I have been writing a novel.
Then one day I said to myself,
“WHY THE FUCK AM I WRITING A NOVEL?” I think I actually may have been shouting which is why everyone on the train started, slowly and carefully, to back away and the rate of eye contact dropped to zero.
Who decides these things?
Really, should we citizens be allowed to just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to write a novel.’?” You know like the statement, “I’m going to walk the dog,” or “I’m going to have ham for breakfast,” or “I’m going to set fire to my spouse.”
It’s a little known fact that the statement, I’m going to write a novel, is an indicator of a stroke, and the person should be rushed to the emergency room, or the nearest mental hospital if brain ischemia won’t really make a difference in your relationship anyway.
Writing a novel is a bit like getting a Ph.D.—you better really want it because by the time you get it, you will not give a shit. Oh this old thing? Why did I think I wanted that? It’s like putting a great rabbit coat down on “layaway,” and then anticipating you are going to want to wear that ridiculous out-of-fashion garment once you finally make the last payment ten years from now. (Or you could wear it to graduation like I did and then give to a homeless person if you want to insult their sense of style).
I realize the word layaway reveals my age, where I was born, where I shopped, and may provide information on economic status, ethnicity and nationality. You could find that out on Facebook too, but this is more fun. Actually you can’t find that out about me on Facebook because I lie day and night on Facebook. I lie in wait to post things that aren’t true like:
I’m in a healthy relationship
I love eating gluten free
I’m about to finish my novel.
HOW WRITING A NOVEL IS RELATED TO DEATH
It’s a little known fact that novels, ninety percent of them anyway, are not meant to be finished. Perhaps we writers are too Darwinian. If a human is finished, it means she or he is dead, so you see the hazards of finishing some work.
I completed my novel and now it is dead.
This relates to things like aborted fetuses, or miscarried babies, so obviously the “finished” writer is galloping towards a period of grief and meaninglessness, and is full of questions like: what is the meaning of life if we are just here and then, we die? And most books do. They sit around in the author’s house wishing they were in a bookstore, online or otherwise. Or they languish in the bowels of someone’s poorly designed website—have you ever tried to read several pages of pink font on a white background?—hidden from view amongst the plethora of things people think is important to say.
Is that really fair to the novel? To bring it fully into existence just so it can pine about the glories of what it could have been if it had been written by someone famous, or alternatively, written by someone who could write? What we do to our children is disgusting.
Yes, you say to your drooling novel, that only has one leg and is missing a pancreas (because you wouldn’t pay a good editor) and part of an eye, and the left front cerebral cortex only works on alternate Wednesdays, you are my creation! Life is beautiful!
Note: if your novel is making gurgling choking sounds as it tries form some clear words—probably something to the tune of Jesus Christ put me down now!—it’s not a good sign.
Literature is one of those areas of life where you don’t get locked away for saying, “I killed my child.” Maybe it’s because we writer-people understand how you might accidentally finish something off without knowing beforehand what it truly means, and therefore can claim ignorance, or at least lack of pre-meditation. Accidental death in other words. But I didn’t mean to!
But maybe we should jail most people who finish novels. After all suicide is still fairly illegal and assisted suicide is completely so.
FINISHING A NOVEL IS JUST THE EASY WAY OUT
Furthermore, from a philosophical stand point, isn’t the point of life the path? So if you want to live and you want your novel to have hope that it can live, you just keep writing.
Anything else is death. The ultimate all-too-achievable goal, so-I-should-get-some-kind-of-Pulitzer for KEEPING HOPE ALIVE and NEVER FINISHING MY NOVEL.
The blog article will read, “SHE WAS SUCH A GREAT WRITER AND CARED SO DEEPLY FOR HER WORK THAT SHE NEVER COMPLETED ANYTHING!!!! Here are some excerpts from stuff she never finished! Admire the possibilities! Imagine just how good it could have been!” (sounds of orgasms)
What would that award be named? I can see the headline now: Dr. Laughing Coyote has just received The Abeyance Award for Literature, in some circles known as The Purgatory Prize.
DEATH SHOULD NOT BE A GOAL
It’s too easy. It happens to everyone I know, despite their best intentions. Novels should not be forced to croak before their time. Maybe that’s why editing can go on endlessly: it’s a kind of life-support.
Death at the right time can be convenient. But “coming full circle writing a book?” that’s just a euphemism for giving up too soon! I’m an American and I”m afraid of death and know that no one wants to die!
Okay, okay, as a psychologist, I do realize death is a rather handy thing because if you, or your novel, are sick of living, why continue? Anyone who has sampled a few months with a chronic illness knows why suicide should not be illegal, which is a hilarious concept anyway. How exactly do you arrest someone who has killed themselves? How do you punish them? Do you take charge of their body and put it in a box and dig a hole and trap it into the ground with a bunch of witnesses standing around, and then put a large stone over the top so they can’t get out if they happen to wake up and decide they are no longer dead or suicidal?
Take that dead person!
THE GOAL OF THE NOVEL IS TO KEEP WRITING IT
So isn’t the point of writing a novel to just keep writing it? What’s this big dead with ‘finishing?’ I mean you are just going to kill the little motherfucker anyway later and then you’ll have to find something else to do with the long lonely days full of meaningless work, trivial discussions with other humans, better conversations with your pets, moments of deciding whether to trade in your current imaginary girlfriend for a newer model, and trying to figure out your fucking iPhone before they upgrade it in the next 12 minutes. Why not keep your novel around for periods of insomnia, post break-up existential paralysis, things to do while standing around in the unemployment office, or waiting for a bus that never comes because you live in New Mexico and there is only one bus in the state, and it only comes once a year, so you better make damn sure you know you really want to go to wherever that is because you will be there for the next long excruciating 945 days of the year. Yes I know the year is 365 days. It just feels like more in the neighborhood of 900 to 1000.
Really we should have years that are a 1000 days. When we were done, we’d feel like we’d really accomplished something. Not this awkward 365 and ¼ crap. It doesn’t even round off right. (Wow I redeemed my entire life in that last 6 hours, shew that was close!) That’s why we have to invent a magic day, called February 29, every four years and hope to hell nothing important happens on that day (or if you are nervous about not remembering your anniversary, you could give yourself an automatic out, where only remembering what day you got married every four years would be an accomplishment, not grounds for divorce. Plan ahead is what I say.)
So what was I saying? Oh yes, trying to finish a novel is planned suicide. No wonder all of us aspiring novelists say (usually on February 29th),
“I’m going to write a novel.”
Not, “I’m going to write a novel and finish it!”
That’s tantamount to waking up one day and saying, “One day I’m going to wake up dead.”
WHAT PEOPLE SAY TO ME ABOUT THIS ISSUE
Here is where my psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, editors, friends (who are mainly volunteers—if your friend is wearing a name tag it’s a dead give away), and complete strangers, who know everything about me because they read my blog…never mind that it’s FICTION! I mean I think I’m a coyote with a doctorate for Christ’s sake, read the fine print.
Anyway here is where other people tell me: you are over-identifying with your novel. You are not your writing.
But Coyote knows better. Having spent years chasing that tale, i have a foolhardy wisdom.
The well intentioned (and probably largely successful and fulfilled) friend-person adds, “The novel is not alive, therefore it can’t die.”
Well, she’s obviously never been to a critique group or seen a fireplace.
“You will die,” says my friend (Okay good my interlocutor isn’t a total moron) “but your novel will live on. It’s an inanimate object and will not die.”
And this brings me to my next point, other than my human helper has been to biology class and learned something, and that is how infuriating it is that people die, but their things don’t immediately collapse into oblivion along with them. That a Tupperware dish can outlive my mother, for example, is insulting. I look at this plastic thing, which happens to be green with a white lid, that my mother used and think, “You are still here but my mother is dead. What the fuck?”
Okay, so either we should stop dying (which is not a good idea) or we should engineer our shit so when we go, it evaporates. Why should I have this great looking, cut glass, expensive-as-all get-out, eight-inch, tall, pink and white candy dish, and not my mother? How is that fair? It’s the universe’s consolation prize: Oh, okay, well you can’t have your mother, but here’s this cut glass vase and a bunch of her terry cloth towels instead. Do they not understand I can’t have the same argument I had with my mother over and over with a set of yellow terry cloth towels? (I could however probably prevent said towels from voting for Romney).
And if I get mad and storm out in a huff, the graceful painting of the Indian woman near a tee-pee out in the plains does not get that funny compressed look on her face? And if I ignore the Navajo rug, it doesn’t tell me stories about poor abandoned and mistreated children?
Also I would look incredibly stupid buying flowers and groceries for my mother’s tiny rocking chair she had as a child, and arguing with insurance companies and doctors and social workers about the quality of medical care for her twelve-inch ceramic Christmas tree, that had also been her mother’s, and I can’t tell the rings on my fingers, the gold one cut into rosette patterns, the solid silver band I wear outside my grandma’s wedding ring so it won’t fall off my finger, and the solid gold ring with a diamond inset that looks like the Zia tribe’s sacred sign that New Mexico adopted for its state flag, that I have always loved her the most, even when I couldn’t stand her?
And try as hard as I might, I cannot stand in front of my mother’s silver and get it to laugh.
I hate things. I really do.
But words are different. Words are alive because they require the alchemy of consciousness to read them and there is an entire relationship inside the cadre of their structure. They produce reactions, association, open doorways, cut them off, create life, kill things, and like certain seeds in the desert they can lie inert for years until a new interaction with the moisture of the human eye and tongue makes them bloom.
My novel is alive. I think it is more alive than I am, mostly. Certainly she holds my more talented, truthful, playful, conscious, emotional and humorous self. She’s the reason I’m alive. Indubitably she is the vehicle for my being to express and come to terms with life in its many facets, and she is the gloves I don to experience it, doing most of my touching of others through words of many kinds. Raw experience I find mostly difficult in one way or the other, but the soft caress of hands covered by words, softens and makes palatable this human life I have inherited from the cosmos that is my Mother.
The only thing comparable is having a cat. Capaccino is excellent as well.