It had been many months since I went around the corner from our house to the new development. Why would I?—turning left instead of right, I could go down to the lake. Turning right, and right again, they’d taken out a grove of trees and prepped the lots with storm and sewer drains marked with stakes and plastic tape, put down straw and strips of sod, drain rock, sidewalks. It’s where I used to come for story ideas, when it was still woods with vague trails, ferns, moss: signs saying “Sensitive Area” with illustrations of heron and bobcat, an idealized salmon arcing, mid-air—and yet, it was no different than the developments I knew back east growing up, the only difference was I knew this place before, when it was trees.
I had a story idea about an evil character with really long arms. The character had these arms that extended like tendrils and moved the way strands of seaweed might in the ocean, real slow. I kept going back to the woods thinking the story would just present itself to me and I wouldn’t have to write it. I took notes, but when I reread them I got discouraged. The idea didn’t really pan out. I kept combining the horror premise with scenes from my childhood, but like mixing two pieces of music it didn’t fit. I also wasn’t sure I wanted to do horror. I kept coming back to memoir, there was enough horror in that for me.
I think I didn’t write it because there was this barrier of fear between me and the story. The barrier was just around me, I made it. I didn’t know many writers but one I did, Dawn’s friend Patrick: we’d go see him and his new baby, and when it was time for everyone to go he’d brew a pot of coffee and start glowing; he knew he’d be up late writing, before he had to go to work in the morning. He was really excited about that, he was doing it.
And there was a guitar player I knew in Pittsburgh who was really good, I remember watching him play in my apartment and that far-away look he got concentrating, disassociating himself, the fingers and the brain. And we’d often go to bars or people’s houses to hang out but he’d always decline, he said he had to go home so he could play.
It’s much easier to be someone or something in your head. The fear even allows you to rationalize it, to make it seem real. I heard a guitarist do an interview on the radio last week who said he had to become himself, that’s what he really needed to succeed, to just be who he was meant to be.
I’ve said it before, the danger comes with the money, the real need for security we all have and the trade-offs we make, the fear in us that prefers we don’t even try, so we don’t have to fail. To protect us from ourselves and our urges, and deny us the same.
It’s that banging on the desk, on your window, in your in-box that beats the same drum, “I’m an artist,” I’m an artist, I am!
Perhaps keep writing it enough and you won’t have to say it so much.
And when they say “I play music,” or “I’m going to a play,” remember that’s what it’s supposed to be about, so play.
Photo credit, Loren Chasse.
Come play with me on Saturdays on my new, spring guest post series Anthony’s Navel.