In the quiet

Lordy. My blog self apparently is the Tortoise, who in addition to her notoriously slow gait also has misplaced her map and her glasses and, alas, a shoe. Thus she keeps walking in circles, bumping into trees and lampposts, her big toe sticking like a snuffling mole out of a hole in her striped sock.

Oh, who am I kidding? This is also my self-self.

School started back, and in my first-week-back stupor (i.e., me gazing out at my classes and asking, “What are you all doing here?”), I asked my creative writing students to introduce themselves and tell me “the color of their writing.” What the? Poor things. They humored me, though. They’re a colorful bunch, all black, gray, iridescent, neon orange, the blue of the blue in the deep spots of the ocean. In trying to answer this question for myself, I managed to blurt out something about wanting my fiction to be the color of fire, the kind that burns in the mind’s eye long after the flame goes out. Or something.

The truth is that right now, my fiction-writing feels … colorless. Not drab, or transparent, just … without color. I sense that this pigment-crisis is because I am too removed from it. Over the semester, I poke here and there at this blog to keep the fingers warm, I try to edit and revise, I mess around with poems, but I do not have time to get quiet, which is the state that I most associate with writing fiction. That quiet place is about not thinking, about shutting off the active mind — the part that wants to plan, prep, solve problems, stew, fret, question, answer. One of Richard Bausch’s ten writing tenets  is that fiction writers should “tap into a part [of themselves] closest to the dreaming side.” Flannery O’Connor called it a “certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.” So a dreamy stupidity. When I get quiet, I peer out windows, gape at the sky and trees and streetlamps. I walk without aim, kick a rock or two. In the quiet, I am preparing myself for the work of writing, of listening for the story, the character, the stakes, the line, the word. When I am there in the quiet, I wake with the story near to the surface, its colors hot at the back of my eyes.

I won’t be able to get really dreamy-stupid till May, but in the interim, I am going to try to take moments (like today) where I at least bring the chatter down to a dull roar, in hopes that maybe I’ll see the flame flicker. Maybe I’ll keep the dying embers from going completely cold. It’s going to take time and work to get the whole thing going again: gather kindling (certain to be damp; probably the Tortoise’s fault), wad up some paper, blow gently, whisper c’mon, c’mon, c’mon to the little spark that tries to catch.

That spark. It lights me up from the inside.

On a final note: Happy 2012, and Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s somewhat strange for me to realize that I live in a state where King and so many others fought on the ground for justice, that the history I read about is right down the road. Two must-see places on my radar: the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Maya Lin-designed Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.

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2 comments

  1. I found your blog after reading your story, “When are You Coming Home?” in Blackbird. I really enjoyed it. The characters were so well drawn, and you included the most wonderful little details. It was truly a pleasure to read.

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