Friday, August 26, 2011

Breath of Life

More than anything, writing is about sacrifice.

This post isn't about the novel Every time I Think of You specifically, but more the why of writing.

Why did I wake up at four in the morning one cold January night, stirred by a strange series of dream scenes, and begin cranking out the first meager chapters of the book? Why did I dare to start another novel, when four more lay waiting in boxes of years-old print-outs and in multiple back-up versions in my computer? Why am I laboring over another sentimental nostalgic "coming of age" story?

Because the Muse demanded it?

I just got back from seeing Jewelle Gomez's new play, Waiting for Giovanni, at New Conservatory Theatre Center. I love going to see plays there, not only because Artistic Director Ed Decker commissioned the stage adaptation of PINS for a 2002 production. That turned out to be one of the most fruitful, exciting and frustrating experiences in years. And yet, I'm happy about it, and thankful to everyone involved in the production.

But also, I love the feeling of anticipation of walking those few convenient blocks from my home to the theatre, wondering, 'Will I see great art tonight?'

Well, I did.

Let me backtrack. About fifteen years ago, I drove with Jewelle to an East Bay women's bookstore, where both of us read from our contributions to the LGBT science fiction anthology Swords of the Rainbow.

Knowing of Jewelle's acclaimed work, I was a bit daunted, and expectedly, the audience was about 30 women -fans of Jewelle- and one man. I asked to go first, figuring they'd all leave if Jewelle read first, and while they were polite, I was humbled by the comparatively rapt attention they paid to her work, and not mine.

Jump ahead to tonight, and a packed appreciative audience seemed to love her play, based on the writings and parts of the life of the great author James Baldwin, and how he struggled with finishing Giovanni's Room.

By the time you read this, that production will have closed, but no doubt a new one will be staged elsewhere. See it. For writers in particular, although most of us will never achieve what Baldwin did, never face the struggles he endured, it's still inspirational.

The moments that brought me to tears involved the interaction with Baldwin (played to perfection by Wm. Hunter) and his muse, Giovanni (the handsome Liam Hughes). What could have been cliché moments were handled with such deft passion, such...jeez, I'm not doing a theatre review... "critics be damned!"

The point is, I got the point. (Double use of word; rewrite!) You have to listen to your muses. To ignore them, and put the work aside, particularly when it's calling you, begging you to give it life, is a crime of artlessness.

My comparatively tiny story about two boys in 1970s Pennsylvania won't go away. What I'd set out as a mere exercise - to crank out 1,000 words a day until I finished a novel - has now become a twelfth draft, edited (pro bono!) with precision by a dear friend. It scares me to type the wrong words, to swerve from the breath of life downward to mere hot air.

But I will persist, aware, like Baldwin, in my small way, of "the market" while paring my thoughts down to the core of the story. But at my best, I shut out those thoughts, the selfish need for acclaim, ad sales, and just welcome the muses; my boys, Reid and Everett.

So, instead of going out to another bar, where I'm sure to get a free drink, or be on the guest list at another fun nightclub, tonight I'm home, in my sweatpants, returning to the work.

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