clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On the Floor of a Hotel Bar

The title line of today's post comes from the song "I'm Flying North" by Thomas Dolby. Yea- I'm that old.

I feel like I'm on the floor of a hotel bar. Many of you genteel readers won't know with certainty the feeling of those filthy dirty tiles on the face; but, you can imagine. I have that sullen feeling at the moment.

I'm down there getting ready to stand up and have the patrons avert their eyes which is to say they're waiting for me to leave to stare at my back in disgust.

What is it about being on the floor of a hotel bar that is so utterly demeaning? Public failure of control and moderation is a magnification factor of 100 over our normal everyday lack of rational foresight. I think writing something you care about is damn near the same.

Putting it out there is pretty demeaning when you know - and we all know - that our writing has shortcomings.

That feeling of self-effacing and demeaning behavior is exactly what it is to be serious, bring your A game, and think that this time around you might have blown it. You might have lost those bits of yourself that made the effort worth a damn at the start.

I'm going down that alley now because I've got some stuff to stand behind. Thus, the little bit of library  expansion in the picture above to help with the last of the mechanical details of future success.

I worked hard at the writing for about eight years in a period when I was young and very full of myself. I had some of the flavor of success without finishing the meal. I wrote several stories, a play, and four novels. I was young and hungry and had something of a soul left I could put into my work. I was also desperately unhappy which for young writers seems to be a very helpful condition.

If you are under thirty, from a supportive family with members you actually enjoy seeing, feeding yourself and have a significant other whose dog you do not like better then that person - I don't want to  read your stuff. We'll talk about why your made-up angst and anxiety isn't worth a shit in a different post.

Back to now. I'm getting serious again. Serious means getting up at two AM to write down dialogue you've poured over in your head for an hour while lying in bed because you can't hold it in any longer. Serious is trying on emotion after emotion while all alone in a room to get the tone you want for a character's perspective. How can you say what the character is feeling if you are not feeling what the character is feeling?  You try on emotions and think about them.

Serious is taking the painful things in your life apart piece by piece, turning those pieces around, and putting them on the page even though they are the most demeaning, embarrassing  and dehumanizing experiences of your life. I differentiate painful from tragic.

Tragic is the person you loved most in your young life dying without you knowing they were that bad off. That's bloody tragic. Shakespeare twist of the knife tragic. It happens.

Painful is the conversation you had with them two years earlier when they were saying something you knew then was important and of value and then you intentionally ignored their wisdom because you were an ass. You have a chance later to change from the path you took simply because it was the one they didn't talk about and you don't. When they ask you how you're doing and if you are happy or content or feel successful you lie. That's painful.  Why did you do it?  Are you genetically an asshole? [ That's a real real gene. It's one of the most expressive known to science.] Doesn't really matter. The pain is however real and you can get some mileage off it - so you use it.

Crafting text where you are pushing the reticent character past their level of comfort is pretty self-effacing. There is a lot of you behind the page. It isn't you, but you've used the 'you' part to get it out.

 You make the character yearn, need, desire and then you hit them most in that very place they're not able to stand the internal conflict and you push and push forcing them to confront those bits they most hide from even themselves. Those stories have a real emotional toll and I think they're the ones we like most in literature. They aren't so much the plot as they are a seething ball of discomfort at every turn the character can take.

Writing that sort of story feels - when you are through - as if you are waking up on the floor of a hotel bar embarrassed and ashamed of your performance. Everyone there saw you. They all know you're getting up because you've been on the floor. You were so unimportant to them as to be just a spectacle to talk about on the ride to wherever they're going next.

Nevertheless, there you are unable to elucidate any explanation or justification and it's that inability to communicate that drives home the demeaning performance.

You have something to say that puts the whole evening in perspective and you can't speak clearly enough that anyone will listen. That's what it is to put your work out there thinking so much of it and knowing that it will come back because of your confused and obscured writing.

It isn't angst. It's the floor of a hotel bar. Now I have to stand up and stagger out.

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