Saturday, November 3, 2007


It is two or three in the morning and you are awakened with an idea that drives you first to the place where you keep a pile of legal pads. You watch the lines on the page as though waiting for an opening as the vision of the idea streams past you like an express train, bound out of your ken and your ability to get it down. Although you often carry pens with you, it seems to be a cosmic law that none are nearby at such moments or, if there are any at all, their ink has long since dried out. Miraculously now, there seems to be a pen that allows you to get the first few words down on the legal pad.

You have always had good starts, promising, intriguing first lines, literary nudges to the readers' rib. Hey, here it comes. But this time is as innocent of artifice as a martini is of vermouth; it is a chilled, fluid idea and you have no idea where it will take you much less do you have toothbrush or a change for the trip you are on.

You are scarcely a page in before your hand begins to rebel, to tense, to threaten to cramp. This requires the computer, fired up, ready.

Reluctantly, you abandon the legal pad and the ball-point pen, realizing that bad as it is, your typing is faster than handwriting. There is a save key, a save as function, luxuries the pen and legal pad did not have. It is not as though your typing is error free, simply that it is legible, saved, You will be looking at it later, wondering what you were as you wrote it, perhaps wondering who you were as you wrote it. Letters will be missing. Homophones will cause you to make choices later, when you begin to step back to look at what you have done.

For now, you are moving quickly ,running after the vision of it, aware that it is beginning to pull away from you. After a time, you begin to become more aware of surroundings, the time, your own growing sense of despair as it begins to pull so far in front of you that all you're aware of now is its growing distance, its determined motion forward, away, away from you.

You sink back in your chair, thinking perhaps you will pick up sight of it if you begin to look at what you've set down.

This is little help and you are reminded of lost loves, lost opportunities, ideas laughed or ridiculed away in that excessive hubris of youth where there was a new train coming in a few minutes. There were jokes then among your male friends. Man sitting in a bar motions the bartender over, points to a woman sitting toward the curve of bar near the juke box. See that lady over there? The bartender looks, nods. Well, if you see me starting to buy her drinks, I want you to cut me off, don't serve me any more because if I start hitting on her, I'll have to be pretty drunk.

Only that wasn't the joke; the joke was you being perfectly sober, so filled with stories you could barely sleep and so going after one you weren't particularly in love with was the sign of your hubris, your belief that you could make anything work.

You came to know the truth of that, but it took a while to find out, and no one cared.

You're up now with that same feeling that the story has gone home with someone else. Maybe you weren't fast enough. On the other had, maybe it will come back and you'll get more out of it. Maybe not.

And no one cares.

Often you are wrenched out of sleep by some idea, which is not so unusual because you have trained yourself to do that. You watch morning come on and maybe hear the paper being delivered and you think to cancel the subscription because The NewYork Times has given the neocons a free ride and nobody cares.

Maybe it is time for coffee, maybe not. The best you can do is wait it out to see if the story comes back again. There are a number of them out there, waiting. Some have been waiting for some serious time. If they come back, will you recognize them? Will you talk to them?

No one cares until they are completed and sent forth. Even then, many of the people who care want to know how much you were paid for them, and you say it doesn't matter, but somehow it does.

It is not bad out there, waiting to see if and when and how they will come back.

Sometimes is it good to read Cavafy or Neruda while you are waiting, sometimes even Hopkins of Bill Stafford; they all write as though they were Edward Hopper paintings come to life. A fair trade; you write as though you were you, come to life, as though you had a choice


Smiler said...

Sure is nice to know there are those rare and few people who DO care.

lettuce said...

i'm not a Writer - i just write sometimes - but i know this feeling / process and you describe it wonderfully.

i like writing by hand but so regret how quickly my muscles now seize up, driving me to the computer.

Anonymous said...

"... going after one you weren't particularly in love with was the sign of your hubris, your belief that you could make anything work." - you've nailed it here - can this/should this be corrected? - our vice is our virture - verture - is it bad to dredge up something from 15 years back and try to rework it? Do we do anything BUT? Wonderful provocative thought!

R.L. Bourges said...

yep - that's EXACTLY how it happens - complete with middle-of-the-night pen, computer and story receding in the mind...You sure make my trips to the broom closet whorthwhile, Shelly.