On wisdom and fiction

"....what is wisdom anyway? It's usually just the feeling, 'I better not do that.' 'She better not do that.' 'We better not do that.' What is wisdom? It's just the word, 'No.'"

--Charles Baxter, in conversation with Jeremiah Chamberlain, from the fall 2012 issue of Glimmer Train (Issue 84)

I'm turning 30 at the end of this month, just three weeks before Ryan and I get married. May is always the most frenetic time of the year; birthdays, graduations, weddings. Days are long and endless and hot. Secretly I love spring sweat, the adolescent twinge of warm evenings, sitting outside after sunset with strawberries and root beer, everything so very ripe. I always wanted to get married right when spring met summer. I've never cared much for frills, pomp or circumstance; what was always important to me is the quality of the air. I want to be outside on my wedding day and know that we are all on the cusp. A very specific cusp, one I won't really have the words for until we're all there together.

The space I typically reserve in my brain for writing fiction has been temporarily rented out to event planning--not just our wedding, but a career fair that attracted 350 job seekers to my place of work, as well as our third installment of Play On Words, scheduled for a week from tonight (May 22 at the Blackbird Tavern, and yes, in case you're wondering, you should definitely come, because it will be an amazing evening). (And yes, and that plug was 100% intentional.)

The weeks when I can't or don't write fiction, I imagine that creative space in my brain to be an empty radio station, nobody home but the microphones are still running. I tell myself that though I'd rather be writing, sometimes the leg work can be done in one's head. I see the hours of the day as all opportunities where my characters are interacting--that every hour I'm not with them, they're off doing the truly fiction-worthy things. Today I came across a 2012 issue of Glimmer Train that featured an interview with Charles Baxter, whose essays and lectures on craft are among some of the most informative and accessible that I've read. Like this:

"People spend much of their lives trying to repress and hide things, and I've come to feel that it's the business of fiction to bring up to visibility those things that families and social groups and individuals habitually hide. And you don't have to make explicit what's up to the surface, but something has to come up there."

I read this today and it hit me in the gullet. Fiction is often undervalued for its social and cultural power, but maybe that's because so much "marketable" fiction lacks that focus. What do we respond to? We respond to stories that call us on our shit, even if we lack the courage or self-awareness to realize that's what's going on. Controversy, intrigue, mystery, tragedy, hell, even romance--in some way we crave an honest mirror.

Sometimes I don't write because I'm not ready for that mirror myself.

And then I remember that I'm right there on that cusp--that the sun sets late, that the hummingbirds in the tree outside our bedroom can see us through the mirror, that when I go to bed and when I wake up I'm lying next to someone I love in an entirely new way every day--and then it's time to write.