are, in truth, The Touch of the Divine, God reaching down to tap you on the shoulder when nobody else is looking, and asking with a wink and a sly smile "psst-- wanna know what it feels like to be Me?"

For these moments, I humbly give thanks.

Here endeth the lesson. Now rise, my brothers, and go create.
flying kites in a storm B


suzbays said...

Yee-haw! Good for you!

I had my own cool moments on Saturday. They were different cool, but cool nonetheless.


Julie O'Hora said...

Thanks, I needed that, B. Kickass post.