There are a lot of metaphors out there about the pyrrhic challenges of wrestling the proverbial bear. But I think I prefer a metaphor involving wrestling a shark. For one, the shark is virtually limbless, so I like the visage of trying to pin something which lacks any particularly vulnerable appendages to target. And yet no one can deny the inimitable strength of sharks, their cunning, their strategic power. I picture this match taking place in some sort of shallows, an inlet or even on the beach with the tide coming in, where the shark cannot merely dominate with its superior speed and swimming and yet is vaguely undefeatable in its sheer size, strength, and will.
Artist’s rendering of a hypothetical battle between Storey and shark.
I’ve never been one of those writers who feels he’s really suffering for his art. Suffering when unable to produce it, sure, but that’s only come from the demands of day jobs and other mundane clutter, or from a lack of personal discipline and will. While both of these have plagued me greatly over the past decade, I’ve also produced three novels in the last ten years, all written in a combined span of less than one year of actual calendar time. What that tells us is several things: one, that these issues of avoiding clutter and undisciplined time are key, but also two, the actual writing process must not be that taxing when it’s flowing and going. Each of these books, save maybe the last, has felt like a referendum on my ability to keep writing. The last felt like I had already gotten over such concerns and was now just grinding things out.
Grinding may be the wrong word. Churning? Producing. Not like it had quite become industrial or formulaic, but like the process itself was no longer getting in the way of the writing. People long taught to dread the writing process by their educational system, to equate writing with drudgery and chore and other people’s expectations, these folks take an incredibly long time to unlearn the mundane trappings of writing and just let go and enjoy it. Most people, frankly, never get beyond seeing writing as an obstacle to be overcome. Blogging helps, I think, as does any kind of freely chosen writing, any amalgamation of words of one’s own volition. It probably took me till The Best of All Possible Worlds before I really felt that I was finally free of all the overwrought inertia of dreading writing on some fundamental core level, was free to just write and love the cascade of words and the process of stringing them together. It was a long time coming. But it also signified that a process already more fun than most saw it as had finally melded into the unbridled art that it was supposed to be.
So while it’s trendy to talk about writhing in the torments of the art that must somehow wriggle its way from one’s mind like a child escaping an unyielding womb, I’ve never related to that. Until, that is, now.
There’s a combination of factors in play here. One, of course, is the nature of Project X itself, which I’ll not be discussing in detail (or, indeed, at all) here for some time, if ever. Does that tantalize you more that my project is under wraps? It shouldn’t. My projects are always very secretive, but this one in particular just doesn’t lend itself to any sort of exposition before the fact. In any event, writing it prompts the surfacing of all those tropes about tortured artists and their incredible throes of agony as they attempt to bleed verbiage onto the blank page. This time, it’s real.
But even that doesn’t quite seem fitting. That would be more like getting eaten by a shark. Which, it must be noted, is a possible (though improbable) outcome of wrestling said beast. But this – I dunno. It’s like there’s this dead weight of killing-oriented flesh flailing around on the still saturated beachhead and I have to get it to surrender. And sharks don’t surrender. They don’t comprehend the concept, couldn’t imagine what it would be like to concede, were they even capable of language, let alone bending their flippers and fins into some semblance of acquiescence. Sharks are heavy and immobile and stubborn as hell and if you make any mistakes with them, you lose at least a few fingers, if not your whole head. So this project, especially in light of else in my life, the timing and the perspective, this is shark-wrestling at its gritty finest.
Which reminds me, with a nod of the cap to the Brandeis debate team, that if I were into possessions or ownership and were not actually contemplating creating a bonfire out of all my worldly goods if and when I move this summer, I would totally be coveting this:
Yeah, it’s a shark sleeping bag. Not only would I guarantee exactly which kinds of nightmares I’d get the night I snuggled up into it, but I could practice literal shark-wrestling to my heart’s content. And, uh, freak out the roommates of debate hosts who stumble in drunk well after we fall asleep, only to discover that their room has borne witness to the first-ever third-floor shark attack.
But at this point, it would just have to go in the bonfire with everything else. Don’t ask me how serious I am about such a purge, because I’m not quite sure yet. But it’s up for consideration. The thought of moving west feels like freedom – the thought of bringing stuff along feels like imprisonment. You can do the math. Maybe there’s no better way to pretend to have been reborn than a trial by fire. Hopefully one of the few survivors of such a charring, if applicable, will be a newly completed fourth novel.