Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bringing Out The Buried ...

At the best of times, I don't sleep well. Last night was one of those longer "twisting, turning, mind-racing endurance tests in the dark" kind of nights. Lately, I'm writing, and thinking about writing, like someone possessed. All too often in the deep of night, imagining myself inspired, I feel the need to get up and write down whatever phrase, plot twist, or quirky character trait has come to mind. I'm just so afraid I'll forget it all by morning! Thankfully, the saner voice, the "everything in moderation" and "Jesus, just go to sleep" voice is winning the stay put/get up battle. Thus far. I think if I start getting up in the middle of the night to write, my husband will tie me to our bed with thick ropes and sailors' knots, and not in a good way.

Speaking of writing and forgetting and not being able to sleep, I came home last night from the second session of Matthew Clark Davison's Writing Lab feeling wired as a lab rat on amphetamines (check out this amazing man/writer/instructor!) Thus I couldn't resist checking my emails for responses to a recent flurry of short story submissions. Oh who am I kidding? Even if I'd felt exhauted, had walked from one end of the city to the other to get home, cold, hungry, and footsore, I still would have dragged myself up all our stairs and checked my emails, because that's just how I am. Besides, I reasoned, one never knows when opportunity and good news might visit, right? Some editor somewhere might work late into the night responding to writers, an editor just as obsessed, possessed and sleep-depived as me, right? But alas nothing, zip, nada. Ah, well, I suppose no response is better than rejection. Hope remains, and meanwhile I get to continue to check my inbox an average of thirty times per hour which delights, entertains, and rewards me no end :-) As Howard Junker, Zyzzyva, writes on his rejection slips "onward!"

So, last night, lured to my writer's dungeon with its blinking PC in the corner by a shameless addiction to my email, I couldn't help but also write because, well again, that's just me. I returned to the exercise I'd started in Matthew's lab, an unexpected piece I'd written in such a rush that I had to rewrite the scrawl during the second writing break just to be able to read it aloud to my fellow writers. Recently, I read a poem by Lynda Hull about a red velvet jacket--maybe that's what inspired me, because despite the unlikliest of writing prompts (war, misremembering, recovered memories, and the overt and subtle versions of violence, all inspired by Ari Folman's much-hailed movie, Waltz With Bashir) I found myself writing about a mother and daughter and a black velvet skirt.

What most kept me awake last night was my surprise at where I started off from in the exercise and where I ended up. I began the piece with the daughter remembering herself as a young teen and her delight and gratitude when her mother gave-in to her pleading and bought her the much-wanted black velvet skirt. However, I ended the piece with the narrator revealing that the daughter's memories were flawed and the mother's gift of the black velvet skirt wasn't an act of kindness, but of manipulation. I don't know if I'll do any more with this piece. My sense for now is that it's not so much what I wrote that's worth keeping, but what I got out of writing it: a powerful reminder that with writing you never know where it's going to take you, or what it's going to pull out of you. That's what's so exciting (and scary) about art. That's why I can't help but keep doing it.

Now go outside. It's pretty out there. It's always nice and pretty out there if we just choose to see it that way. And just as soon as you can, go see Doubt or The Reader or Waltz with Bashir or any one of the great movies playing right now.

I went to see The Reader on Monday night and thought my heart would break. It definitely cracked.


  1. I'm pretty sure my husband would tie me to the bed if I felt the need to get up in the night and write! He already hates it when I'm on the computer until really late. Fortunately, the "Just go to sleep!!" voice usually wins out. :)

    Good luck with the story submissions!

  2. Interesting - that happens to me, too. I've started keeping a digital voice recorder near my bed when the thoughts start racing out of control. I've never slept well, but this at least keeps the thoughts in a place where I won't worry about them

  3. Margy, something that I've found helpful to help me sleep better (perhaps obvious), but I remind myself that I'm in bed to sleep, that tomorrow is another day and I can write, or do whatever, then ....

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. a.fortis,

    I'm glad the "go to sleep" voice wins out for you as it should :-) Intellectually, I know it's all about balance. In reality, it's a whole different story! The dark circles deepen ....

  5. Hi Ethel! Wow, this post speaks so much to me. I will check e-mail anywhere, anytime. At work, I can't check Yahoo so when I leave the house at 5 a.m. I know it's 12 hours until I'm home, able to check. Brutal!

    Thanks for your kind words about my stories. That meant a lot! David

  6. David,

    Welcome! And great to hear from you. Yes, I can imagine how brutal it is to have to wait 12 hours to check emails/responses to submissions, but I have to admit there would also be some relief for me and my poor tormented PC in that!