Watching your father shave reminds you of the lion in the MGM logo. The movements are predictable, identical every time, but no less impressive for that. There is a grandiosity you wish you had, a majesty of spirit and body you have not yet attained. Manhood, you think, is incredible.
Opening a new, white and pristine page can be one of two things. It’s either exciting, pulse-raising and inviting, or terrifying, threatening and off-putting.
It doesn’t matter what sort of page this is – it can be a new page in a much used notebook, the first page of an unopened one, or the electronic, virtual one that comes up in a writing program.
No matter what emotion arises when faced with a blank page, the demand that it throws is undeniable. A blank page craves to be filled, to be written upon with ink or to be full of coded letters.
There’s nothing worse than opening a new page and feeling the terror bubbling in your throat, the pressure building up behind your eyes, in the crevices of your very mind. The emptiness seems to call to the very soul, demanding in loud and certain tones what it needs. Sometimes, fear can lead the way into the second, better emotion. Once a page starts to fill up, the demand lessens, the pressure recedes, and bit by bit, the terror evaporates.
There’s nothing better than opening a new page and feeling the excitement bubbling in your stomach, the itch in your fingers as they long to start writing and the images that jump around your mind, urging you onward, ever onward, so that you can’t resist putting down your pen to the paper or your fingers to the keyboard and beginning to write. When the page fills up, bit by bit, a sense of pride in your own words filling up such a space is added to the other emotions, and it too spurs you onward.
Sometimes, when a page is full, it demands another page to be opened. It’s not finished yet, the emptiness of the next page tells you, you must continue.
Sometimes, when the page is full, it’s enough. The urge, the need and the drive all quiet in you, and you can look at the full page and know that you’ve completed something, even if it’s not finished, you’ve put something down on the page, and there it will stay.
Being faced with an empty page is an adventure, whether dream or nightmare.
On this blog, I’ve posted many an excerpt. I’ve mostly posted short pieces – character studies, scenery descriptions, dialogue, short scenes that seem to need to belong to something longer, short stories, and a few beginnings to novels.
All this is great. It’s exactly why I started this blog – in order to try things out, try to figure out different genres and create different characters for myself to think over. I’ve practices my style, flow and different voices [at least, I hope I’ve managed to write in different voices].
But I’ve gotten addicted to having people read my work. I love posting on this blog and being able to get feedback on what I write. Why is this a problem? Well, in many ways, it isn’t. It’s good that I feel a connection and an obligation to be here, because it helps me sit my butt down and write most days.
The problem is that although I start many things, I haven’t finished a large percentage of them. Yes, I wrote a few complete short stories: The Princess Without a Name, One-Eyed Steve, Spam. But my longer works in progress always seem to shudder to a halt. I do have on fantasy novel [hopefully, eventually] that I’ve never posted anything from and probably never will, but other than that, I seem to get stuck. I don’t know if many of you remember my first attempt at a thriller, Move? Probably not. But I was so excited about it for so long, and then I just couldn’t think of anything more.
How do I dedicate the time to just one project, make it a commitment and try to finish it? Forget finish – how to I pass the fifteen page mark? I’ve written papers that were more than twenty pages long, so why do I get stuck with longer fiction? The irony is that I’m usually much more of a novel or novella girl – I enjoy short stories, but only really specific ones and only when I’m in a certain mood.
My whole goal in writing, besides the mere pleasure it brings me and the fact that now I’ve started I don’t ever want to stop, is to succeed in creating something that speaks to someone. Even just one person. When I daydream about being published one day (and I don’t allow myself to do this often, since it’s much too scary) I think about that one letter I’ll get, or that one email, from someone like me who just really enjoys reading and had fun reading something I wrote. That, for me, will be success right there. To make even one single person feel like I feel when I read novels or stories of any kind. That’s a bigger goal than I think it is, I’m sure, because all I ever hear are the horrors of publication, and I shouldn’t be striving for that in my writing anyway.
I should be striving to tell true things. Or have a basis of truth in what I write. I don’t mean that I should write an autobiography or base characters on real people – just that there should be some truth in the emotion and underlying tones of whatever I write.
This has turned into a much longer post than I intended. So I go back to my main question. How do you finish things? How do you just stick with something and finish it?
Some things are destroyed all at once, in a flash and with a bang. The ruin is catastrophic, dramatic, big and bold. It’s a declaration of horror and ruin, without any cause for doubt or room for discussion. There’s a sort of beauty, stark and horrible, to a ruin like this. People watch car crashes and buildings going up in flames and roadkill for this reason – there’s a beauty in the dramatic effect of a life being snuffed out or even simply in the ruin of something substantial that you wouldn’t expect to be destroyed so quickly or easily. It’s a morbid and fearful beauty, but there is beauty in it.
Then there are things that collapse from within, slowly, without drawing attention to themselves. Things stew for ages, gradually becoming worse, collapsing by degrees. It’s like something decaying, almost – there is something there underneath the surface that rots away slowly, until one day you realize that the whole thing is about to fall down completely with the slightest puff of wind or nudge of a fingertip. There is a different sort of beauty here – the frail, the pathetic, the fragile and ethereal look that sometimes comes across in this situation. It is the feeling of impending doom, but one that has been coming for a long, long time.
No matter what, there is a beauty in collapse, however wrong it may be.
History is a vast and incomprehensible mystery to me in many ways. We have facts about things that have happened in the past – we have dates, records of events, paintings reproducing the faces involved in those events, poems and diaries devoted to giving opinions and preserving what happened in a biased manner. We have all these things. Mystery, to some people, seems like a wide-open book, its contents there for us to look through, sift for what interests us, and indulge ourselves in knowledge of old.
I don’t feel this way. In my opinion, history is full of so much that we don’t know and so much that I wish I could know. True, we know when Martin Luther began to speak and write about his emotions about being a monk and part of the Catholic Church. In his instance, we can find quite a lot of emotional and sentimental writings from his own pen, or maybe quill, and we can see into his mind, as far as he lets us.
But what about others? What about the farmers and the spinners and the dye-makers that England had in such profusion in the sixteenth century? What were the children running barefoot through the streets of London, so much smaller than it is today, thinking? What games were they playing? What was the man smuggling illegal documents from Europe into the English Empire thinking as he worked? Was he scared for his life or merely waiting to get paid so he could go home to his wife and child? What were the nuns, sequestered in their cloisters, talking about? How did they speak to their young students, and how did they infuse them with a love and a belief for the divine? Through fear? Through love? Through simply offering worship as a fact of life?
And if these so-called simple people’s lives aren’t interesting enough for historians to dwell on – well then, what about the monarchs? How could Henry VIII hold such power in his hands and play with it so lightly at times? What did Katherine of Aragon feel as she was condemned? We can guess, surely, but how can we know? What of Elizabeth? How did she feel when she was sought after for marriage through the years? Did she decide on her own to remain a single ruler in order to maintain a stable throne? Did she, perhaps, not find men pleasing in the manner she would have been expected to? Had she fallen in love with someone who never returned her love or never could?
It’s bad enough, thinking of the power that politicians and governments hold today. At least it’s distributed power, and is more or less given by the people. But monarchs… They were born. Some of them believed they were chosen by divinity to be kings or queens. They held so much power in their cupped hands, that they’d let some of it run through their fingers to those sitting at their feet, just waiting for a pearl or jewel to drop from those mighty hands. I can’t imagine how such responsibility could be held without driving the holder mad with indecision, worry, guilt. Such are the things that the annals of history can’t reveal to us. Thoughts, emotions, private sighs of elation or grief.
There are those rare people who can make stories come alive with their voices and bodies. True storytellers are rare – many people know how to tell a joke well, how to tell a funny happenstance or exaggerate something that happened to them. Few are the people who can make up a story on the spot and tell it in a way that makes it seem real and true and exciting.
I don’t know if I’ve met anyone yet who has come close to the way I imagine a perfect storyteller. Perhaps the kind I imagine only exists in books – the bard, traveling from inn to inn, paying for his or her meals with a story, with a tale of valor or wisdom or strife. Perhaps perfect storytellers can only exist when written down in words, when described with such things as “fiery eyes” and “a voice like no other” and “commanded attention without effort, a presence which filled the room easily.”
People don’t sit around fires and tell stories they make up – no, today everything is based on old legends or stories or the Disney versions of those stories, and people discuss politics around the fireplace, and only tell their children stories. Is storytelling a lost art then?
My brother claims to vaguely remember sitting on the floor of the living room when he was very small and watching the Berlin Wall falling down on television. My parents obviously had the TV on that whole day in 1989, and as my brother was three years old, there’s every chance that he really remembers this historic event, however vaguely.
Tonight I had the pleasure to watch history being made as I watched President Obama, the first African American president of the United States and a man in whom I have more belief than in any other president I’ve witnessed in my short life, being inaugurated. As a cynic and often a pessimist, I know that things will not necessarily change for the better immediately, that Obama isn’t the sole ruler and that much depends on the Congress’s decisions – and yet I cannot help but be uplifted this evening, as I take in the fact that the “reign of Bush” has ended. A man who speaks in complete sentences is now in the Oval Office, and I am glad.
I don’t want to start any political arguments with this post. Mostly, I just want to point out how glad I am that I was able to watch and witness this great event – I know I will remember the swearing in of this 44th president always: sitting in the living room with my mother and my boyfriend, sighing at the wonderful speech Barack H. Obama gave, and feeling a ray of hope and sunshine filter through the television from that cold Washington D.C. morning.