I meet people sometimes who talk as if being a writer is a choice. If that’s true, they must be really different sorts of writers from me. Did Beethoven choose to be a musician? Did he think “Hmm, law is more lucrative, but I do have these tunes in my head.” I sure as hell didn’t choose. I write because it’s there, like breathing. Sometimes I wish I loved doing things that people actually pay a lot of money for (or any money). What would that be like? To feel fulfilled by international banking?
I think I may have mentioned this before, so if you’ve heard it, don’t stop me. Sometimes I feel a strong need, artistically, to go into the darkness. On occasion it has been either that or buy a sledge hammer and walk around the neighborhood smashing out the windshields of all the cars. When you think of it that way, living as a writer seems pretty reasonable. On average, it involves less jail time than using the sledge hammer. So I’ve been working lately on a short story that I’m trying to make as dark as I can.
There are multiple motivations in doing this. In part, the story is just following the spark of inspiration that came from a line in a song, where so many of my stories begin. For me, nothing switches on the blowtorch of desire to write like song lyrics. This dark story is also an emotional expression, trying to capture some of my reaction to life lately. And, ironically, in the act of writing, the story gives me a kind of joy. It’s an exercise in what I can do, a chance to stretch beyond my own norms. The more dark, the more grim, the more morbid, the greater the artistic joy.
The story is about a man going to a club that’s hard to get into, though he has a surreptitious reason for going. Here are a few lines from the story:
• A line of people dressed like cheap whores in glitter, male and female, was sprawled down the sidewalk beside the graffiti that leered from the wall.
• A smile crawled like an insect across the man’s lips.
• Holding the beer, Crowe moved his head and shoulders in time to the shrieking of the music, imitating some of the spastic joy of the damned that surrounded him.
The story has a plot, and it’s interesting enough, I suppose, but a lot of stories could have some similar plot. The real interest for me is in the style. That may just be because of my own love of language, of using them to create moods and images. As I work on this story, I’m looking for new metaphors, for ways to increase the creepiness, such as changing “curtain” to “shroud”, or changing “the glow of the bar” to “the red glow of the bar”. And if it works (possibly a big if), there is emotional satisfaction both as an artist and as a person who is in a mood sometimes to tell the world to get fucked and get away from me.
In true artistic schizophrenia, while writing this dark story, I also started a humorous one. I began both stories, in fact, within thirty minutes of one another, and I’ve been writing both, depending on what I felt like working on every evening.
The humorous story tries to build on a style I’ve been using for several years when working on very short humor pieces, originally inspired by the Russian writer Zoshchenko. I was so enthralled by him that I deliberately tried to imitate him, which I don’t think is possible, as he does interesting things with the Russian language that English can’t do. I write all these little humor stories in first person, using a nondescript white male character (myself as an idiot, that is, me pretending to be an idiot, pretending).
It’s harder for me to illustrate this story, as the humor builds from preceding lines, but here are a few lines, as a cop stops the narrator when driving:
“Do you know the speed limit here?” he asked.
“There’s a limit?” I said.
“You didn’t see the signs saying 45 miles an hour?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Did those refer to operating a vehicle?”
“45 is the limit. That’s how fast you can go.”
“No,” I said. “I believe that’s the suggested average.”
I like working on both these stories at the same time, because sometimes I also feel like putting my arm around the world to go dancing, even if we dance in the dark.