Broken Ice

It’s February. February always gets to me and this year I think it’s gotten to everybody. For my part I’ve spent the last week or so ruminating over the realization that it’s vulnerable to hand my work off to someone else for feedback, to let it out of my control. As I face a second revision of my novel, I’m suddenly very aware that I don’t quite take naturally to creative collaboration, that when doing what I love, I like to work alone.

Then this morning, I had a library shift. Around noon I wheeled a cart out from behind the circulation desk to shelve some books and saw movement out in the garden. Regent’s library is underground and to the west there are tall sliding windows that face onto a small rectangular reflective pool and three sharp tiers of a much-beloved vegetable garden which lead up to street level. I haven’t seen a human being in that space in months. Yet before my eyes were three boys scrambling down the ladders which lead from one tier to another, leaping like monkeys, clearly drawn by the lure of the icy pool below. One of them immediately swept up an eight or ten foot garden stake which lay unused. Then they saw me standing a few yards away and all three froze, the smallest with the stake poised above the pool. 

The boys stared at the librarian lady and I stared back. For the briefest of moments I contemplated rapping on the glass and telling them off which was clearly what they expected, but then sanity prevailed. They were hoodlums certainly, but small ones—the oldest was no more than thirteen. And besides, I understood. I understood in the depths of my soul what they had come to do. It’s been colder than usual for Vancouver-winter the last few days, and every time I’ve walked past those windows I too have found that dull, wrinkled ice enticing. How thick is it really? I wonder. Surely paper thin… But what if it was thick enough to crunch when broken? What if it could take the weight of a leaf, a stick, a toe? And imagine how a stomp would do it in…

So with a nod of respectful approval, I turned my back and pushed away my cart of books as the boys got down to work, though I desperately wanted to stay and watch. In the next few minutes, I passed by as often as I could, praying they would not get caught by anyone else. But things are quiet here still and no one else materialised. Best of all, the ice was thicker and putting up more of a fight than expected—they were only able to make cracks and gouges, no matter what weapons they used to attack it. For some reason its hardiness delighted me. On my third pass by I expected at least one would have gained the courage to step out and test the water with his own weight but instead I saw only the disappearing heels of the smallest as he climbed the highest garden ladder, the long stake still in tow. I stopped again and gazed out over the garden, mourning their absence and wondered idly if they would carry that huge garden stake all the way down Wesbrook Mall. 

And then, up above at ground level, the tip of the wood stake appeared hesitantly over one of the railings. I grinned. Oh, how I had underestimated my friends. They knew physics. They knew about gravity. There was a thump and a clatter as it fell. 

They did not return to retrieve it. Accepting, I think, of the failure of their venture, they left the stake nestled on ice which was still only just cracked, a testament to a valiant, collaborative attempt at joyful destruction. Still smiling, I went to find a pen to take notes.

Scope for the Imagination

I got the first dose of the covid vaccine last week. My sister told me the day before that I needed to take a selfie at the exact moment I got the shot and post it on every social media channel immediately, so that people would know. I told her I absolutely wouldn’t. But I am writing this blog entry, so, you know…

For many people the vaccine symbolizes hope—hope for health and light and a return to normalcy—and I do think there is truth to that, but over the last few days I’ve found myself thinking not about how this will change things going forward but about the actual experience of getting vaccinated.

This pandemic was hard and then we got used to it and now, it seems, it has gotten hard again. Here in BC, we’ve been in the grey time of the year for months now, and restrictions are such that, with the exception of those we live with, we can only see one another one at a time, out in the cold rain. Classes are still entirely online. We know things will get better, but we can’t be certain when, and there is no way to mark the future, to make definite plans for joy. We have only the huddled, breath-holding present. There doesn’t seem to be much of Anne Shirley’s fabled “scope for the imagination” just about now. 

I know some people are flatly afraid to hope at this point because they can’t bear to be disappointed, and pessimism feels safe. I’m typically in the opposite camp. I can’t bear not to hope, because otherwise how would I manage to get up in the morning into each new day? Yet recently, with the way everything has felt hemmed in to this current sodden moment, my realist streak has been making its presence felt and I can sympathize with the pessimists in our midst. I remind myself more often than is necessary how long it will take to distribute this vaccine, how much longer after that before people feel safe.

Last Thursday morning my appointment was at 9:20 at the spinal cord clinic at VGH. I briefly waited in one of two lines into a parking lot, then was directed around the corner between tall hospital buildings with foliage pasted on the side and waited in another line for longer. At each checkpoint I was asked which dose I was getting and where I worked (they’re mainly vaccinating care home workers and other health professionals at this point). I noticed that some other people waiting were clutching important-looking yellow slips for dear life, and I wondered what they meant and whether I ought to have one. 

Once I got inside I traded my cloth mask for a medical one and after again confirming where I worked, but still not being asked for ID, I was directed to a table where a woman politely introduced herself, asked me the various screening questions which we’re all so used to by now, and had me fill out a form. When I was finished she handed me a copy of the form, which turned out to be the precious yellow slip, and sent me on to a nurse who also politely introduced herself before asking me a couple questions about my allergies. I’ll freely confess that I don’t remember either of their names but I still liked that they told them to me.

Then she gave me the shot, which ached more than it stung. After, she told me to “follow the orange wall” (a phrase I really liked for some reason) to the after-care room where I would sit for fifteen minutes to make sure I didn’t die. (That’s not quite the way she put it, but I inferred.) The room was populated by a crowd of thirty or forty distanced chairs, with two bored (but still polite) nurses observing in the corner. We were our own time-keepers. Some people chatted, but most sat still and silent, like obedient children waiting at the designated meeting spot on a family day out, coats on and bags clutched on our laps. I was tempted to leave early, but I sat out my full time, because that’s what you do.

Then I left the building cradling the yellow slip which would enable me to get my second dose, and walked back to the hospital parking deck, which is miraculously free to everyone for an unspecified period of time. And I drove home. Getting the vaccine felt normal, which is not what I expected, but so it goes. 

Yet, like I said, I keep thinking about it, about how normal-and-not-normal it was. How normal-and-not-normal all of this is. And I can’t seem to shake it. So perhaps there is scope for the imagination here, in this ashen in-between. The present, after all, is always the point in time which most nearly touches on eternity. And eternity is full of hope.

Manna and the Dreamers

As of this month, this blog is a whole ten years old and I had forgotten until last week. Life goes so fast and is sometimes so strange, but I am grateful. 

Once, in my presence, my mom mentioned my blog to a friend. “Oh, what does she write about on there?” the woman asked. “She writes about herself,” my mom said, ever matter-of-fact. It’s true. I do. And when I was eighteen and nineteen, it was even more so. I wrote about the minutiae of my small-town college life, dropping friends’ names and occasional inside jokes left, right, and center. As I’m sure is patently clear, I’ve become a very serious, cautious grown-up now, so I don’t do that anymore. I’ve moved on to larger visions.

And yet. This last month or two, I have had the urge to dream big about things—about the future, about my writing, about the world in which we live. It’s an exhilarating feeling, but all this time I have been tethered by the practical and sometimes frustrating realities of my current circumstances: the closed borders, the anemic bank balances, the incorrigible uncertainties. When I was about sixteen I went through a particularly quixotic phase in which I liked to assign colors to my days when I wrote about them in my journal—and the worst of these, the days that were like regurgitated cardboard, were always tan. It is easy just now, when comparing this trudging time to the glitter of my dreams, to classify every day as tan. But to do so would not be fair or true. Because there has been manna—small, perfect morsels fallen at my feet from heaven, day by day by day.

I spent a Sunday with the house to myself, listening to podcasts and cleaning the bathroom.

The fall leaves in Vancouver this year are gold and red, which I was prepared for, but also all sorts of ombres of orange and green and blushing pink, which I wasn’t.

The other day I used my black school bag for the first time since March.

Saturday night was the birthday party of a dear friend. We huddled outside around two firepits, roasted marshmallows which singed our fingers when we ate them, listened to and half-watched a long playlist of folk tunes on Youtube. We were very, very happy.

I ride the bus some days.

I spent an hour this morning pulling books from shelves for a much-anticipated guided study next term, until I had a tall pile.

And I’ve been rewatching some of the best TV ever made: Grand Designs and Mad Men—both of which turn me into Miss Rumphius when I finish an episode, eager to step out into the world and make it more beautiful, more beautiful with lupines or homes or words.

We know what manna is because Exodus tells us how God provided for his people in the desert. They were there much longer than they ever thought they would be, wandering round and round while hoping for the promised land through decades of wilderness, eating the sweet, particular nourishment which God sent straight out of the sky. And as they fed on it, they dreamed.

Things I Google When I Write

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve been finishing up the last few chapters of my novel draft, I’ve conducted a bit of an experiment. Years ago I noticed that I need to have wifi when I write because I need to have Google. I’m constantly fact-checking, looking up images to help me with descriptions, and using the internet as an all-purpose thesaurus. (Any word I type into the search bar now, Google immediately suggests I follow up with “synonym.” It’s done that for years. It knows me.)

So just for my own entertainment (and now yours!) I’ve been keeping a little log of every odd thing I find myself looking up just so I can finish the sentence at hand. This list below has absolutely been edited for brevity: it’s about half of its original length and the vast majority of what I cut was just me searching for synonyms of everyday adjectives like “angry” or “large.”

The point is, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to write a novel, here you go, enjoy. There’s a good chance it’s both weirder and duller than you ever imagined.

Week One

learned helplessness ᷸ tree nymph ᷸ I saw you lying in your own blood ᷸ Ezekiel 16 ᷸ Toyota Camry 2010 ᷸ ten reasons why ᷸ Netflix shows spring 2018 ᷸ Cookout milkshakes ᷸ pedestrian ᷸ hieratic ᷸ when do you need to start mowing your lawn each year ᷸ Jonah and the whale ᷸ Reilly ᷸ strikethrough on google docs ᷸ Hard Times ᷸ high school economics textbook pdf ᷸ NCDMV wildflowers ᷸ phoenix plural ᷸ semiannual ᷸ biannual ᷸ what’s the word for once every two years ᷸ performance venues in london

Week Two

Prace ᷸ April calendar 2018 ᷸ popular insults ᷸ Victoria and Albert tattoos ᷸ Victoria and Albert museum tattoos nearby ᷸ Albert Memorial to gold tattoos ᷸ Phil Robertson ᷸ Bill Robertson ᷸ ruefully ᷸ national youth choir ᷸ famous people with curly hair ᷸ most expensive dog ᷸ Madrigal ᷸ teenage girl bible study handouts ᷸ Hyde Park ᷸ map of where they say sneakers ᷸ 15 times 8 ᷸ 90/15 ᷸ Millie Bobby Brown

Week Three

TSA ᷸ soap bible study acronym ᷸ roll ᷸ benaline ᷸ kensington gardens london carriage ᷸ Museum of torture London ᷸ latte/espresso machine ᷸ does matte lipstick have a smell ᷸ Abide with Me ᷸ Psalm 49 ᷸ towels for babies ᷸ Optinos ᷸ dress circle ᷸ he never failed me yet history ᷸ Altoids ᷸ he never failed me yet lyrics ᷸ Borough market ᷸ Golden benchmark

Week Four

Consortium ᷸ Thank you for giving to the lord ᷸ Baby names 2009 ᷸ smelliest sandwich ᷸ Let us die to make men free ᷸ what does it take for a building to be condemned ᷸ what is larry ᷸ rain falls on the just and the unjust ᷸ Character awards ᷸ Home depot locations ᷸ end of year slideshow soundtrack ᷸ width of a gymnasium ᷸ Voyeur ᷸ forest fire before and after pictures

Selfish Art

I’ve just got back from a walk in the rain—real rain, not Vancouver’s usual lazy drizzling nonsense. I am damp and happy. I am happy about the wet rivulets which poured off of my umbrella, and I am happy about the squishing sound my boots made in the grassy mud as I crossed the school field. 

I am also two-thirds of the way through a first novel draft. It’s been a push. It feels like work, because it is work. And yet. I’ve been reminded lately that it’s going to be worth it. It’s going to be worth it because when I’m finished, I get to read it. I can talk all day long about writing as communication to others, as taking the pictures and ideas and worlds inside my head and putting them in someone else’s using only the magic of words on a page, and I believe in all that, I do. But ultimately, in the moment, in the midst of the act of creation, I am nearly always writing for myself.

I create to respond to the truth and beauty I see, to call to it across the void, to expand upon it with words, not primarily so that others can understand it, but so that I can. I’ve written here before about how when I reread my own work, I often find that I’m preaching to myself, particularly if I’m coming back to it after some time. I only really know my own process, of course, but  if I had to guess, I’d say most art that is actually worthwhile is made with this self-guided focus, because such singularity of purpose is able to fully serve the art itself, and treat the outside audience as a peripheral, secondary concern. When you are in the midst of making, the fact that others may get to enjoy what you’ve made is just a happy byproduct. In that instant, you need no audience but yourself.

To consult your own instincts and pleasure so centrally as you create seems like a foolishly selfish approach, and I would be tempted to dismiss it as that, except that this is exactly how God created. He made a world and a people diverse, interesting, strange, and beautiful not because this was correct or necessary but because he knew that to do so was good. Really, I suspect he made his creation good partially just so that he could have the joyful experience of calling it so, over and over. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton imagines that every day when the sun rises, God claps his hands and cries, “Do it again! Do it again!” No one takes more delight in his own art than God.

So I will allow myself to be happy about my own words on a page in the same way I am happy about a long-awaited sloppy rain, because I can receive them and because they are good. A couple months after moving to Vancouver I wrote a little note for myself and put it on my wall. I no longer have any idea what it was originally in response to, and I sometimes forget about it for weeks at a time, but every time I do reread it, it feels more necessarily true than the time before. 

It says, You no longer need to be your own maker and taskmaster. Jesus has stepped in. You are free of the tyranny of self. The Lord has an infinitely better plan, and, moreover, he is gracious. Your only call is to wrap his gifts in rejoicing and offer them back.

On Unwasted Time

Today I met up with a friend and she gave me a bag with four or five hand-me-down dresses. A few hours later, at home, I tried them on and looked in the mirror and cried. I think I can count on one hand the number of times in the last three months that I’ve worn a dress. It’s been so long since I felt pretty, since I felt like I was going somewhere. 

So far, this year has been hard to understand. I’m certain I’ve learned many things, but I don’t know what most of them are yet. (This is one of the reasons I write: to find out.) I’ve tried to make meaning out of this time: I’ve written five and half chapters of a novel, I’ve had long conversations which have settled comfortable and weary into the nooks and crannies of already-established friendships, I’ve read children’s books, recently-released novels, and the Psalms, I’ve stared at the sky.  I’ve been reasonably content. The safe, quiet rhythms of my day-to-day life have made this possible. And as I’ve sat within, outside of my small world things have happened, risings and fallings and lives and deaths.

The world is all sliced open right now, inside-out and raw, and God, it seems, has plans for that. We serve a no-waste God. You know how sometimes people say that they heard something somewhere once and it really stuck with them? Well, I heard that somewhere once and I wish it had stuck with me: we serve a no-waste God.

I’ve spent a lot of time in young adulthood, particularly while I was teaching, wondering if I were wasting my efforts, my energies, myself. I cared about my students enormously, yet that didn’t always translate into helpful action. I feel very often as if I sit at the center of a little self-made vortex of material and mental chaos, and, more than this, I still cannot seem to crack the code of how to love others well, of how to have the right thing to say in the right moment, of how to be enough but not too much. Ultimately, I’m often quietly uncertain if I’ve got the peg in the right hole, if what I’m doing with my days, my hours, my minutes is at all worthwhile.

But still, I remind myself of the line from that Sara Groves song, “love is still a worthy cause,” and I am persistent. I continue to gather up the scattered threads I find around me, and, focusing hard, I weave them together this way and that, aiming to get it right this time. This is what writers do and this is what try-ers do. We do not waste. We save it all.

Yet perhaps the impact of these strange times, the big, lasting, eternal meaning they will have to each of us as individuals, is not in some novel or lightning bolt or any other shining thing you or I are working so hard to keep the locusts from devouring. Perhaps instead we will find that the value in these months and years has been in the things even we did not think to save, in the edges and the discarded ends, the repeated pains, fears, and failed attempts. So that, at the last, we will find ourselves in front of the mirror, afternoon sun from the window on our cheeks, weeping in surprise that we have been clothed in glory which fits just-so, woven of familiar threads which it took divine hands months and years to gather.

Writing Myself In

This Monday I decided I wanted to be a writer. You may think I’d decided that before, but no. I hadn’t. This was different. For almost as long as I can remember I have wanted to write, to make beautiful things out of words and to make them the best I can, but the idea of earning money for that work in what the publishing world so frequently reminds us is an “oversaturated market,” has always seemed unbearably intimidating and practically impossible. The writing itself was much easier. I’d make money some other way.

But then, this week, I took a good hard look at my future in this strange time when none of us really know what the future holds anymore, and something in my stubborn little mind rolled over and sat up. I was going, I suddenly decided, to sell this novel. I was going to get it published, people would buy it, and I would be a writer. And immediately it was much less frightening to be off the fence than on it.

So I have spent the last few days reading up on agents and agencies and submission guidelines and how to write a query letter and whether my novel is literary fiction or book club fiction or maybe something called “upmarket commercial.” I also, for the first time in my life, wrote a fan letter to a favorite author. She’s eighty-five this year, so I figured I better get that done while she was still around to read it. I have been busy.

And, of course, I have been writing, properly writing. I will have a novel draft for my final project by the end of the summer. I’m sure of it. Back in college when I was writing a novel I spent a lot of time telling everyone how emotionally exhausting it was. Sitting down to do the deed this time round, I remembered saying that but assumed it was just 21-year-old melodrama. Friends, it was not. (Though it’s also possible that I’m chronically, incurably melodramatic and that this blog is the evidence. But I digress.) In the nicest of ways, I might lose my mind

I knew going into this project that it would be very personal. I wouldn’t just be lightly drawing on my experience teaching as I wrote, but the entire novel, I knew, was really going to be born out of that experience. I did not know, though, the ways I would be returning to my own time in high school, my own teenage self. Doing so is not painful exactly. Compared to the hellscape they are for some, those years for me were really pretty pleasant. But still they, along with the girl who lived them, seem to me at times to be unbearably fragile, strange and translucent. To dismantle the person I once was (and sometimes still am) and press odd, bright bits of her into the corners of my story with my palms, like a child with Playdoh at the kitchen table, is surreal.

So I’ve been coming up for air tired at the end of each day, and occasionally asking myself if it has to be this intense, if writing really must involve my own self-disembowelment this way, but I think it must. For characters to be real, I must put a piece of myself or at least a piece of someone very dear to me, into them. I think I’ve said this here before, but it probably bears repeating: writing is for me a way of loving. And I want this chance to offer up pieces of myself for years to come, for the whole rest of my life. The only way to relieve myself of my own solemn solipsism, is to roll over, sit up, and joyfully give myself away.

Things I Forgot

Yesterday I sat in the sunshine in the atrium at school. It’s not the first time I’ve done that in the past few weeks. I forgot these days would come.

Spring has always been my favorite, but somehow up until a week or two ago, I had lost all memory of its existence. I am usually walking back to my car from Regent well after dark at the end of some night class or another, but one day, wonder of wonders, I left in the daylight and there, right before I got to Kings Road, was a crocus, big and bright and purple. It hit me like a punch in the gut, a punch that knocked the wind back into me. I forgot to wait for spring, but it came anyway.

This sudden remembering has been happening a lot recently. The other day I sat in the library and reread my journal. I began this particular one in June of 2019, which already seems a couple lifetimes ago. I do tend to reread, but only what’s recent or feels relevant. I don’t usually go through beginning to end like it’s a book with something worth saying, but this time I did, and, somehow, it was. I was reminded of the terrible-wonderful, solitary struggle I had with God this summer as I began to face up to the fact that he loves me. He actually loves me. I poured a whole lot of confusion and excruciating gratitude onto those pages. But now it’s a whole different year and the hip which had been displaced is back in its socket and I’ve apparently moved onto other revelations as if they matter just as much. But they don’t. And now I remember, or begin to. He loves me.

So though the weight of distractions is heavy, I am trying to look out for signs, signs to remind me of all the things I had forgot: fresh air that makes me somehow lighter as it enters my lungs, buds on the trees that are pink and white and sometimes green, the moon brighter than anything, and the tree on the median which I can see from the bus stop, the one which is always the last to bud in the spring and the first to flame out yellow in the fall, but which grows deep green moss on its trunk all the year round.

I forgot that these things happen. I forgot.

Bearing Hope

We are settling into February, which is a month with which I’ve always had a bit of a tenuous relationship. It is nearly always a natural low point for me, the downturn of grey and dust before the upturn of Spring and daffodils, but I have grown used to this rhythm. A few years ago in February I wrote this, and I find myself returning to reread it each year and realizing I believe it more and more each season, because this is a time, I think, when most of us are the poor in spirit, and the idea that ours (ours!) is the kingdom of heaven can seem particularly fantastic.

Fantastic, even completely implausible, and yet true. Ours is the kingdom. 

I am returning back to the base of things recently and more and more I find that when I dig down to that base through the litter and grime of this world and of my life and heart and mind, all the way down to the rock bottom, I find that that rock bottom is somehow made out of hope. Another implausibility. Hope is always and ever the ground I stand on. And more than that, I am learning that I bear it involuntarily on my shoulders–it drapes heavy over them from morning till night. Sometimes I am even able to see the way it lays weighty across the shoulders of those around me. It is uncomfortable, inconvenient, unavoidable, completely necessary. We bear hope with us everywhere, its train dragging behind us, through the ins and the outs of our days. We cannot shrug hope off, we cannot wipe its dust from our palms, cannot extract it from our guts. It hangs like an indelible banner over our heads–hope above and below, behind and before. We live, I have come to realize, in its very midst.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

In Praise of (Good) Fiction

I’ve been thinking. (Dangerous.) I’ve been thinking about fiction because I’ve been trying to read a little more of it lately and soon I plan to be writing quite a bit of it. And in doing so, it’s become apparent to me that I have strong opinions about what is and what isn’t really good story-telling–perhaps to an extent that catches people around me off-guard. Sometimes, in the midst of conversation, I back myself into a corner and find myself having to explain why it is that I have just announced my disdain for much of the fiction of Wendell Berry or Marilynne Robinson, but that I do love The Mennyms and Decline and Fall and Invisible Man and We Have Always Lived in the Castle and True Grit.

There are very few things that will make me drop all pretense of being an agreeable person and begin saying foolhardy things than just getting me started on literature, most particularly getting me started on whether a story is a good one. Though the particulars of things are my bread and butter and I fully believe that only through particulars are we able to touch upon the universal, etc., etc., it might do me good to take a bit of a step back and look at the whole forest of the fiction that I love and try to understand its commonalities. What makes stories commonly good?

 

Well, I know that every really transcendent piece of fiction I’ve ever read is somehow completely unselfconscious. It is open to being read, but it does not need a reader. One gets the sense at times with a particularly strong story that even the action of the writer was incidental to its existence. It is an organic thing with beating heart and restless limbs which has always been existing at its own frenetic pace in its own universe and history with its own people and noise. 

Because of this, really good fiction is focused on its own story-ness and does not secretly wish it were a sermon or a poem. It knows that we do not live our lives in the form of philosophical treatises or expositional texts, but that life, in its rawest most incomprehensible form, is story, with beginning, middle, rising actions, characters, complications, and denouements, most of which are not recognizable when we are in their midst. Life does not pander to us and offer us reassuring explanations for its eccentricities, so good fiction reflects this in the way it drags us full steam ahead into the bright and blinding wilderness of its characters and happenings. Flannery O’Connor said that good fiction writers get dusty while doing their work. Well, I think the rest of us also get dusty while reading it.

We know we have loved a book and, perhaps more to the point, been loved by it, when we walk away from the last page changed, feeling as if our organs have been rearranged, as we’ve fallen in love, moved away from home and back again, jumped off a cliff only to be caught by the wind. But though we just spent all those hours with words, and they are the tools which have communicated the torture and salvation to us, they will somehow not suffice to explain the wonder of what we’ve experienced. Perhaps such a wonder is not possible to explain at all.

In reading, we have been allowed a glimpse at something–a world, a people, a home, a pain–which may be even real-er than we are. And this is a great mystery to me: the best stories I have read feel like secrets. I know that Jane Eyre is a classic and has been read and loved and dissected and devoured and regurgitated by millions. I’ve had my share of conversations about it and even used it as a discussion example when I taught history to teenagers, and yet I am sure no one has entered it like I have, loved it like I have. The ageless, hungry little reader inside me will never actually believe that it is not her own private treasure in the same way that she will never quite believe that Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye is not her personal friend. It is that unaccountably real to me. So not only is good fiction’s realness to us inexplicable (after all, we know that it’s fiction), but its real-ness and frequent intimate proximity to our own hearts and deepest concerns make the best fiction literally inexplicable. Our favorite stories are beyond explanation: they heroically resist it, even (Lord preserve us) in high school English classes.

Good fiction matters because when we read it and then set the book down at the end and attempt to walk away from it, we find that we cannot. The story will follow. We have walked into another world and lived there, and now we stumble back into our world to live here, with the extra appendage we have gained dragging along behind us, making us weightier, older, more.

 

So those are my justifications for my occasional outbursts about story, for the moments when I say indefensible things like, “I just don’t think that’s the way to write fiction.” I am so aware of fiction’s wondrous and frightening power to change everything about us. Some books seem to change the density of our bones and course of the blood in our veins. But ultimately, I can’t tell you or myself or anyone what makes good fiction what it is. It’s ineffable. Good fiction, like beauty, is its own answer. 

Soon (now this makes me shiver a bit to write) I will be writing fiction for my final project, hopefully good fiction, but for now I’m writing this. And I have not been happy with the last few entries I’ve written here, which has gotten under my skin. What I’ve had to say has been fine, but I know I have not hung back long enough before publishing to play with the words, to take joy. It is all kinds of writing that we need to get dusty. And even as I write these short blog entries, I must be willing not only to stop and play in the dust, but to simply wait in it, in the grubby, glinting caves of my own little life, in deflated vowels and unwieldy consonants. I must wait unselfconsciously, with no particular agenda in mind but the offering of praise.

Last Wednesday after dinner we went for a walk across a field in ankle-deep snow under a multichrome sky. I toyed with the idea of writing to tell you about it, but, like I said, beauty is its own reward. Not all poems have to be written if they have been lived.