Writers, like everyone else, struggle to escape their past. It could be in the form of memories or people or “stuff,” but we want to get away from it. Maybe because it reminds us of our failures, or lost hopes and dreams, or simply a period of life in which existence was truly miserable
But writers, to do their jobs, have to draw from something to put an honest sentence, paragraph and story to the page. That something is the stuff they most want to escape – demons that, although specific to them, are at the same time universal.
Demons make great copy.
Some demons caught up with me recently, at last bringing the phrase, “my wounds are open for the sake of art,” home to me in a way other than intellectual.
Although I’ve been a writer for many years, and can draw from my highs and lows, pain and pleasure, for the sake of a story as well as the next scribe – I’ve never really had that “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice” moment that Stevie Nicks writes about in her song “Gypsy.”
For a writer, it’s that moment she realizes she has a story to tell – not a story to entertain, or for use of escape. A story that sings like the angels.
But a story that’s going to require some bloodletting. Not a romance or a mystery or a horror novel, but a story that falls into that crazy narrow definition of “literary.” And it’s probably not going to have a happy ending. At the least, it’ll have an ambivalent one.
Bloodletting. Opening some wounds for the sake of art. Falling into a river of emotional blood that might carry me to a place so dark I’ll never escape it.
What people who write memoirs go through to visit the places of their lives no one should have to walk through twice.
It is (at least as far as the New York Times Book Review section goes) the thing that separates an artist from a hack. Or at least, a career novelist.
I’ve gone into the crypt of misery so deep before I almost didn’t return to the living. It was a dark place that I’ll have to return to, if I’m to do this thing.
This literary thing.
I don’t know if I can. I’m not sure I have the courage.
But it’s as if fate is whispering in my ear, and I can’t turn it away.
I’m at a fork in the road and it’s decision time. I’ll be a different person if I come out in one piece on the other side of this project.
I don’t know if I can survive the honesty.