Oh, friends. You should chastise me. You really should. I was on top of things for a while there, getting back into a good routine of writing my thousand-word minimum every day, and then…
I fell off the wagon.
There’s something I need to explain to you about writing, and about writers in general: I can’t exactly explain why (although I am about to try), but writing seems to be an almost intrinsically anxious process. I know very few writers who do not doubt themselves, who do not doubt their writing, who do not occasionally hate every single word they’ve written. Who do not sit down to write, pump out a thousand or two thousand words, then look at it in utter disgust an hour later, and delete the whole thing.
Somewhere out there, I suppose, there are writers who do not go through this. Who do not have the experience of writing as something that inevitably brings up and out the darker sides of themselves and expose it to the harsh light of conscious awareness.
In that regard, I am no different.
And so what I experience is not “writer’s block,” per se; what I always experience is “writer’s avoidance.” Once I start to write, I don’t stop. I can easily write a thousand words in an hour. And finding an hour? Yes, it’s hard in this busy modern life of ours, but it’s not impossible. Yet actually doing it… Actually sitting down for that hour, turning off the Internet, silencing the cell phone, and writing… I don’t know. Some days, I don’t seem to be able to do it.
So Anika lingers. She has been the most difficult story I have ever written, because as a narrator she winds back and forth between the present and the past, between her inner monologue and outer dialogue, between her own manufactured crisis of conscience and reality. In other words, she’s a lot like all of us. Or… gulp, maybe a lot like me.
And maybe that’s why I avoid her? (I’ve switched from talking to you to talking to myself, now, friends.) Maybe I avoid her because she’s telling the story of her midlife crisis, and it is obvious, to the handful of people who know me really really well, that “midlife crisis” is precisely the term that should be used to describe the current period of my own life. So perhaps Anika’s story strikes too close to home, which means it’s not her story that I hesitate to finish, but my own.
See? Do you see how writing is deep therapy for us weird writer-types? Self-realizations abound through this unusual human process of making the formless mind manifest through letters and language.
And now for something completely different
Anyway, my friends, I close with something completely (but not exactly) unrelated: a podcast. I have long been a fan of This American Life, which is my all-time favorite radio program. Recently, a producer of TAL, Brian Reed, put out another story, called S Town. From halfway through the first episode, I recognized in S Town MY town. The small, backwoods, forgotten Georgia town that I grew up with. “Halfway between Atlanta and the Alabama state line,” is what I used to tell people. S Town sounds like a William Faulkner novel, like a Flannery O’Conner short story. S Town sounds like home.
And while Anika’s story lingers and Anika demands attention of me, I’ve been quietly, in the background, giving my attention to another story, one that continues to percolate in the back of my mind: Apart. Apart is going to be a love story and a ghost story, but it’s also going to be my Ode to the South. My ode to a land that never wanted me and never asked for an ode.
But I can’t help myself. There’s a line in the podcast S Town that goes — and I’m not going to get it right, so I’m just paraphrasing — “underneath the veneer of polite society is an undercurrent of foreboding.” I’m surprised that a half-Italian, half-Russian Jew from New York City could get it right, but that’s exactly what the Deep South feels like. And I’m not talking about the New South, people — I’m not talking about Atlanta and Charlotte and the more enlightened pockets of Birmingham. I’m talking about the real South. The South that’s still every bit as much a Faulkner tale as it always was.
Anyway — as always, I ramble. If you want to see what my next novel (after Anika, who’s annoyed her story isn’t finished yet) is going to sound like and feel like, go listen to S Town. And if you’re from the South, you’ll find S Town to be like the train wreck / abusive parent that your hometown already is — you can’t help but love it, even as you hate it.