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A friend, the same friend who inspired my recently most read piece (Drawing “I ♥ U” on your back), might be responsible for another.
She sent me a startling quote, one which I had never heard, and related it to me.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
If you’re a reader, you probably know who said it. I did not…until she told me. Ernest Hemingway.
Before you or I get caught up in criticism, I don’t think she was comparing me to Hemingway. I’m no writer and if I were, certainly not one of his caliber. Though I haven’t read much of his work, I’m familiar with his reputation and I remember perusing the pictures of him and the magnificent Ava Gardner at Ventas, the famous bullring in Madrid where he, I believe, was moved to write “Death In The Afternoon” (what a title!). What I will say is that in some small way (perhaps because we are two men who have picked up a pen), my friend related the quote to me. If she hadn’t, I almost would have for if I pay for most of my pieces in anything, it’s with many pounds of my own flesh.
I have no idea whether a reader, other than the most astute, would guess this. I try to convey a message more than my agony. Sometimes, readers will get it. Sometimes they will not. The first hint is whether the reader who then writes me a comment says something along the lines of “I’m glad to see you’re dealing with your demons.” That’s someone I’ve missed. That’s someone my message wasn’t meant for because never is my message only me dealing with my demons. Nevertheless, back to Hemingway (and no, not his demons)…
My cathartic compositions are more like fishing expeditions. When I’m moved to write, rather than sitting down at a typewriter, I sit down beside a stream, a river of words floating by and I do my best to catch them with my rod and reel or ensnare them in my net. The words in this river are not my words. They don’t originate with me and I can’t take credit for them because all I am doing is catching and capturing as many of them in the order they’re in and casting them onto my page. I pull them up in fragments, complete sentences and sometimes even paragraphs that are fed to me and flow through me often one by one. Sometimes, these streams and strands of words pouring out beside me flitter and flick and leave me dangling without one: the last word. If I move my net and jerk my rod, so far, I’ve been able to eventually land that uncooperative word, the one that almost got away.
This stream of words doesn’t flow forever. Sometimes my proverbial river runs dry. While there is water, there is nothing to catch, no words for the end of my rod. This is where my anxiety and uneasiness creep in and begin to gnaw at the end of my line or the cross sections of my net. I fret that I won’t catch the words that were and will be coming, that were flowing so smoothly and so effortlessly out of my fingers and onto my page that they’ll be done before I am and that I’ll be haunted with an unfinished piece, edited mid-stream and slowly sucked into dry-lake-bed-like land. Minus the fear and the fretting, the catching is the easy part.
The painful part is in the angst-filled agony of pulling those words up and onto shore. As they come up out of my insides, they scratch and screech and scream. That’s when the bloodletting begins. They rise to the surface, change color, collect and coagulate.
Though the words are often easy to catch, they’re painful to hold onto. And as unpleasant as that process is, what’s worse is not catching them at all, knowing the stream is slipping by while I’m refusing to cast my reel or throw my net. That’s where my writing originates.
Though my arms are mangled and my hands a mess, by the time my expedition is over, it’s the effort and the agony of the chore that leaves me wasted and wrecked. My innards are out and my outsides in and I’m cut up and ripped to ribbons by passing this behemoth that wanted in no way to get out of me but was thrust up and expelled nonetheless.
Writing is like this for me. It is a kind of voluntary pain I participate in because not playing is even more painful.
Imagine standing on the edge of a fishing vessel with your bait bobbing beneath the surface only to see it suddenly sucked down. The response, almost without thinking, is not to let go of the rod but to hold on, to fall backward and to wind relentlessly. I remember the first time I did this. I was handed a stick, with a transparent wire attached to a fish already well on its way away from me, the boat or the tip of my rod. The one thing I didn’t need to be told was to wind, rather it was when. Once I did, once I dragged that magnificent, iridescent blue and yellow dorado to the surface and it was hooked and flipping on the deck as exhausted as I was I nearly vomited. I was utterly spent and instead of overjoyed, still reeling from the relentless reeling, I was light headed, dizzy, disoriented and nauseous. I was swallowing hard trying to keep my stomach from splattering at my feet. Tears of exhaustion seeped out of my eyes and had I stepped onto a scale, I’m convinced I would have been 20 pounds lighter than before my trip began. The dorado didn’t look much better either. It was anything but iridescent any longer. It was becoming a vacant, lifeless grey.
To compare this to one of my pieces, one of my favorites (if you’ll permit me a moment of self-indulgence), allow to me relate the writing of “No Pasa Nada.” I began at 9 PM and I wrestled with it, over nuances and images and how best to convey what it was I was going through when it happened and I was paying in gallons of pain, draining from the inner corners of my swollen eyes. I stopped dozens of times to catch my breath before diving back down to bring up to the surface this experience caught in the sediment and the sand. I wrestled and related and finally pried it from beneath its rock on the ocean floor after cramping and convulsing. I hurt like hell. Once I got it to the surface it was past 4 AM and all I could do was cough and hack and stand in pools of my own tears. I was up to my ankles in angst and I was beaten black and blue.
That, for me, is what writing is. It’s paying with many pounds of my own flesh once I set my fingers to the fire. While Hemingway bleeds, I bruise.