Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dysfunction Junction

I have a host of deficiencies as a writer.  I'm a puppy in a small pack, and I know that.  However, I've always considered myself a voracious, compulsive reader.

Since I've been writing seriously, though, I've become aware that I don't read the same way anymore.  Let me explain by contrasting how I used to read with how I read now:

Days Gone By:  I would pick up a new book, either at the library or the discount bookseller or, better yet, borrowed from a friend.  After graduating high school, I no longer had the funds to support my new-paperback habit, so cheaper was better.  My new acquisition was generally from a trusted author (C.S. Lewis, Stephen King, Anne Rice) or a trusted genre (fantasy, chick lit, romance).  This book came with me everywhere: city buses, lunch, work, dinner, and even on walks.  I read during every spare moment, gorging myself on words until I got to the end of the book and reveled in the writer's great denouement and hidden messages or morals.

Present Day: I don't read print books anymore.  I have several books on my Kindle, and I'm trying to force myself back into print using my love of gadgets, but it's pretty slow going.  I have the very unfortunate habit of skipping ahead, past all the bulky prose that sets up scenery and emotion straight for the meat, the climax, and the heart of the story.  Because of this tragic propensity, I've had to switch to audiobooks.  You can't skip ahead or skim past the spoken word.  You have to slow down and absorb everything.  It's been a godsend.  But what's worse: I can't wait for the ending of the book.  I have to know in advance how it'll end.  I will do a Wikipedia search for the book and devour the plot, then return to the book to see the beauty of how the writer gets us there.

Maybe you think that what I'm going to say next is some backwards attempt at justifying this new method of mine, and maybe you're right, but I honestly believe this: The journey is not about the destination, but about all the scenery and experiences along the way.  Even saying that, though, you rarely ever in life embark on a journey without knowing your destination.  You can't buy a train ticket or plane ticket without knowing where you're going.  Even if you do go on a rambling road trip, you have an idea what direction you're traveling.  For me, knowing where the book ends up allows me to appreciate the unfolding scenery and gives me permission to relax and marvel at the different tricks and traps laid out by the author.

Okay, okay, I know, I'm broken and dysfunctional when it comes to reading.  So shoot me.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

River of Dreams

I am overcoming my sleep deprivation issue.  It's been a long row to hoe, because I have somehow transformed myself from a spoiled young girl with a devoted family and unending vistas of possibilities and potential into a scared, skittish woman who startles awake at every hint of noise in the house.  I think my father's death (of which I'd been informed in the middle of the night, wakened from a deep sleep I'll never know again, it seems) was the beginning of the bad times.  He was my noble sire, the Greatest Father in the World, and the man who gave me a love of words and language and reading.  I was his princess, and I knew I was adored and supported unconditionally -- by him, if not by my mother, at least, not in the same unequivocal way.

Which is all to say that I knew in my heart as long as my father was in the world, I was safe.  Noises at night did not rouse me.  At one point, an apartment I lived in alone was burglarized while I was asleep in bed.  I didn't know of the deed until the next morning, when I stumbled out to watch cartoons to find no television in the living room and a balcony glass door wide open to the world.  After my father's death, I no longer felt safe to cast off the clothing of care and worry I wear during the day to dip my soul in the healing River of Dreams.

That's how it is to me, this mystery of sleep.  You have to get to a point of surrender.  You have to be willing to close your eyes and keep them closed, and turn off the voices in your mind that remind you of your job and your paycheck and your mortgages and your bills, voices that nag me that I'm not writing and the book isn't going to write itself, voices that hound me for not being of the right genetic makeup to do things that come naturally to other people -- voices that call me out on being a mediocre, unmotivated freak of nature.  Pulling all of that nastiness off of me to let the visions of rest play in my mind, turning control over to the great Mercy of sleep, and dipping my toe in the endless rolling nonsense stories that flow in the River of Dreams -- that's the magic that has become elusive to me.  I sense it there, that current, those stories.  I know there are millions of them: I'm playing poker in an Old West Saloon while my mother sings the blues.  I'm riding horseback through the backyard, but it keeps stretching, and my dogs are begging me in human voices to stop.  I'm stealing clothes off a clothesline of a farm in Kansas, and a tornado is bearing down on me.  There are millions of tales just like this, none of which make any sense, but all of which disconnect me from my real worries and cares and let my mind breathe.

Why is it so easy for me to cling to the nasty soup of self-doubt and sadness, instead of removing the cloak of it in exchange for rest and healing?  Is it because I'm so obsessed with my own real story?  Is it because I fear losing something again, as seems to so often happen in the middle of the night?

No matter what it is, the refusal of my mind to wade in the River has made me angry.  I've forced my Self down to its sweet, strange banks.  I've held my Self down to the odd water, and tasted the flow of gibbering silliness that does not touch reality, but only hints that it's there -- the images and movements that make a safe, if abstract, landscape for rest.

It's been a colossal struggle, but I might just be winning it.