Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Glass Character: yearning

Do you know what it is to yearn?

Have you ever yearned, I mean really yearned?

Yearned for something you wanted so badly it scared you?

I write, not so much for a living but as a vocation, or devotion. Maybe even a covenant. I can't get away from it, it nags and drags at me, it will have me no matter what. Writers often have dry periods or times when they wonder if they will write again. And I've had them.

I've also had times when the desert suddenly flooded, the cracked earth dissolved into fertile soil and life sprang up, seemingly in seconds: abundant life, green, floral, almost prehistoric in its lushness.

You have to wait for it, for sure. No matter what the how-to-be-a-writer manuals tell you, it can't be forced. But then comes the next part. Real writers want to be published, because - logically - they want to share their stories. The storytellers of old did not sit by the fire alone, and if they had, we would have no myths, no fairy tales, maybe not even language as we know it now.

And oh how hard it is.

Just put out an ebook, everyone tells me. I could maybe figure out how to do it (did someone say prehistoric?), but how many readers would I have? The market is flooded with ebooks right now. There is no quality control that I know of: anything can be slapped up there, like a Facebook post. And that scares me. Might I get 200 readers? 300? . . . 20?

Would I be eligible (because hope springs eternal!) for the Giller, the Governor-General, the B. C. Writer's awards, and even the Booker? No, because it's a bloody ebook and, in spite of what everyone keeps telling me, not considered the equal of a paper book.

I've had paper books out twice, and though it didn't quite match up to my extravagant dreams of publishing, I felt proud of them and still do. You can't delete them, though you may have to go to the library to actually find one.

When I wrote about Harold Lloyd, I committed the unpardonable sin of falling in love with my subject. This is a bad thing to do. Maybe it makes people uncomfortable, I don't know. But I have that awful feeling right now of one of those drill-bits slowly penetrating my chest. A yearning, the way you'd yearn for someone who is dead, or a lover who has spurned you and moved on.

Summer is so beautiful right now, it took until mid-August to get here, and it will slip away in a couple more weeks. Meantime I can't forget about this. I want it so badly. And everyone, but everyone is trying to talk me out of my feelings. I guess you don't get to feel this way: or does it just make people uncomfortable?

When I fell into this novel, I was transported, and could not wait to get to the computer each day to see what would happen next. It was the most magical writing experience I have ever had. Now comes a kind of hangover. I feel cursed, sometimes, as if the thing I want most will always be just brushing my fingertips, like a balloon that bounces up and out of reach.

I've been told: if I don't care about it, then maybe it will happen. If I don't think about it, then maybe it will happen. This is magic penny thinking, also designed to make me stop doing this, stop stop stop. I am not much good at indifference, in spite of the fact that it accurately describes the atmosphere in which I grew up.

Harold, listen, I want to see you in print because you deserve it. You deserve to be a household name again. I am scrambling on the side of a mountain, losing ground, and something has been stuffed into my mouth.

"But writing should be its own reward! Can't you just enjoy the process?" What if someone had told that to Dickens, to Tolstoy, to Hemingway, to. . . all right, my work bears about as much resemblance to theirs as a lion to a mouse. But you get my drift. Don't you? Don't you?