Write something – OK, folks, you’d better strap yourselves in for this one. I’m a man with an itch to write and absolutely no idea what to say. I think David is rubbing off on me. What makes it all so embarrassing is that I can’t really use caffeine as an excuse, since I don’t really consume very much caffeine. No coffee, not that much caffeinated tea, no cola... my beverages of choice these days are water, juice, and Rooibos tea. So I can’t pretend that I’m hyped up on anything—I am rambling in complete and total control of my faculties.
There are times when I will sit down to write something for Liminality because I feel that somehow the time has come to write something. In other words, I do not write because I want to write, but because I feel I should. At those times, I will invariably write about three or four paragraphs and lose what little interest I may have had when I started. I cannot begin to tell you how many aborted entries have been consigned to the nether regions of my hard drive.
Today, though, is different. This past weekend I finished work on a project I’ve been immersed in for the past two months. Last week was crunch time, and I spent most of my waking hours trying to finish things up (I’ve found that working while asleep is not as efficient as you might think). When I finally finished the last bit of translation, though, I sat there for a few moments in a stupor. It’s like being in one of those rainstorms where the rain is falling so fast and so hard that you can’t see anything not within arm’s reach. You just stumble blindly through the lashing wall of water, not really caring about where you’re going as long as it’s somewhere other than where you are now. Then, suddenly, the curtain of rain parts and you step out into the sunshine, and it takes you a while to get used to not being pelted by a million raindrops a second. That’s what I felt like at first. I just sat in front of my computer, drenched with a solid week’s worth of torrential rain.
After I got used to being able to think about something other than translation and editing, I started to get a little weird (weirder than normal, I mean). It was at that point that my wife said, “I guess you’ve been under a lot of stress this past week.” I was, and with the stress gone, I’m not really sure what to do with myself. I considered playing some Civ3—picking up where I left off in a game I started some time ago. The Aztecs had declared war on my peaceful civilization for no reason, and I was just about to deliver a family-sized serving of pain when suddenly I no longer had time for silly things like Civ3.
My little addiction can wait, though, because I’ve got a bigger itch to scratch right now—the writing itch. It might seem a bit odd, considering that my work involves massive amounts of writing, and many people like to do things completely unrelated to their work during their leisure time. Now that I have a bit of time on my hands (just a bit, mind you), though, I have this overwhelming urge to write something. Maybe I just need an outlet, and writing is it. I want to create something—you know, like art—but I’m just too drained at the moment. I guess I just need to turn the faucet on for a while and let the water run until it (hopefully) warms up.
So there it is. This is the point at which I would normally close Word and trash the file if I were writing out of a sense of duty. After all these words, though, I am still not satisfied. In fact, I’m feeling a bit irritated. Restless. I hate feeling like this. I know it’s just temporary, but knowing that doesn’t really help at the moment.
I do have a short story in the works that needs completing. In fact, I once wrote a journal entry that talked about the changes I was going to make in the second draft. That was over half a year ago (yikes!), and I still haven’t even touched the “Golf Story” (working title, of course). I’ve been thinking about it, though, as I’ve been writing this entry. The truth is that I want to tell the story, but I have absolutely no inclination to actually work on it. I realize that sounds like laziness, pure and simple, but I think it goes beyond that.
If you’re really interested in reading my initial thoughts on the first draft of this story you can click on the link above to read them, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t really satisfied with what I had. I had a number of ideas for improving on the first draft, the biggest of which involved switching from a first-person narrator to a third-person narrator. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that the point-of-view was not necessarily what was bothering me.
David is fond of reminding me not to let the truth get in the way of a good story. As long as we’re talking creative writing and not journalism, I can understand where he’s coming from. Every author writes based on his or her experiences, but it is those flights of imagination that really make things interesting. I have realized, though, that I am actually rather fond of the truth, and the reason why the “Golf Story” wasn’t working out is because I was avoiding the story I really wanted to tell. In my efforts to make it “fiction,” I was missing out on some of the parts of the real-life experience that made it so memorable for me.
I’m not saying that truth is always better than fiction, but in this case, at least, I think I need to tell the story the way I experienced it—from my point-of-view, with my thoughts and emotions. I suppose it also helps that the “story” I want to tell is really just a collection of anecdotes, like a photo album of snapshots. I never really had a clear plot line or story seed (i.e., idea) to work with. What I had in the first draft was just a bunch of anecdotes stuffed together into a fictional day, and it just felt false. Had I taken the time to come up with an actual plotline, I might have had something to work with. I don’t think this was meant to be a story, though. I think it was just meant to be a bunch of snapshots. So I’m going to stop trying to make it something that it’s not and just accept it for what it is.
And to show you that I’m actually going to write this thing, here’s a bit from the new first draft, no edits. I’m just going to start writing this right now, and post it with the entry. I don’t usually do this, but like I said, I’ve got the writing itch.
During my first few years of university, I went home during the summer and winter vacations and worked at a golf club in my hometown to earn money for the coming semester. It was a private club built in the late 19th century, with a links-style course that sloped gently toward one of the many lakes in the area. I’ve traveled to many places around the world, and I still think upstate New York has some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere. Our golf club was no exception: subtle hills, lush forests, and the lakeside scenery made it a postcard photographer’s paradise—or would make it one, if it were open to the public.
I got the job through Andy, the assistant superintendent and acting superintendent until they could decide on a new super. Being naive and young, I assumed that the job would naturally go to Andy, but private golf courses—like most other private institutions—are cesspools of politics, and Andy was fated to remain assistant super.
Andy was the resident guru. He even looked the part with his full, graying beard and almost Buddha-like expression of tranquility and thoughtfulness. He always seemed to be smiling, and I never once saw him get angry. And, being a guru, he always had nuggets of wisdom that he had stored up from his long years on the course.
We were out on the course one day shortly after I started the job when he turned to me. “Let me tell you something,” he said, and I could tell by the tone in his voice that he was about to dispense wisdom. I listened eagerly as the pause grew dramatic. “Golf is not a sport,” he announced. I pursed my lips at this, my mind racing through all the possible implications of the statement. Yet what he said next took me by surprise. “Golf is a disease.”
He looked off across the course, as if he were looking back at his years of experience on the links. “I’ve seen men who come out here every day, leaving their wives and kids at home. They’re growing apart from their families and they don’t even know it. Worse still are the couples who are members. Coming to the club is their only ‘time together,’ and yet they split up into different foursomes and don’t see each other until they leave again.” He looked back at me. “You wait. Hang around here long enough and you’ll see what I mean.”
I nodded like the good initiate that I was, but kept silent. As we headed back toward the garage, I looked around at the course with somber eyes. I felt a twinge of pity as I saw the golfers, shambling around in their hideous clothes like a horde of zombies that had ransacked a Salvation Army store. They were terminally ill and they didn’t even know it. This was my cancer ward, and these were my patients.
OK, so that didn’t quite go as I expected. All I intended to do was start writing about the golf club, focusing on some of the characters (i.e., people) I worked with. And yet as I wrote, I just couldn’t help latching onto an idea and steer inevitably toward the seed for a really good hook. Before I wrote this, I thought that I had no story, but now, with no conscious effort on my part, I have one for the taking. I suppose I also managed to contradict everything I said right before writing this. It may not be very good writing, but it is the seed of a story. Interestingly enough, this story is not even close to my first draft of the original “Golf Story.”
I guess there’s a lesson to be learned here: don’t sweat the details, just write and something will come to you. I am conflicted, though. Do I go with my original intention, and just write about my experiences, or do I take this idea for a story and run with it, following my imagination wherever it may lead? I must confess that I have already started to embellish the story in little ways. The conversation with Andy did happen, but I didn’t react to it nearly as melodramatically as I depicted myself reacting here.
I must admit that I do have a habit of doing that when telling stories—you know, adding in little, colorful details to make things more interesting. It has nothing to do with the “truth” of the story, so it isn’t really lying. This would probably make me a horrible police witness, but hopefully it makes me a good storyteller. I guess I have just accepted the fact that there is no such thing as “truth” when it comes to telling a story—once an incident is processed by a filtering consciousness (i.e., human perception and memory), it has lost any and all chance of remaining undistorted. But that’s cool, because that’s the way we are.
So here I am at the end of the entry, and I do not think I’m going to find a quick answer to this dilemma. The hook in my mind is tempting, but what about the big fuss I made above about the truth and how this was never meant to be a story? Which way to go? I guess I wouldn’t mind hearing from some of my regular readers. What do you think? Should I go the (mostly) factual, anecdotal route or should I pursue this flight of fancy? Any and all comments are appreciated.