Monday, January 14, 2008

What lies beneath

Trying to explain how I feel during, after - and why the hell not, before - writing is nigh impossible, nearly as difficult as transforming a beautifully tormenting thought or emotion from its natural, excited state into the human construct of written language, which, no matter how successful the writer is, will always seem cold and placid in comparison to the unstable superheat that arouses our senses, our desires. In a recent post that was primarily concerned with the part of the writing process that's observable by the human eye, i.e. the words on the paper, there were indeed erratic flurries of not-so-subtle hints about the churning maelstrom underneath.

What lies below the surface is inextricably linked with the phenomena seen outside playing on the fields of white. Within and without, two sides, two as one; Apollo may be the lord of poetry, but would we not be remiss in forgetting about Janus? For what is a poem, any piece of writing, but a doorway permitting a glimpse of our interior life, a snapshot of a being looking both forward and back, to cherished memories held with the utmost care, ahead to ones yet to be fulfilled, perhaps never. So, thanks to the query of b, let's see if I can try and articulate the obscure goings-on of my terminally fucked up insides, one man's experience of something that anyone who writes - forget about poetry or fiction for a moment, every single person who has a blog does - deals with day after night.

To understand, we must first return to the provenance of all things.

Hear me, all ye hallowed beings/Both high and low of Heimdall's children/Thou wilt, Valfather, that I well set forth/The fates of the world which as first I recall.

Too far back, dumbass. But pass me some of that mead.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Quoi ?

Hey, wacky cosmos, let's keep it in the here and now, shall we? And nothing about the blind idiot daemon-sultan, Azathoth? Your funeral. Anyway, the mind is always calculating, the heart is always beating, thus, there's always going to be a wisp or a thousand of an unwritten composition floating through the ether, even if unrecognizable or veiled to my conscious eye. On the wing of fancy flights is where I generally reside, even if rudely and consistently interrupted, pulled back down by life on this nondescript ball of molten rock.

A feeling, a sensation, a memory, one of these three abstractions is what jumpstarts the whole process. The possibility of overlap between one or more certainly exists: a memory of a feeling or of a sensation, whether from actual physical proximity or contact or gleaned from the words or look of another. The skin gets tingly, the blood rushes and I reach for my notebook. Yes, there are most definitely times when the biomechanics remain the same, but the stimulus is instead of a darker nature. Not everything is poetry underneath a breezy sky flush with clouds along the Seine while sipping a bottle of wine. I won't go into specifics, but of course, I've written things from a point of utter sadness or passing anger. Though, no, if I stop to think about it, sadness underwrites nearly everything I create, a deep strata hiding under the one you read. And if I manage to craft it with skill, perhaps a word or a line will impart its melancholy perfume, creating a piece more complex than mere ruminations on mundane love that you'd hear in any number of overproduced pop songs.

Whether you've seen someone once, never, will see them next month, next year, in a decade, in two hours, via the written letter, an email or a text message - ugh, forget that last affront to language, yikes - love is never purely sunshine and beds of strikingly red roses. Perhaps for others this isn't the case, but love hurts. Ooh, big revelation there, Randal. Yeah, I know. Thanks. Love is uncomfortable. It's certainly not the default state of humanity, at least no humanity that I'm familiar with. In each poem I try and capture a piece of that instability, whether stretching closer to physical lust, something platonic or a shiver that reverberates through your limbs to where your fingers and the toes on your feet feel it, the tip of your tongue, every last piece of you.

Skulking in the shadows of my mind as I write is the ever-lurking notion that when I am finished, whether completely or with a single stanza - though I'm never truly finished - there's still a load of laundry needs to be put in the dryer, that pile of dishes from lunch is waiting to be cleaned, the kids need help with their homework, my wife wants to discuss the evening's dinner and who's going to cook it.

I write a line, and often it will consist of ten or twelve syllables. There seems to be a natural ebb and flow to such lengths. If the second line conforms - and I try to not put too much thought into the structure at this point, as everything must submit to the lordship of emotion - I may decide to keep that pattern throughout, perhaps varying stanza size in a gentle nod to variety. Free verse is always an option as it's more malleable. As for time-honored prosody, it really is quite difficult. A simple guitar riff may be easier to write, but a well-written one can pack a thunderous, memorable punch. A complex passage requires more attention to compose, with all your diminished ninths and iambic pentameters and dactylic feet - I apologize for the mexed missages - yet both forms of beauty have validity, one the stately Parthenon built in antiquity and admired by Petrarch and his Renaissance disciples, the other a Led Zeppelin The Rain Song or a My Dying Bride Your River sculpted in the modern style. The classical and linear contre the more personal and mercurial. And in between we can find, for example, Beethoven's piano sonata no. 14 in C-sharp minor. Love can be plaintive, agitated, fiery. Whatever my mood is at any given moment - and Lucifer, how it can change despite its proclivity to stay set on 'brood' - dictates the distinct path of love that I will write about.

Then the agony truly begins, the fabrication of those perfect words in their correct places. I cannot help but think of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's oft-cited remark that "poetry" is "the best words in the best order." Oh, that's all?

So I write and write, crossing words out, moving them around, making a mess of sheet after sheet in between sips of wine - and yes, sometimes a beverage of the non-alcoholic variety such as tea - and the occasional pause to sit and listen to a few bars of rumbling piano, lilting strings or crushing chords. Perhaps I'll hear a word in a lyric that will make sense, or will provide just enough of a hint for my mind to grab and run with, searching the nooks and crannies in my head to find le mot juste. Measures of notes have proven time and again to inspire the wheels of creation to move faster and faster - until the next measure when they stop as I effortlessly slip into daydream, absentmindedly dropping the pen onto the pad, succumbing to gravity as it slowly rolls onto the floor, the soft clink of plastic on hardwood shattering my temporary catatonia.

Reaching down to pick it up, I often notice as I straighten out my back that all I've managed to do is write two, maybe three, lines. Which, yeah, can be deflating. In this case, however - the first stanza of which appeared in the 'prequel' to this post - the words, or more accurately, the rough structure, the skeletal frame, materialized without too much exertion. A rare occurrence indeed. It was the words themselves, balancing between whipsmart and clever and a maudlin market hawking so many kinds of cheese that your nostrils simply cannot take it anymore and you faint from the stifling air. Not literally of course. I like a slice of cheese. More scratchings and arrows and swearing and dejection and sweating and pointless thought interjecting such as why haven't I shaved in a week. A tidal wave of irrelevancy threatens to derail the whole process, so I stand up and with an erratic gait, pace around the table in front of the couch, flanked by the very computer that might have this interminably rambling post see the light of day at last.

Passing by my bookcase, I run a finger along the spines, hoping through some long-lost art of osmosis that I'll be inspired. Perhaps I'll pull a volume out, placing my discman - I'm the last mp3 player holdout between the ages of 18 and 49, methinks; even my kids have them - in the empty space that resides above the books, randomly opening upon a passage to see if anything contains the power to inspire me. Or will I go back to one of the wells I've drunk from so many times before to see if I can rework a line for the five hundredth time, each generation's copy weaker than the last? Finding nothing, I sigh.

I sit back down and scratch that itch.

Perhaps another cup of something, red, white or leafy.

The word found at last?

No, roars the thick, black stroke piercing the letters as if Vlad Tepes himself had run through an entire Ottoman squadron now perched above the earth, sliding down towards the blood-soaked dirt, agonizingly slow, jealously watching their insides reaching peace first.

Unexpectedly, a flurry of verse threatens to overwhelm as line after line effortlessly flows. A cursory glance reveals that they aren't half bad, obviously a product of my delirium. Oh, I'm sure the gentle reader has assumed too much drink. You might be right, so better let me read them again. I fear my subject may have tricked me, for

quick into view comes your beguiling mouth
and I know those words you speak - oh, how I know - are worse than the sirens' song. I raise the volume a bit higher, for I have no wax to protect me from your aural spell. Yet, the crash of cymbals, the rush of strings, the end of one measure breaking on the next, each distinct sound, so often lost in the alluring cacophony, becomes as clear as the nighttime Western sky in July, each note recalling nothing but your breath, the hypnotic warmth of your skin, your words that hold the world. The spell has woven its magic, has opened the gates for the whisper of the muse to come through and into me, inking the last script on the sheet, inscribing an unresolved ending.

Once the deed is done, I am left with naught but her unyielding presence in my thoughts, the world slowly flickering away, the impending bout of insomnia - the price I must pay.

If I were a rich man, and if you've had the strength to read this far, you would most certainly be rewarded with a cash bonus or its material equivalent. But since I'm not, thanks for using up a few minutes of your life that you'll never get back. Ha, I say, ha, as I bid you farewell, for now it is time to dig deep once more, it is time to write.


Mary Ellen said...

I'm never sure what to say after a post like this. I'm in awe of your ability to let words flow from you like that...and at the same time, I wonder if I'm really understanding what you're trying to say. You're way out of my league, kiddo.

Freida Bee said...

Randal, These are such fluid fuckery; I love them, the stream of consciousness. Thank you for allowing us to sit in your head for a wee bit. I feel naughty for peeping, but as with most things of that nature, not regretfully so.

La Belette Rouge said...

You blow my synapses and create a great flow of seratonin that rushes to my Amygdalia. No words are enough and, as I am left speechless, I suppose that is a good thing. Truly, you can write. :-)

Suzi Riot said...

Between you, Spartacus, Fran, and fairlane I'm feeling like a talentless hack. And I just realized that I forgot to mention you in my props comment to fairlane over at Jonestown, so my deep apologies. You're just so cool with the poetry and I am just so nerdy with the prose!

Betty C. said...

I read the whole thing, which is not always the case.

Write. The. Damn. Book.

pissed off patricia said...

Damn, I must be up to snuff this morning because I followed you with ease on your mental journey. And yeah, you owe me big bucks for doing it too. ;)

Randal Graves said...

ME, if I'm ever incoherent, I simply blame that godawful emotion. It's love's fault, never mine.

Freida Bee, I feel naughty for the exhibitionism, yet arrive at the same conclusion that you do. Fluid fuckery, I love that.

LBR, you know, despite the parade of medical terms, that was almost poetic. Merci, but only once a week. ;-)

Suzi Riot, bah. I couldn't even attempt to do the long political rants like you do, so that's enough of that crap! I have to resort to cheap snark and goofy pictures. And hey, write some verse up! Not that I suggest posting it, I'm so chickenshit, I've only put one complete one up. ;-)

betty, merci pour vos gentils mots, but one godawful, mothballed novella is quite enough.

POP, I'll pay you after the Cowboys win the NFC championshi - oops. ;-)

Candace said...

Your passage about words impaled with the black slash reminded me of an awake/dream I had this morning about the unimaginable agony suffered by Vlad's victims. Um, thanks for that.

Stephen King says that the story exists whole and entire in the earth and one must excavate it. He does not recommend a sledge hammer, but the delicate tools of archeology. You really should read his book.

I loved hearing about the visit from your muse. S/he appeared only after you had begun the process of putting words on paper AND after you rejected all the little distractions trying to lure you away. You "accidentally" dropped your pen and S/he picked it up.

Very nicely done, my friend. And oh yeah - what betty c said.

Frederick said...

I wish I had the will, instead of the compulsion...

More and more I think I should stick to photoshop.

Randal Graves said...

Candace, well hell, with that coincidence, it's obvious that you have to write something on that! Perhaps you are right, that I needed to clear all the clutter out before I could get to down to literary business. And you're as nuts as she is then, for I have no book to write, just bits and pieces floating about. :)

frederick, just write anyway, even if you never show anyone. A passage here and there. I know I write a lot more than I used to, and it comes and goes, that will vs. compulsion. I always 'want' to, but I don't always follow through and sometimes would rather just sit lost in thought, it seems. But more often than not, I get something on paper, garbage or not.

Anonymous said...

damn, I have a difficult time keeping my thoughts together and flowing. shit. I need to step up my routine, such as it is.

I've learned that writing needs red wine or is it the other way around. need fuel

FranIAm said...

You leave me speechless and in the best possible way.

This assembly of words, thoughts, emotions, feelings... it both humbles me and rips me open at every seam.

Please keep doing this, please. Yes I a begging you and yes I am serious.

Dig, dig, dig. Drink. Write.

Randal Graves said...

Colleen, only one way to find out. Bottoms up!

Fran, merci, but these things are fucking draining. Well, the offline writing is, thus I end up scrambling to post something half the time. I'm not as full of vim and vinegar as I used to be, so I have to use my energy judiciously and now I'm not even sure what the fuck I'm talking about.

TomCat said...

Randal, this is a side of you I had not seen before. Bravo!

Randal Graves said...

Despite the copious amounts of swearing, I'm actually a big sap. It's depressing. ;-)

Snave said...

You write VERY nicely. I wish I could be as descriptive and allow as much feeling to enter the stuff I do. GOOD WORK!

Randal Graves said...

Thanks, man, but I'm not sure I could do it for any great length. A blog post is about my limit. ;-) I have this deadly fear of constantly repeating myself. I don't know how the hell people can write novel after novel, for example.

Candace said...

Some authors do seem to write the SAME novel over and over. I'm thinking of John Grisham and Dean Koontz, especially.

So far, I've got a YA historical novel set in Japan, and a snarky modern-day murder mystery. Next, sci-fi, I think.

Keep writing, Randal. AT LEAST an hour a day, NO MATTER WHAT.

Randal Graves said...

I do think you have to write what you know, which is why the genre-crossing you're doing is pretty impressive. I'm afraid to start on story number two.

Thanks for that positive, uplifting advice. ;-)