Last night, I dreamed I was a Roman princess who fell in love with a slave boy.
The dream goes on--to quite salacious detail I might add--but this is not what I want to share with you, Internet.
Why I bring it up at all is because of what it taught me about writing.
See, over the last few days, I had caught snippets of Gladiator. And in my life I’ve known tomboys. And emptied quite a few trash cans. And fallen in love. I’ve passionately smashed persons against walls and been smashed. I’ve “watched helplessly” as things “happened to” me, and crossed the line of “enough is enough,” the point where I discovered agency in my life, grew less passive. I’ve had friends who’ve had sisters and who’ve loved those sisters or hated them, who’ve been loved and hated by them. Friends have relayed stories of their own families, wherein one sister steals another’s husband.
All of which factored into my dream last night.
And it occurred to me: Isn’t that a little how fiction works? (At least for me.) No matter how smooth the prose and seamless the plot ends up being, under that lacquered surface, my fiction is a haphazard collage. It begins innocently enough with a single element. I go with that element till I hit a wall. Then I sit there. I wrack my brain, swear out loud, check Facebook/Twitter/ Gmail/every blog known to man, check my Hawaii Women’s Journal e-mail account, send 20 brainstormy e-mails to poor Jenn and Kathy, leave my home office to complain (to husband/dog/no one) how hard it all is, coddle and carry my dog, get petted by my husband, swear some more, make myself sit back down, and then recall some random article I read __________ [insert: while editing American Anthropologist; while surfing the web to avoid editing AA; while paging through back issues of The Sun, Real Simple, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Canteen, etc.].
I write one more sentence. I then blog/Fb/Tweet about how hard it is to write one sentence. I get up for a drink of water. I take a shower. While in the shower, I remember some anecdote someone told me, and then I remember another article, and a photo I once saw, and something that once happened to me, and something that I watched happen to someone else. It gets to the point I have to count off the things I remember on my fingers and refuse to think of any more until I get near a piece of paper. I get back to my desk and jot it all down in my notebook. I reread my notes. I laugh at myself desperately and think, dumbass, that’s never going to all fit together.
And some of it doesn’t.
But some of it does.
I give up on the computer and pull out a notebook. I hit some vein of thought, and entire pages fill. I reread the pages. I scratch out all but one paragraph’s worth. I feel stupid. I feel anger. I feel despair. I pour some wine. I write another sentence, avoid writing, another sentence, avoid writing, another sentence. I re-read what I’ve written and think I’m brilliant. I drink some more, write some more. Eventually I end up with a story. It’s usually about 2am now. I am really tired. I re-read my story and again feel despair. That was a waste of several hours/days, I think. What the fuck is that shit, I think. Maybe you should get a real job, I think. So I pet my dog and snuggle in next to my husband.
And when I wake in the morning, I think, hey, Self, good morning. Pour yourself another cup of coffee, you badass, because some of that is not half bad.