Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It Spills Out

I was five when my cousin Jimmy drowned in the creek behind our grandmother's house. My parents had a fierce argument about whether or not I was old enough to go to the funeral; it was ended when my father hissed that I wouldn't understand if I couldn't see the body for myself.

Two days later, wearing a stiff white dress and a bow in my dark hair, I stood looking down my dead cousin. It was the only time I'd ever seen him wearing a suit, and not wearing an impish smile.

Two years older than me, Jimmy had been leading me into trouble as soon as I could walk. My parents said it had been a blessing that I hadn't been with him that day, or the family would've been burying two children. Not "might have," but a firm declaration, which showed their disdain for my cousin's leadership even as they said not to speak ill of the dead.

After the funeral, I didn't see Jimmy again until Thanksgiving.

Back in 2000 I wrote an essay for a defunct non-fiction site, Thinkstream, called "Write Like Love." The point of the essay was to compare how it feels to be in love with how it feels to be in the thrall of a new story. All these years later, I still think that the dreamy surreal feelings are quite similar; in both cases you obsess to the point of distraction and feel filled up possibility. Not that I'm currently in love - I'm just suffering from a moderate and unwise infatuation. Nor at this very moment am I enthralled by any particular story, though I'd like to be.

Instead of rehashing that, I want to talk about the opening of this entry. I was minding my business on Saturday afternoon, just listening to music, when I needed to grab a pen because the above had suddenly taken up residence in my head. I do know what it is - it's a plot that's been bouncing around my head for years, about death being another place rather than a state of being. This fragment is yet another of my brain's insistent attempts to put word to page. I dutifully wrote this sketch down, but I'm not sure that I'll be paying it much attention, because I don't even know anything about the narrator. Not even her name.

It seems wiser to instead return to Islene (age 35, distant descendant of Hypnos, God of Dreams) and Jared (nearly age 30, distant descendant of Epiales, demon-God of Nightmares) and finally give their story the last third it's been missing for what feels like forever. When I started that story two and a half years ago, I thought it would eventually end, not be hung up at word 54,441 - for those of you wondering the average page of a novel is 250 words. They're supposed to save their sons, and end up together after defeating Gods with mere human determination, yet they linger. Starting a new story seems like it will take me even farther from them...

I have been writing fiction since I was six years old. In all this time it never occurred to me until this weekend to wonder what it must be like not to have stories living in your head. Would it be as awful as my gut insists, or would it be a relief not to have to deal with creativity that demands an outlet now now now? My instincts tip towards the former. Though writing has provided me with many frustrations over the years, I don't know if I'd be the same person without the stories, both those victoriously or half-heartedly completed, and the ones who were snuffed out as mere sparks. I suppose that if I'd never picked up a pencil for the first time and wrote about girls on islands with monkeys or animals with mixed up voices I might never know what I was missing, but I can't help think that a lack of stories would lead to some sort of emptiness inside, even if I didn't know how to fill it.

"It takes a lot of desperation to make a move ." - Malcolm Middleton, A Brighter Beat

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