|Dinner For One, Part Thirty-Four
||[May. 3rd, 2012|08:21 pm]
James A. Moore
“The worst part of life is waiting. The best part of life is having someone worth waiting for.” –Jessica Brumley|
“Love looks through a telescope; envy through a microscope.”—Josh Billings
“The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings - words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out.” –Stephen King
It’s been said by many writers and critics that fiction writers are liars (among many other words of praise and condemnation alike, thank you very much). There might be some truth to that. I tend to think that the act of writing fiction requires the same talent set as a good liar has: you have to be able to spin a tale and make it believable. You also have to be able to keep your fictions straight in your head or, believe me on this, the critics will come after you like piranha.
As I was out to dinner with some friends a few nights ago, we got to discussing this simple aspect of writing. And Charles Rutledge, a co-author and friend, brought up a salient point that Stephen King made eloquently: King said, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
I tend to believe that’s an incredibly accurate assessment. Okay, to be fair, I tend to think that Stephen King is incredibly accurate far more often than he is wrong. It’s the mark of a truly phenomenal scribe: A writer sees everything and sometimes, if fate is kind and the stars are aligned properly, that writer can even find a way to explain what has been seen with mere words.
I believe that fiction writers—maybe all writers, though I’m not experienced enough at non-fiction to make a proper judgment—have to carry an element of truth in their words, or else they fail in the task of telling a compelling story. Truth can be a painful thing to deal with. Maybe that’s why I prefer fiction: less painful or at least the truth is diluted that way. Let me give you an example, if I may.
As I have made clear before, I knew that barring unforeseen incidents, there was every likelihood that I was going to outlive my wife. We both knew it. The cards had been dealt and there is absolutely nothing kind or gentle about a chronic illness. Let me be direct here: Diabetes is a chronic illness. You treat it the right way and your life expectancy isn’t the best. You ignore it and you’re likely shaving decades off of your life. Decades. That is not a gross exaggeration. The thing I can’t emphasize enough is that it’s one thing to know that intellectually and another to really comprehend it. Sometimes I think you want to sugar coat the universe you live in, whether or not you are conscious of that desire to make the world more palatable.
And that’s where the truth comes in. I don’t think you can lie to yourself constantly without some rather unpleasant side effects. I think that maybe if you manage the feat of lying constantly and convincingly you just might find yourself on the path to mental illness. What makes me say that? Common sense and a little perspective, really. Perspective is also not always easy. I’ve told people before that now and then an editor is a writer’s best friend, because now and then the editor can offer distance when a writer is too close to a subject. I don’t necessarily mean with the subject matter, though that too can apply. I mean that as a writer, I KNOW what I’m trying to say and sometimes I can’t convey it properly (Hopefully that’s a rarity) and other times. I think the mind tends to put the right words in the right places for me. Not on paper as it were, but behind my eyes when I’m reading. Put another way, though in this case it’s very much accidental, the mind lies. What I meant to say in a sentence might be “She spoke to the policeman and gave him all the details she could clearly remember.” And that might very well be what I SEE because my mind knows what I’m trying to say, when in fact the words typed are “She spike to the please man and save him all the details she could clearly remember.” It’s close, but it’s decidedly not what was intended. Sometimes the mind lies.
Other times, the mind insists on the truth, and I think that if it can’t force the truth into your conscious mind, it will find other ways to handle the situation. It might, for example, affect your dreams to the point that you have repeated dreams of looking for a new job when you fear for whether or not your current employment is going down the crapper. Or it might offer up a dream of your potential love interest sleeping with someone else, someone you desperately despise, to let you know that said possible paramour is slipping away and losing interest. Seems like just another dream but there are signals from your unconscious mind. Then again I could be completely off the mark. I am hardly a psychiatrist.
So, a little evidence to consider then.
It seems I was preparing myself for Bonnie’s passing. I’ll explain. Bear with me. I wrote a novel called DEEPER a while back. About two years before Bonnie passed, actually. The main character of the novel was a man named Joe Bierden. Joe is an average guy and he has a wife and two kids. He loves them, of course. Hey, if you’re going to write a novel, here’s a hint for you: if your main character has no one in his life it’s going to be a good deal harder to make anyone care about him or her. Characters who stand alone and don’t play nicely with at least a few people tend to be unsympathetic. That tends to make your readers not care at all about the trials and tribulations that character faces. Look back on a few of the novels you liked the least and you just might see that played a part in it. Of course it could have just been a really bad novel or a bad time to pick that particular book. Hard to say, but I’d guess there might be a little something to my suggestion.
My point is, Joe is a likable enough character.
I actually felt a little bad about murdering his wife.
I don’t work from an outline. Most of the time the story is in my head and I just write and let it sort itself out. Now and then that leads to the darnedest challenges. In my very first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE, that led to a character that refused to die. I mean, seriously I tried to kill her a dozen times and she just would not let me kill her. Obviously I wasn't done with the character, but it was both an amusing dilemma and a frustrating one.
Joe’s wife was a bit different. I never planned to kill her originally. It just sort of happened. She was taken abruptly and when he finally got to see her again, it was too late. The following section is from the novel. Well, the second draft at any rate. There might have been a few changes but this should make the point well enough.
As bad as the phone call was, it was nothing in comparison to looking at Belle’s lifeless face. She was as beautiful as ever, as calm as I had ever seen her, and yet her body was a cold, dead thing.
I would never know her touch again, or hear her laughter, or feel her breath on my neck while we hugged. Or look into her eyes and marvel at the way she looked when she smiled. Or kiss her again. Or hear her gripe about the fucking Red Sox when they blew a game. Or taste her cooking, or hear her fuss good-naturedly about the fact that she’d married a slob. She would never surprise me with breakfast in bed again, or pretend to be surprised herself after I’d made a mess of the kitchen while trying to return the favor. She would never wake me from a doze and lead me to the bedroom on a cold winter’s night when I sat too damned close to the fire and I was going stir crazy from a month of not working every single day for three or more months. She would never again keep me at bay and fend off a much-needed hug because she was still frying another pan of potatoes and ham. She would never, ever kiss me awake again.
Dear Lord, the list of things she would never do again was endless, almost as vast as the gulf that separated us as I stared down at her refrigerated corpse, unmarked but still so very, very dead.
I know I talked, eventually. I know I did things. I took care of matters, because, really, that’s what you’re supposed to do. I made arrangements to have her body transported back to our little town, and I called the priest at our church and the insurance company, and a hundred other numbers. I know I spoke to my kids and listened to them cry, listened to their slow realization that it wasn't just a social call because I missed them.
I remember all of it in a distant way, like it happened to somebody else. Because for all the world, the only thing that mattered to me was that Belle was dead.
Belle was dead.
Stolen from me for all time.
There are things we do in our lives that we regret. For every single thing I got right in my life, I suppose there is at least one action or idea I had that I would gladly do over. That’s the way the world works.
I never regretted any part of my time with Belle. I was ashamed of certain things I did, and if I could have changed those things, I probably would have, but none of them involved her, not directly at least.
It's fiction, of course. My wife was not murdered. She was merely stolen away by the Grim Reaper. There are differences, naturally, because I was not writing about Bonnie. I was writing about Belle. At least I thought I was when I wrote the piece. Now I suspect I was merely telling myself a truth I didn't want to face. I was getting ready for the inevitable in the only way I could.
We try to prepare ourselves, I suppose. We try. As a writer, I think the truth wants to come out, even if, sometimes, you don’t necessarily approve of that truth. You may rest assured; I don’t have an easy time reading the words above. They come too close in a lot of ways, though to be fair they are diluted. The reality was far, far more intense than my words conveyed.
I did not mean to write about Bonnie’s death. I did not intend to prepare myself, because I wanted very much to believe she would always be with me. It’s been almost two and a half years now, and I still miss Bonnie every day.
But we move on, don’t we? I never thought that would be possible. I still miss Bonnie every day, but, yes, I can breathe without having to remember how any more. I can sometimes go several days without feeling a sudden onslaught of tears.
We move on. I’ve been thinking about Bonnie a lot lately. To be fair, I’ve never stopped thinking about her. I sincerely doubt that I ever will. But now and then I can think about moving forward and I can make plans instead of simply forcing myself to get through the day.
I continue to work out every day, and I am still dieting and trying to get rid of the extra pounds I managed to put on through the course of years. Judging by comments made, I’m doing all right in that department. My pants are too baggy again, and sometime soon I’ll likely invest in new threads a few sizes smaller. I still work at Starbucks as a barista, and I still write novels for a living. One of my regulars is looking to start a private school and has asked me if I’d be interested in teaching a creative writing course. Might as well ask me if I’d like to try having fun. Should the opportunity arise, I’ll very likely take it. As with the writing deals, I’ll believe it when I’m looking at the contract and until then it will remain something to consider as a possibility. I remain, in other words, a work in progress.
Forward motion is always preferred to stagnation.
It is what it is.