01 August 2010

God, Stephen King and Irish Gumbo Walk into a Bar...

Not really. We did enjoy a bike ride together, in a sense.

For the first time in months, I am reading a book for more than five minutes at a time.  The book is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.  Stop rolling your eyes and sighing, I know, I know, I was supposed to have read this long ago.  Cut me some slack, I've been busy. Lazy, as well, but let's not discuss that, shall we?

It was Mr. King who roused me off my lazy arse this day. I refer to him as Mr. because writing 'It was Stephen who...' seemed wrong, somehow. I do not know him personally, although that has rarely restrained my informality in these posts of mine. No, it had more to do with that he's Stephen King, an author of accomplishments so well known the lower reaches of I have yet to even touch.  I'm not in that league.*

While there is much to like in On Writing, he wrote two things in particular that grabbed my attention.  I'm going to take them in reverse order. The second one shamed me into heading out the door, but it was the first one that garnered more think time.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:  read a lot and write a lot."  This was the second thing, the firestarter if you will.  I quote him here because of its brevity and its power.  Yes, it may seem obvious,  but how many of us do those things?  By reading, he didn't mean the backs of cereal boxes or five minutes skimming paragraphs in a book on top of a stack of books, destined to be half-ignored.  By writing, he didn't mean a paragraph of hastily scribbled ideas on a torn sheet of notepad paper and cryptic words in the margins of an impromptu day planner.

He meant reading books,  many books.  He meant paragraphs and word counts reaching into the thousands.

I hung my head a bit.  I don't recall having read a book to completion in maybe two years now.  My writing output used to be,  as many of you probably already know, within the range of the professional.  I know I have not written everyday in so long I can vaguely recall ever having done so.  Somewhere back there, the wheels fell off the bus.

I became restless at this revelation.  Action was needed, but desire to write was lacking.  I resolved to go for a long bike ride.  I put the rack on the car, put my bike on the rack and headed off to one of my favorite parks,  one with plenty of paved trails that I could easily ride with my hybrid tires and sore butt.  I was hoping for some solitude.

I must have missed the memo,  because it seemed to be "Large groups of people picnic and party day" at the park.  There was a Baltimore Ravens fan club and a very large church group,  packs of mountain bikers and at least two separate birthday parties.  Fortunately, it is a big park,  and the trails were surprisingly empty.  That did not mean there was no one to see.  On the contrary, everywhere I looked I kept seeing the one grouping of people I was least in a mood to see: happy couples.  The place was lousy with them, walking on the road, in picnic shelters, wading in the river.

Call me a curmudgeon, but all that togetherness was mildly irritating.

This was in large part due to the first thing in On Writing which I mentioned above.  Let me quote it in full:
 Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.  They don't have to make speeches.  Just believing is usually enough.
I was taken aback by this because I understood it, deeply and in a way almost painful.  The quote is in reference to the support he received from his wife,  but it spoke to a broader idea that whacked me in the head like a rubber bullet.  Seeing all the couples strolling together,  some hand in hand, only hardened an already painful truth:  I lack that kind of support.

I've been fortunate to have known that belief more than once in my life, but things change, they always do.  Waves from the ocean of life keep pounding our shores and the edges begin abrading, pieces fall and get swept into the undertow, never to be seen again.  It is true that some things don't seem to change much, but nothing and no one is invulnerable.  Certainly not I.  My ego has finally admitted it.  My pride continues to choke on it.

I attempted to put the notion aside to concentrate on the bike ride.  I was successful for some time as I dug in and pedaled my way up false flats, admired the gently flowing river and the butterflies amongst the leaves.  I felt so good just being in action without having to consider every move I made.  Blue patches of sky mingled with green leaves in the sunlight, lulling me into a peaceful mood.

Then God showed up.  A big rock smack in the middle of the pond.

He wasn't there in the sense of poof! suddenly He is riding alongside me on a bike.  God arrived, as He often does, in the guise of a question posed by my subconscious.

Why is it, the little voice said,  that so many other people get to be with someone, but not me?  Why, God, is it so?

I refrained from yelling an epithet and kept on pedaling.  Now was really not the time to get into another running argument between me and Him.  It was such a beautiful day, and I was enjoying myself.  This pretty much guaranteed at least there would be a brisk dialogue. 

In my head, I couldn't see a face, just a presence.  The presence appeared to be sitting in a leather club chair.  The faint aroma of cigars was in the air.  I heard the tinkle of ice in a glass, followed by a sigh.  God spoke.

"Who says you are alone?" the voice said.
"I do.  Because I am.  You of all...beings...should know that."  I murmured without turning my head.
"Ah, yes, I do know that. Omniscience has its uses."  

A pause, more ice hitting the glass.  I think I even heard crunching noises.  I stifled a giggle at the notion of the Creator of the Universe chewing ice just like my daughter.  The presence spoke again.

"My addled son, you may be alone right now, this is true.  But you know how I work.  Mysterious ways and all that.  You really believe it is hopeless?"

I gritted my teeth before responding, "Do you really want me to answer that?  Nothing seems to be working according to any plan I have ever had.  I've been wrong or misguided so many times now I've effectively given up on wanting to want anything." 

The professional pessimist in me was taking over. 

"Surely you've noticed all that bitching I do about being lonely."  It was true.  I was irritated at myself for opening that door again. God or whatever it was just chuckled, stood up and made to leave. He said "Will you do something for Me?"  I heard a the faint squeak of an old wood door being opened.

Who says no to God, especially when He is being polite? "What?" I muttered.
"Be patient...Don't give up on the things you love, just because you think love has given up on you."  The door creaked shut, and then He was gone.

By now, I was approaching a narrow footbridge, so I halted the bike and dismounted to get some water before I walked my bike across.  A set of park service historical signs was opposite me on the other side of the path.  Next to the signs was a young couple on bikes,  talking softly to each other while they read the displays.  I sighed.  I twisted the cap from the water bottle and drank.  The tepid water was faintly bitter in my mouth, or so it seemed.  The couple rode off down the path in the opposite direction.

It wasn't the water in my mouth that tasted bitter,  it was the joke I had just heard.  A joke with a punchline I didn't exactly get, swirling around in a jaded mouth.

*In comparison, I may as well be on another planet.  Maybe the Pluto of planets in the Solar System of Writing.  Except Pluto is no longer a planet. Jeez, that made it worse, didn't it?


  1. Perhaps God had a wee-bit of scotch in the glass before he rattled the ice cubes?

  2. I have read this book FOUR TIMES. I adore it- and I knew you would.


  3. dude what the hell are you doing riding in the park? were you in a banana seat bike with streamers and a basket with flowers? get yer arse away from romantic places and take your bike into the woods or into the city or a long stretch of nowhere. people near me when i'm biking - eww - i get the same way. never have been able to do those 'brews and bikes' and 'bridge pedal' events they have here in stumptown. everyone going in slow motion. argh.

    now quit yer bitchin and if you want to meet a girl, meet a girl. i think it goes like this, 'hello, my name is billy bob. i would love to buy you a cup of coffee sometime. here is my number. i think you are lovely. have a good day.' now mind you not a man i've dated has ever started it like that, it's usually something much lamer, but if i were to be approached by a stranger, that would be a nice way for him to go about it. now go get 'em tiger!

    ps - if there is a god he wouldn't use the word 'addled'. he'd sound like bill cosby, a la his 'noah' routine. right? :)

  4. Love the works of Mr. King. This particular book most of all.

    Alone doesn't have to be a bad thing.
    Perhaps the love that you need right now is for your own company.

  5. You write, perhaps somewhat petulantly: "I've been wrong or misguided so many times now I've effectively given up on wanting to want anything."

    Hmm. This doesn't ring true to my ear... and from where the conversation goes, it sounds like God-or-whatever wasn't having any of it either.

    In any case, I don't see a single bit of resigned apathy here - you might WANT to want to give up, but there's still too much passion in this writing. Perhaps you haven't quite figured out the logistics, but I get the impression you'll only be alone as long as you want (or need) to be.

    Sounds like you already know the steps to getting back to writing as you want... or are finding them from Mr. King. So that, at least, seems well in hand. Woot! :)

    Today's musical reference: John Gorka 'Full of Life': http://www.ilike.com/artist/John+Gorka/track/Full+Of+Life
    Among other 'ah-yes-I've-felt-that-way' bits in this song, there's this:

    "You see couples who seem happy
    and wonder how they got that way...
    Are they blind or kind of stupid
    or are they having a good day...?"

  6. might be wise to heed that divine advice.

    oh, and by the way, what about all of us...the blog readers? We believe in you. What are we, chopped liver? I for one, happen to think that our supportive, internet-adapted companionship should count for something. Not so wonderful as a real live love interest. But honest to goodness something.

    please do keep writing. and reading.

  7. I set myself a little goal of writing down five words a day a long time ago.
    I still do, and they usually read back as absolutely nothing at all!
    I realised that these words usually included shopping lists in this mess and far to many notes to self.
    I tried God and just came up with an anagram of dog - see, nothing at all!

  8. I know it's not much, in the grand scheme of things, but your words matter to other people. What you write makes a difference. I read all of your previous blogging today (day off sick, might as well do something) and you made me laugh, cry, and think about things in a different way.

    Love sometimes sucks. Sometimes it stays away for much too long. Sometimes so do words (my current problem). You clearly haven't quit believing in the possibilities, though, and you can still see joy, even on craptacular days.

    It isn't much, but I believe in you, in your ability to touch someone through your writing, your ability to show in words the feelings that are so hard to express, joy, grief, sadness, pain, little glints of laughter. Please don't stop writing. I feel a little like something from Peter Pan, saying this, but I believe in you. I do! I do! :P (Hopefully that made you grin a little, at least!)

    Take care of yourself. Nothing is invulnerable, I agree. So take care of what you have and let yourself find joy.

  9. You, like a good friend of mine, are seriously making me want to read the works of Mr.King. I want to, but I'm not sure if I ever will. That's a bad thing right? I may get looked at like I'm a circus sideshow. The girl that never read King!

    Liked this post a lot, especially the bit before the door creaked closed... :)

  10. i have wanted to read his book on writing for the last year.

    because you are alone now doesn't mean you will always be. i was alone in heart for years and years until i realized Mr. Curry, my best friend, was actually the man i was in love with. it shocked me more than anyone. sometimes it sneaks up on you.

  11. Ah, *On Writing*, one of several essential library treasures. Maybe I'll bring it back out and have another look. I just finished Vogler's *The Writer's Journey*. I hadn't read it before, though I knew a lot about it. It was exactly the help I needed in getting past some plotting questions.

    I think in the absence of someone else to show you support, you have to look inside yourself for it. I know I do, since I no longer have that person who used to listen intently while I talked out loud through a stumbling block in the manuscript. All he had to do was listen and pose the occasional question, and I worked it out myself. Now, Max -- the dog -- gets the honor. Max is temporary, and I have faith that I'll find my life partner soon so I don't have to feel so lonely anymore. I have faith that you will too.

    I'm not sure about god. So often things happen to reinforce my suspicion that he is an asshole. Or not there at all, despite all our hopes and confidence that he is.

    But I'm here, and so I write because I must, and I choose to believe that my writing will be the legacy I leave behind.

    Yeah, maybe I better pull out Mr. King for a (3rd or 4th) reread.

  12. Writers write.

    And they read.

    And they have internal experiences that others call "stories" and show them to the world. That's you, IG. And me. And all the other commenters. And every time we write, we get better at it. It's more than the ability to write a cohesive sentence. It's relating what you've become aware of to others.

    Enjoyed this.


  13. Love the King book, loved this post.

    Keep writing. Stephen has Tabitha, but you have us.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...