Sunday, March 20, 2005

Confessions of a Closet Fiction Writer

Today something dreadful happened. Today, without so much as an inkling, I very nearly wrote fiction! I don’t know how it happened. I really don’t! I wasn’t paying attention. I normally don’t do things like this.

It happened one evening after dinner when I settled down to that quiet place – you know – that place inside where it gets real still and you can hear everything inside you that is going on; the place where all my poetry comes from. Then it happened. I can’t imagine how! I was writing when suddenly I noticed what looked like two eyes and a prominent nose pressed up against the clear plastic of my BIC plastic ballpoint. I was surprised. I mean, I was not accustomed to people in my pen where ink was supposed to be.

As I wrote an even stranger thing happened. This person or whatever it was that was trapped inside the barrel of my pen, squeezed himself out through the tip of the pen and before I could say, “Great Walt Whitman preserve us”, there before me was a character: a real honest to goodness fictional character. It was a middle-aged man with balding head who wore the look of desperation like a wrinkled and ill-fitted suit. He smelled of cigarettes with just a trace scent of some morning shot – drambuie or kalhua – something that in the shadowy lamplight of my room smelled like last night.

This character just sat there on the snowy white page, blinking, first left, then right as if he did not know where he was. There was an awkward silence. I couldn’t say a word I was so stunned! I knew I was miles away from that place where I grew my poetry, but where was I?

I started to write some more hoping though not really believing, that this was just an anomaly. I held this deep fear that this portended some sort of gravitational pull toward the absurd and that I was powerless to stop it.

Then just as before, my eye was caught by another set of eyes looking at me from the barrel of the pen. I panicked this time. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “Let us go then you and / Underneath the spreading sky”. I opened one eye, but the eyes in the pen just glared up at me. I quickly snapped my one eye closed and continued: “Like a patient etherized on a table…” Surely if there was anyone who could bring me back to someplace devoid of personality, it would be Eliot, I thought. But it was no use.

I opened my eyes and there they were: frantic eyes, bloodshot eyes, eyes that spoke to a different part of my artistic brain. Why I could almost hear the other neurons snapping the way a heater that has not been used for a long time clicks when it is turned on for the very first time of the heating season.

I took the pen in both hands and rolled it fiercely back and forth hoping it would shake free whatever demons possessed it. It was no use though The eyes were still there only now they were dizzy and crossed from all the spinning.

I wrote again anyway. I would not let this dementia prevent my sweet, gentle poetry from bubbling up. Where had my poetry gone I wondered? Had someone absconded with it? Or maybe I just misplaced it, being as I am so busy lately. Perhaps my poetry just got fed up and left. Maybe, I thought, I was simply engaging in some sort of shared consciousness flashback of experiences I never had? I mean, I never did hallucinogens but people I know have. LSD, I’ve learned, is actually trapped in the human spinal chord for many years after the person stops taking it. Maybe, if this idea of a shared collective consciousness is true, maybe I am experiencing someone else’s flashback. The thought though amusing, didn’t really comfort me much.

As I continued writing, another character slid out on to the page. This time it was a woman. She had frizzy, stringy hair and large overblown blotchy red face. She wore much more lipstick than she should have ever been allowed to. Her eyes were angry and while she didn’t say a word, I could tell she was reproaching me. But something about her was familiar. I could not put my finger on it, but there was a quality, something I could not articulate that made me feel this woman and I knew each other.

I pondered this when it shot through my head like a lightning bolt. This was my ex-wife. She did not really look like my ex-wife (well, except for the lipstick: that woman found shades of lipstick that would make hookers blush!) but still, I somehow knew it was her.

“Odd,” I thought to myself. “I didn’t know that I was still carrying around all this anger for her after all these years.” I made a note to bring this up with my therapist at my next session.

Yes, it was my ex-wife all right, couched craftily amid some cosmetic changes of dress and body shape and hair. It was the eyes that gave her away, always the eyes. “My God”, I thought, “I am starting to think like a fiction writer!”

So my “ex” has been in there all this time and I had no idea! I didn’t know what to make of that: first the middle-aged man, then this. What was next? I was afraid to think who else might be in there, thinking it was all coming from the pen but all the while, really knowing better.

Over the course of the next few hours several more characters were extruded through the tip of my pen and onto the page: there was a young girl with skinned knees wearing a party dress, a black blind blues singer with a strong heroin addiction, a sexy movie star who was tired of being type cast as a sex kitten and longed to be a real theater actor. All of these people squeezed themselves out onto the paper and each one had whole histories with which I became intimately familiar. They were born from something in my past and I tried to match the personality up with something in my past, but I could not do it completely.

Before long, I had half a journal written filled with these characters and their traits, their foibles and character flaws, their habits and idiosyncracies: I had captured them all as character studies in writing.

Finally, the character who was my ex-wife broke the silence and spoke. “Well?” she said in that sharp tire screeching sort of voice I remember (I think I even winced in a Pavlovian response).

“Well what?” I said.

“Well, what do we do?”

“Do?” I was sure I was crazy now. In the back of my mind I so wanted my poetry back. Never has a poem so much as spoken to me. Not once.

“You got us here – now what do we do?” she said.

“Well…” I drew the response out hoping to buy some time. “Truth is, see, I don’t write fiction. This is just some sort of mistake.”

My ex-wife’s eyes grew even angrier.

“See, I can’t write plot lines,” I explained in a vain attempt to explain away my fiction writing shortcomings. “I think up these great characters and then, I don’t know what to do with them.”

My ex-wife’s face changed. The contours of her cheeks actually went into a near smile.

“You know, dearie,” she began sweetly. “ That construction worker over there that you dreamed up? The one with no shirt on and really short shorts? You could write a part for him and me if you like. He’s kinda cute.”

I looked over at the Herculean Adonis of a construction worker I had created, with broad shoulders and tight washboard abs, and long flowing hair.

“Yeah,” I said, “ I need to talk to my therapist about him too.”

I explained for an hour how I could not write plots; how I was sorry but maybe I could integrate some of these characters into poems – if only my poetry would come back. She didn’t like that at all. None of them did. They didn’t want to be part of no stinking poem.

They were going to look for a writer with some cojones, a real writer’s writer they said. Not one of these foo-foo, woo-woo, new age, pot-smoking, aging hippy types. "Where was Hemmingway when you need him?" they said, hard drinking, womanizing misogynistic S.O.B that he was.

“Great. Just great. Now I have my own characters questioning my masculinity,” I thought.

They left in a huff, all of them, and I was sitting alone. Over the next few weeks I played with story lines. I even took out some books from the library and attended workshops about how to write fiction. I read once that sometimes a writer had to do something mean to a character even a beloved character, so I did. I did something really mean to a character that I loved most of all. I was in bed for a week with depression.

This fiction thing? I get way too invested emotionally. It’s hard on my body and my soul. I don’t know how people do it. My poetry eventually returned after being on brief hiatus. She told me she was hobnobbing with some musicians in the Bahamas. ( Incidentally, it really is better in the Bahamas, she told me.)

Soon, my poetry and I were making and speaking the language of the universe unseen, just like before. But someday, someday I just might look up one of those characters again and start in earnest to write fiction for real. Someday.

M C Biegner


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