Tuesday, December 14, 2010

crisis of conscience.

I haven't been writing lately. The stories I've been working on for the last few months have crept into my actual life in a way I didn't think was possible, and I'm finding myself at an impasse. For a long time, I was writing myself into absolutely everything I could. I started writing things about my grandma, making up entire alternative histories as it suited my purposes (no, I don't really know what that purposes were yet). I wrote stories about how I would deal with someone if our paths crossed. I split myself in two and told both of our stories. I've taken actual women and ripped them from a ten second conversation and thrust them into not only a detailed meeting, but a follow-up. But now, when I want to write fiction, I'm not entirely sure what to do with that.

I had an idea for a story today about two people in a relationship (what a plot stretch for me!). They're both faithful to each other except when their most recent ex-flames are in town. It's the idea of one of the characters and it's agreed to, with some quiet resentment, by the other. Not a revolutionary story, nothing not already done by Rick Moody or Jay McInerney or countless others. Just thought it could be interesting and wanted to see where it came out.

But the struggle comes from assigning genders to these two characters. I don't know if I can write (or try to write, anyway) the one that comes up with the idea of conditional polyamory as a man because I don't want people to assume that this is something that I want, an assumption that, due to my constant self-insertion into my own work, is completely reasonable.

But I also don't want to make the originator of that idea a woman because I don't want people to think that I think that that's something that only a woman would do. But at the same time, isn't it equally unfair to assume that a woman couldn't think of that? Isn't portraying people as people, rather than as idealized (or denigrated) embodiments of their own gender, the responsibility of anyone that writes anything?

I'm facing a similar problem on a much larger scale in the longer-form thing I've been trying to outline for a long time. I was treated like stale shit by someone I cared for very deeply, and God/The Universe/Gaia/whatever assigned so much thematic irony to the entire tale that I felt as though cosmic forces had placed a novel on a silver spoon and demanded I corroborate their story on paper. And for a while, I was so close to the situation that it was difficult to know what was self-pity masking itself as righteousness and what was truly awful about the actual situation. Now that there's been some distance between me and it, the dust has settled and it's clear what really happened.

But if I write the character representing me precisely as the situation developed, it would come off as unrealistic; few people are capable of acting as stupidly as I did, to the extent that it would be difficult to believe that someone would be such an obliviously idealistic dumbass. Then again, that's sorta part of the story, isn't it? That build-up, that sponge-like absorption of emotional abuse needs to be there to make the resolution that much more powerful, right? Peaks and valleys and what have you?

I don't know. And this is something that I've thought about a lot lately, but tonight, when I was watching Louie on Meg's computer, listening to the tip of her pencil mar itself against her notebook as she prepared for Wednesday's final, hearing the dog snore deep, septum-deviated breaths at the foot of the bed, the garish florescent light reflecting softly off of her long red hair, I thought of all the other things in my life that are a lot more important to me than some stupid story about how cruel small people are capable of being when they realize the depths to which they're capable of sinking.

Because I have a really, really amazing life.

It's a really incredible feeling to go through a complete shipwreck, wake up a year later, and see what the cosmic scales of karma have blessed you with for your trouble.

I wonder what furniture I'll make this Christmas.


Sarah said...

I like your writing a lot. I really really do. I won't lie and say that I don't imagine some of your fiction to be YOU, but then again, I always have to remind myself to separate the author from the "I, Me, Mine." I completely agree with what Westover said (on Facebook, of course). I think you could (and should) develop your ideas/experiences into stories, novels, poems, or whatever, and screw assumptions. You have a great style, and I'd love to see you develop it and create! How awesome is it gonna be... I can't wait to walk into Borders and pick up the latest by Andy Sherwin.

Me said...

i need a shelf. you should paint "continental" on the side, and it can be a continental shelf.

Claire Valene Bagley said...

Happy Andy is the best Andy

ashley said...

Your blog always makes me happy.

I think you raise some interesting questions about writing and the writer's place in his/her own work. I religiously follow the creed, "The author is dead." I think you should be able to write what you want, regardless of how it might make you as the author seem. Because your identity as the author is not wrapped up in the identities of your characters (or at least, no one should assume that, but perhaps many do anyway).