The Dole Queue My Destination
We are four weeks through Clarion South, two weeks to go, and it is on occasion a little bit upsetting. Four weeks is a long time away from home. If things are good at home, you get homesick, and if things are less good home, you realise it. Either way, it’s a fairly emotionally stressful time.
And this is inherently stressful as well. My Dad worked down the mines. My brother welded lengths of steel together. I sit on my bum all day and wiggle my fingers, but it’s knackering. It’s reading between five and twenty thousand words a day, it’s researching and writing a decent short story a week that has to have improved on last week’s, and it’s actually all the networking kind of stuff which I am beginning to realise is essential. And I’m not saying “Woe is me, another grueling round of cocktails and chatting to friendly people about things I like”, but adding it up it wears you out.
Plus there’s the whole emotional roller-coaster side of it. Writing is personal, Clarion South is public. Writing is intimate, this is impersonal. Writing is about your fears and hopes and needs, critiquing is about whether or not you bored people. You write an adventure with a hero based on yourself as you’d like to be, a heroine who derives at some level from someone you love and a struggle that evokes what is important to you, and the group says he’s a whiner, she’s a flake, and for God’s sake make them do something besides whimper and piss about.
For all of us some of the time, and for some of us all the time, it’s like you go into the crit room, put your heart in one of those clay pigeon thrower things, and let it go, while your friends and room-mates stand squinting through rifle sights.
What this means is we go through lows. I don’t know that there is a formal clinical definition, but there is a bit of that “long dark tea-time”, that “November of the spirit” about this. Ten days ago – I can quite clearly see where it ended and began – ten days ago I knew I was a hack. I knew I couldn’t write. I knew that everyone here knew more, wrote better, I knew that my acceptance into this workshop had been due either to my documented ability to appear to be better than I am, or an episode of contagious temporal lobe epilepsy amongst the convenors. I had fooled myself and my wife and my family and friends, I had brought too little too late, I had little style but more style than substance, and it would be best for all if I just collected up my biros and went home.
When I sat down to write, nothing came. Nothing worked. My characters lay on the page like so many jellyfish, cast up by a receding tide, their lack of internal organs visible to all. Protagonists are meant to act, to struggle, protagonists are meant to protag. I poked my glistening characters with a stick, they wobbled. Wobbling isn’t protagging.
My situation may not have been aided by the fact that the other four people in the unit are really, really good. Steve makes you laugh, hitting the spot consistently, like a boxer who knows you drop your right hand when you’re tired, but he also did a damn fine line in creepy a few weeks back. Amanda makes you go wow and stare at the screen, and then go out and look about in a wow kind of manner. Liz started out with one of the best Australian ghost stories I have read, and is writing a better fantasy novel than most of us will have seen. Tracy wrote something that was unreadably good – if you think that’s not a compliment, you haven’t read enough good stuff. Good stuff hurts, and her stuff is good.
Anyway – I had seven to ten days of “I, Moron” and then about five days ago it “got better”.
I had an idea about a man in a library, cataloguing books. It’s mid afternoon, the sun shines through the high window onto an oaken table, decor late thirties, early forties. He is going through books and sorting them into three piles – suitable, able to be made suitable, unsuitable. By his side are scissors, paste, and some inkpads and stamps. The inkpads and stamps are to make those almost suitable books suitable. The inkpads are red or black, the stamp is an eagle, or a swastika.
He is feeling the inside front cover of a particular book – he is someone who loves books, and is probably as decent a man as any of us – and he finds a bulge, an irrregularity, beneath the end-paper of the book. The end-paper has been glued to the inside front cover, he can feel something hidden there, beneath the surface. Sometthing has been concealed. He gets a knife, the same knife he uses for removing Jewish names from lists of authors – and slips it between the endpaper and the cover.
And in about ninety minutes I go in and we hear what went wrong.
But some of it, I know, went right.
Anyhow, enough of this. I have to crit the zombie boyfriend story from the woman who hsn’t really done anything wrong in the last four weeks and is unlikely to start now. Will write soon,
Thanks for listeing,
PS: I am on facebook. I don’t know how you can find the address, my wife set all this up, and the bar thingy at the top has some other address in it. I think if you search for Brendan David Carson it comes up. If not, I will find out and post it.