Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Gambler's Life

 My writer's brain is an over-loaded U-Haul trailer of sights, sounds, smells, textures, colors and vignettes, wallowing down life’s highway. Even unpleasant happenings, like discovering that a half mile of rapids lay ahead, five minutes after donning my first kayak, or being pulled in by Customs for a random inspection, as happened to me on a recent trip to Canada, become grist for the writing mill.

A distinct advantage of this approach to life is that it forces me to write, as some of the load of information must be discharged onto paper or the whole system will collapse, like a bulging moving van sitting lopsided on a broken axle, out on the shoulder of Highway 99. Whether it comes out as a poem, a short story or a novel is immaterial, as long as the urgency is dispelled.

Another advantage of such eclectic observation is that it sharpens my enjoyment of life. No matter where I am or how beset I might feel, there is so much to observe and remember that I’m pulled directly into the moment—and isn’t that just what an enlightened approach to life is supposed to accomplish?

I’ve actually developed techniques for bringing about this kind of immediacy, some of which have proven to be life-threatening--but effective, nonetheless. In fact, one of my novels in progress, The Waiting Stone, pulls its name from just such a circumstance, in which I was spread-eagle on a limestone face, exhausted, starting to hug the cliff with my midsection, and fully aware that thirty feet below me waited strange conical boulders that resembled nothing so much as the lower jaw of a giant, archaic shark. Nevertheless, it was the dry, powdery, scratchy texture and slightly stuffy smell of the moss on which my cheek was embedded, and the fascinating sensation of adrenaline coursing progressively through my body, rendering now my legs, then my arms, and finally my entire torso into a quivering, gelatinous mass, that held my immediate attention.

If it is true that God protects children and fools, then one can readily imagine where I fit in. Or perhaps S/He has written in a special codicil for writers, who--God knows!--deserve some kind of special dispensation, simply for taking on the risks of the creative life. Writing is a gambler’s life: will what one has written--in one’s own blood, it sometimes feels--be worthy of being read? Will it ever find its way into print? Will the critics love it or lob literary rotten tomatoes? Will one be able to sustain oneself financially or end up on a street corner with a cardboard sign, “WILL WORK FOR FOOD?” Will one retain one’s family and friends or will they turn away, shaking their heads and muttering under their breath, as one launches into yet another three-year stint of novel writing, the gleam of a half-baked plot in one’s eyes?

Stay tuned, my friends!  Tomorrow is 7-7-11. Behold: this gambler cometh!

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