Wednesday, June 17, 2009
When I showed one of my brothers what I wrote for Monday’s blog post, he said “Gee, I guess girls can have messy lives, too. Who'd a thought!” He also said he liked the ending, about the revising and editing stages. “Time to clean up the copy.” His own copy looks pretty clean to me. I see his editorial work in his dry humor, in the wise kind of father he is, and in the durability of his one and only marriage.
I very much like the notion of cleaning up life’s copy, and the more I think about it, the more I think most of us, writers and nonwriters alike, treat the text of our lives the way novelists treat their fiction—making things up, changing our stories, creating subtexts we’re not even aware of.
To live is to create fictions. In nearly everything we do—meet crises, sustain relationships, take on new challenges—we are forced to rely heavily on memory to inform and instruct us, even though memory is a proven liar, a notorious manipulator of reality for the sake of convenience and self-image. We try to see ourselves in others, too, and they may send back no truer images than a funhouse mirror. Add to that our preferred angles of view on important people and events—views that we frame like camera shots, leaving out the ugly parts. And then there’s everything that never makes it from our subconscious mind to our functioning awareness. No matter how deliberately we search for truth and try to act on it, our subconscious is always there, greedily or needily keeping things from us.
Nevertheless, we can approach truth, by degrees. Some kind of intuitive calculus lets us do this the way a mathematical calculus lets us find the area under a curve. Little by little, by tiny calculations and accumulated experience, we learn to recognize authenticity and develop it in ourselves and our writing.
This could be why I sometimes find myself marking STET where once I’d have written DELE. Though my text will always need work, I begin to reject my assumption that because I didn’t plan well, I didn’t execute anything of importance.
Editing is such a left brain activity, so neatly separated from the writing itself. Right? The left side plans, analyzes, and comprehends; the right creates, intuits, and apprehends. But what about the corpus callosum, the bridge between the two? I think I was stuck on that bridge for a long time, held fast in crossfire from both sides—in a manner of speaking. I don’t really know how the corpus callosum works. If it neither thinks nor creates, then perhaps its role is to generate lightning strikes, brilliant, wordless flashes that illuminate otherwise dark territory. Only connect. Isn’t this how we do it, in flashes?
What I once thought of as mindlessness has actually been full of flashes—connections and insights that come without language or thought. They suddenly just are, where an instant before, they were not. What I’ve tended to see as a lack of discipline and productivity just might have been a necessarily long gestation required by my particular nature, psyche, and circumstances. It’s possible I’ve needed all these decades to be able to write at all—to cross the corpus callosum freely instead of just standing there, tangled in my own ganglia.
All this imagery is important. I use it because the truth is too elusive, and metaphor lets me approach this sly creature a little from the side before it startles and runs off. The thing is, I am falling in love with its skittishness and am very happy in the dappled light that camouflages it. I become a patient stalker and am rewarded now and then with a glimpse of something real and true. If truth were just there, tame and for the taking, there would be no need to search, no thrill of discovery, no flashes.
So there really is no dividing line between life and art—or between left and right. Even in our own brains, there is only the illusion of a boundary separating one function from another. Everything is plastic, fluid, connected. Which is exactly what writing demands from us—or maybe I should just say, from me. We all have our unique approach to writing and truth and our own ideas as to their mysterious source.