4.04.2003

The talk of the town is audible again.

Normally, the whispers were gone the moment his ears trained on them, little phantoms that taunted his imagination and stoked his paranoia. They escaped down brick alleyways and withdrew behind shuttered windows and car windows blurred over with a driving rain. They wallowed into the gutter, falling into oblivion the moment he reached for them. He pursued, following them to a public place, only to find that place empty and windblown and himself an audience to a statue.

Normally, he could not catch the gaze of other people; they were always turning away, or worse yet, watching him out of the corner of their eyes, offering him the ear to make eye contact with. He sustained his gaze on the objects that earned it, but they revealed nothing to him. Instead, the elaborate buildings and the brick facades, the rusted-out cars and red umbrellas, and the rainbow of oil reflecting back in a puddle told him he was small and unimportant. But now he heard otherwise.

Something had changed in him, or as he suspected, something in the outside world had mutated. A dead magpie smeared on the yellow line dividing the road, feathers quivering in the wind; a radial hub cap ground flat on one edge, smeared with a pungent, viscous oil, and propped up against a tarnished aluminum garbage can; a blue ribbon dangling from a yellow balloon, held back from higher skies beneath the eave on the fourth floor of an apartment building, waiting patiently to deflate and float to the concrete below; a car horn that gives one last upward shriek in its call before falling silent. He perceived all of these things in an instant.

When the lady in the grey overcoat whispered quickly to her companion that the mayor was going to clean the homeless people off the streets, he had no trouble hearing it.

4.01.2003

I've been writing again, in a manner most unlike my traditional approach.

As someone classically educated in writing, I believe very strongly in process. People who label themselves writers, and accept the affectations of one; who claim they do their best work here and there, and just do it "when they get the inspiration"; and who have no dedicated approach to writing and just use whatever materials are at hand; these folks are not writers. They are hacks. They are fakes, they and their ilk are the kind that give an art and its practitioners a bad name. Their approach is flawed, therefore the product is flawed.

Before tossing an angry retort my way, think for a moment about how you write: is it usually around the same time each day? Do you usually write long-hand, using a pencil on yellow legal pads? Do you twist up a joint and get high before getting down to business? Do you use some kind of typing device to get the words out faster? Do you require a certain location in your apartment, or a certain kind of music? Are there circumstances that, when not met, absolutely inhibit you from getting the job done? If your answer is yes, you've implicated a process for yourself.

Generally speaking, I cannot write anytime after noon. At least, I've often found what I write declines in quality after the lunch hour begins. I must write indoors, but no further than three feet from a window, preferably facing a window I can look out for a break or to search for details or metaphors. Writing longhand is painfully slow for me, especially when, in the advanced stages of writing, I can string multiple sentences together that, as a unit, are tight as a tire. Typewriters get the nod over computers since they lack the ever-meddling Backspace key, which interferes with forward progress more than you might think.

It is this forward progress that is undeniably the target of the writing process. Writing is hell, toil, and uncertainty. Only the most arrogant and talented writers never question what they've recently committed to paper, and unluckily for the rest of us, they're usually right. But if a writer can initiate the process every day and follow through for a couple of hours, eventually this will happen: in those couple of hours, maybe a half hour - a solid, continuous half hour - will involve nothing but brilliant words flowing from the writer's mind. All obstacles dissolve, and the particular medium - binary or pulp - seems designed only to give direct translation of the brainwaves. In those moments, there is no such thing as greater and lesser writers, only different ones. In those moments, nothing else in the world matters except the continued flow of language from the sentient, thinking mind.

It disappears, this sensation, and even an intermediate writer can recognize it coming and going. The hacks that only do it "when the inspiration strikes" will never, ever know it. Advanced writers will frequently experience it from the moment the process begins until they set down the pen or put the computer to sleep.

I mention all of this to underscore the significance of what I've recently been doing. Lately, I write longhand, either on the floor indoors or on the ground outside, in a blue, hard-cover sketchbook I picked up on sale at Border's books a week ago. I write in the mornings and afternoons, in line for film screenings, and late at night, when I've got an itch I need to scratch. I scribble a couple of sentences during lunch at work, or when I leave and hop in my car. Before I turn the key in the ignition, I'll capture that thought about the brown rabbit prancing suspiciously at the edge of the lawn when the shattering roar of the lawn mower bursts from the dark garage.

I want to get back to the typewriter before the window. Inside my belly, a fire smolders, waiting for the early pot of coffee and the low, unobtrusive music hanging gently in the air while, letter-by-letter, I pound the words onto paper. Yet for now, while I'm just warming up to the idea that I can write again; slowly realizing that it doesn't have to be this-or-that, that I can have both; lumbering toward those moments where I am no longer a lesser writer, just a different one; in this time, it feels pretty darn good, like uncovering an old, long-forgotten ball glove, or like the first red-winged blackbird zipping through the air after a long, cold, and brown winter.

After a drought and a painful recession, the future has many wonderful things in store. Check back for updates.