Thursday, March 26, 2015

The White Expanse

This piece blew us all away in class. 

It's very tricky to lean into a full-on metaphorical image like this. Though Tod said it happened without his thinking about it, and without planning, his practice has allowed him to stay very close to surprising connections. He says he didn't even realize it was him until teh part about "the other members of his writing group." 

The imposter syndrome - feeling a fraud is well-depicted here. Also, the more nuanced but super tricky feeling that anything we do well must be cheating, not worth reading. If the writing comes easily, if, for instance, we build fictional worlds easily with barely any effort, then that must be bad writing, or we are just tricking everyone into thinking we are a good writer.

How to overcome this? Practice. Regular and compassionate. Consistent. And companionship.

Tod's writing:

He sprung into the white open expanse of his blank notebook page as if he was diving into a swimming pool of milk.  When he surfaced, breathless, blinking away the liquid pearls from his eyelashes, he was astonished to find that he’d written an entire story.
            The story was about a man who wrote stories, but hadn’t always been able to do so because the stories got stuck on their way out, they spoke in languages the man didn’t understand, so he didn’t know how to write them down, how to spell them.  It was a matter that came before the actual craft of writing itself, because he had to learn the language the stories were speaking.

            For a while, he got around this difficulty by writing stories in a made-up language of his own that was just different enough, just intoned with a flavor of the exotic, that it passed as a real language among the other members of his writing group.  They believed the man was on to something, that he had tapped into some important new voice, and they were happy to listen to his stories even if they weren’t always sure what he was writing about. 
            The man felt a fraud for this, and punished himself for it in odd ways, such as writing strange and beautiful lines that earned him gasping praise from the others, when he knew deep within himself that he didn’t deserve it.  The man was actually wrong and his friends were right, but that story took a long time to write itself out in the man’s notebook.  But the man played along.
            Some mornings the white paper of his notebook had a resistant skin, like the little vinyl-ish layer on top of a bowl of pudding.  He had to poke at it with the tip of his pen and peel it back to be able to write anything.  And then the pudding beneath the skin would be lumpy and yielding, often unable to sustain the shape of the words and thoughts that were placed upon it. 
            Other days the notebook page would be like a still sea in a fog bank, unable to bear the weight of even the faintest beginning of a story, which would slip beneath the surface and disappear, leaving only the faintest ring of ripples to show that a story had even begun to be dreamed. 
            And then, rarely, the page would open up like a great maw, the hungry white mouth of some hunted leviathan, and swallow the first words of a story along with a good chunk of the writer’s hand and arm, still clutching its twitching pen.
            These experiences frightened the man, but they didn’t keep him from writing.  In a strange way, they fortified him, for the process of writing became a succession of stories in their own write [sic] upon which he could reflect.
            Sometimes wild dogs came in motley packs to circle the white pool of his notebook page.  They’d skulk warily along the spiral binding, sneak closer in the black shadow of the cardboard covers, and then, one by one, kneel and sip from the milky pool.  He’d watch, holding his breath, not daring to move, as their lithe, hairy forms emerged from the shadows, sipped and withdrew.  And when they were gone, he’d make little sketches of them where he was supposed to be writing words, an attempt to capture something of the poignant darkness they carried with them, and nourished within their bodies with sips of milk.
            On occasion, other animals came to drink from the pool of his open notebook.  Large elephantine shapes, slow-moving and ponderous, appeared.  They were eyeless, earless, but moved with a patient intelligence.  They’d step gently onto the page, testing the waters, then gradually submerge until the vast humps of their backs disappeared beneath the alabaster surface with but faint ripples.  It was a very odd thing, thought the man, that these large beasts never resurfaced, and he could only marvel at where they might have gone, these beasts that surrendered themselves to the white darkness of his blank pages.
            Eventually, the wild dogs approached less furtively, and their thick wooly pelts slimmed to a softer touch, their eyes lost their fiery gaze and they began to look directly at the man where he lay hidden, as if they’d known he was there all the time.  Their breaths never lost the stink of raw meat, of bones cracked for their marrow, but they eventually let the man reach out and touch them as they passed, as they filed in a line to the shore of the notebook, and they turned their heads as they sipped and gave slight nods of assent at the scratchings of his pen.

Tod Highsmith

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