Sunday, March 7, 2010

Perambulating Around the Point

Have you had one of these days at work recently? A day with a full desk, a dozen ongoing tasks, at least 3 immediate ones, access to email, jefe leaning over your shoulder, and the attention span of a three-month old golden retriever combined with the energy level of your average possum? Classic symptoms of adult-onset attention deficit inactivity disorder - ADID.

Yes. This was me on Friday. Currently, my office is whichever fine dining or drinking establishment that comes equipped with outlets and wifi. This allows me to move about and get refills, look at sale merchandise, or perhaps order another orange scone. And my current task - this combines the dozen ongoing and the three immediate - is to fill in 20 thousand blanks.

Each blank, of course, is a word. A word that must be plucked out of thin air (or as Dr. Galvin insisted, my collective past) and placed carefully on the page. Of course, there will surely be the requisite thes, ands, hes and mobiles, plus a smattering of queridas and Dios' (sometimes accompanying madre de). There will be phrases like "golden eyes gone molten" and "with shaking hands." Easy-peasy, some would say. (They are the same ones who exclaimed how on earth I could possibly write a novel "complete with character arcs" with only 50 thousand words. As though that weren't enough time to get the characters across a street let alone to evolve.) Of course, right then, on Friday, I almost wanted to throw in a scene or two of them walking back and forth across some street or boulevard because I couldn't find the next sentence that would move the story forward.

I sat there, staring up into Ste Exupery's cluttered atmosphere and wondered how I could possibly make that chaos into not only coherent sentences, but satisfying scenes that culminated into a happily ever after. (HEA, for those in the know.) Because much is dependent on that HEA. You may even feel a little pitty for the 20K blanks for having so much riding on them. The reader's satisfaction and trust. The writer's ability to pay rent. The editor's trust in the writer...

Last night, I attended a Berta Rojas concert, a classical guitarist from Paraguay. It was extraordinary. Amazing. Before Rojas performed each piece, she would first still the strings. Because if she didn't, they would hum, softly. And that hum is not part of the song. Maybe only she could feel them as she held the guitar, but as soon as she stilled them, the air became silent.

She would begin each song with a silent guitar and end each song with a note's full vibration. When she finished and struck the final note, she allowed it to continue and continue, and her face and her body would curl into her instrument and I would want to shout Is that it? because the anticipation was too much and I didn't know if I should clap or breathe or listen harder. I had to wait for her to raise her head because even if I could no longer hear the note, Berta could still feel its vibration and until it was completely silent, the song had not yet ended.

When I look at those 20K blanks in my immediate future, I feel as though the page is humming. I am past the mid-point of my novel, the stakes have continued to rise, and my characters need to be twisted even tighter so that the climax will carry the reader straight through to anticipating my next book. I think my ADID on Friday stymied my ability to differentiate between the need to simply lay my hand across a page and silence the past whispers or find the actual echo of my last note and coax it into an audible sound. I realized, listening to Berta Rojas play, that like her and her guitar, I am the only one in control of my pages; I can silence them or fill them with words. Or I can get up and get another refill of Pepsi.

What do you do when you find yourself in this place - of knowing that you are the only available to complete the task, that you actually can complete it, but are immobilized by what is riding on its outcome?

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