The internet is busy with writers, their opinions on writing, and books, and movies, and girls, and habits, and politics, and some of it is interesting, and some of it is helpful, but it also sets my mind whirling and buzzing at an uncomfortable pitch. The world is chock full of clever multitaskers. I struggle to get my teeth brushed. Other peoples’ opinions make me nervous.
And now, almost everything I read online has the power to make me nervous: how the publishing industry is imploding, or how you need to choose your genre as a writer, or how writing itself is obsolete because of Instagram. I feel like one of those cart horses, hobbled by peripheral vision. I need hoods over my eyes to keep me from startling, to help me plod forward, following the lines in the road.
The lines in the road: be kind to yourself. Keep the goals small and simple. Forgive yourself for not being as slickly perfect as you had hoped.
This morning Kathe said Danny is lucky he was born a man. Danny said everything balances out. I said it didn’t really balance out for slaves. Then we moved into irony. Danny said, it’s a lot harder than you think to be a white male. We made a list of the hardships: getting blamed for everything; having to take responsibility; too many jobs and too much money; always being asked for support and advice.
We dance around the uncomfortable, unspoken truth. Through no fault of your own, you are born a woman, or a person with no legs, or a person of color. In that moment, the odds are set. You get most entitlements for no reason, except the accident of your birth.
I am coming to the end of my story, which might be why it’s so hard to write at the moment. This is where I arrive at the “so what” moment— not just an end, but an answer to the question, why have we been reading this? What have we learned? I was reading a book about plot, and the writer outlined the transformation a protagonist must make over the course of a book. Her suggestions about what should happen to a character infuriated me, all of them slightly fake, Yankee Candle Factory versions of mulled cider and summer rain– a protagonist should “learn something” about their weaknesses, their weaknesses must result from an injury in the past. This seems like a revelation at first– of course this would make a person more interesting! They grow! They have skeletons! But then it starts to sound like paint by numbers psychobabble, revealing more about our self-help culture than about the human experience. Do we have skeletons? Do we grow?
And yet. And yet, buried in that maddening formula— the assertion that the character “grows” and “learns” or “overcomes weakness”– is an important point, and possibly the one that has been stalling me of late. What IS this story about, after all? What meaning(s) are we chasing? Why am I telling it? Where does it leave us?
I resist the premise that every story has a lesson at its heart, because that would imply we actually have answers, when sometimes all we have is questions. Answers are consoling, convenient, but generally misleading, and I don’t trust them. I sure as hell don’t have any in this story, which is basically me diving head-first into a hot mess of race and class.
And yet. And yet we need to resolve the story in some way. How else will we know it’s over?