Thursday, January 22, 2009

Aisle Lighting

I handed Laura a copy of her own first novel and she asked, “Do you have books?”

My thought was, “Sure I do. There’s a big stack on my nightstand, several in the back of my car, many shelves of… wait…. She wouldn’t be asking THAT! What was the question?”
“I beg your pardon?” I said.

“Have you published?” she asked. “Have you published books?”

“Oh, I see. I’ve published some things. Not books," I said. "Not yet.”
A book-signing is a fine way to spend a cold January afternoon. Hearing a visiting writer talk about her books, her background, her practice.

As a reader, I’d always known the sensation of the room melting away when being absorbed, enfolded, into a well-told story. As a writer, I know the feeling of having written something true, wondering “where did that come from?” and feeling a pulse of something that's probably an endorphin, but feels like spirit.

It was 1992 when I first said in the quiet and alone: “I can do that... I want to write.” From the moment of speaking the words, there began a series of coincidences, sychronicities, which seemed to suggest a hand flicking on the aisle lighting and saying, “What took you so long? This way. Watch your step.”

Over time, that path has run from some initial freelance pieces, to job as an editor at a computer-book publisher, then to technical writing, and for the past 10 years to work as a medical writer.

All the while, fiction-writing – that which got me moving on this path in the first place – sat neglected. And why? The distractions the world puts in front of you? The immediacy of making a living? Fear?

Whatever the reason, there I was: all the while gazing over my shoulder at the girl I’d really wanted to ask to the prom, having chosen instead the girl whose dad let us borrow his Lexus.

In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway wrote:
“Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.”

Those words, I copied into my journal. Even Hemingway knew that fear? And he still pushed through? Should I be any different? Should I die under a mimosa tree when Harry had already done that for me?

My mimosa tree, loosely speaking, was a brief dance with cancer late last year. All is well now; my plane from Mombasa actually did arrive. Since then, though, I'm feeling like I can’t NOT write. I’m trying not to question it.

1 comment:

Hank Nuwer said...

Joe: I wish I could find the source but I read Vonnegut thought he had not written his best book. Novelist Jim Harrison told me he had to constantly forgive himself for not writing as well as he knows he can. And of course harrison and Vonnegut are or were incredible wordsmiths. Hanker