On the local radio show a man who won a Pulitzer prize in fiction explained that one must write every day because if a person does not write everyday a person forgets how to access the subconscious. If one did not write everyday then whenever a person comes back to writing she would have to learn to write from the beginning again. This has always been my plan. I would like to not know how to write, also to know no words. I believe this prize winning novelist believed that the mind had two places, the conscious and subconscious, and that literature could only come out of the subconscious mind, but that language preferred to live in the conscious one. This is wrong. Language prefers to live on the Internet.
I want to read books that were written in desperation, by people who are disturbed and overtaxed, who balance on the extreme edge of experience. I want to read books by people who are acutely aware that death is coming and that abiding love is our last resort.
Is there any other way?
I am a fairly social person but I am a very insular writer, by which I mean I actively avoid thinking about publication, editors, audience, commercialization, or categorization while writing. For the most part, I aim to finish or mostly finish a book in solitude; the world can then take it or leave it, but at least I know that I realized the project on its own terms. I’m not saying this is how everyone works or should work, but personally I can’t imagine getting anything done another way.
If someone asks me, ‘Why do you write?’ I can reply by pointing out that it is a very dumb question. Nevertheless, there is an answer. I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.
The trick to flying safe, Zoë always said, was never to buy a discount ticket and to tell yourself you had nothing to live for anyway, so that when the plane crashed it was no big deal. Then, when it didn’t crash, when you had succeeded in keeping it aloft with your own worthlessness, all you had to do was stagger off, locate your luggage, and, by the time a cab arrived, come up with a persuasive reason to go on living.
Okay, okay, okay.
Ah, okay, okay.
This blue bird fainted and fell into some laundry in Poe’s living room. It was flailing around like a fish. It would’ve died, but Poe came out of his study and noticed the movement. He stopped his pacing to investigate.
The blue bird said, “Help!”
Poe reached down and scooped the critter up in his hands.
“The hell are you doing in my laundry?”
“Suffocating,” it said. “What do you do? Those clothes are rancid.”
“I suffer,” said Poe.
The blue bird lifted its wing to its forehead and leaned so far back it flipped out of Poe’s hand and onto the floor.
“Shit,” said Poe. “You alright?”
“No,” said the blue bird. “Which way to the exit?”
“Well, I think—Hey, stick around, please? I’d like someone to talk to.”
The blue bird stretched its long legs. One was slightly shorter than the other, so it leaned to one side.
“You want I should listen to you talk?” it said.
“Yes,” said Poe.
“Oh, the things.”
“That sounds dirty-minded. I don’t go in for those chats.”
“It’s not! And anyway, what’s wrong with dirty-minded things?”
“That’s for the right company, and no offense, but it’s not you,” said the blue bird.
Poe covered his mouth. He held it there longer than he should have.
The blue bird flew up to the stove. It looked in the pan.
“I heard tell that there was once a princess who asked for one gift from her father the king. He promised it before she even said it (which you ought not do). She asked for the gift of flight. The king had his people investigate. Turns out we have light bones, light as empty twigs. That’s how we get about.”
Poe sat on the floor. His eyes were red, his lids puffy.
“The king explained the findings. Light bones, aerodynamics, all that. The princess held him to his word. A promise is a promise is bondage. The king knew it. He had them make a feather suit for her with wide flaps between the wrist and ribs. There was also a tail of sorts between the ankles. Finally, the king sucked innards from her bones. She was light but brittle, and her head was still like a rock. So he scooped out all he could, just enough.”
“He murdered her!” said Poe.
“See, now, I’m not finished. Settle down. The king took these parts of her and kept them safe in the basement where it was cold and rainy. Well, drippy. That old moisture. So she was preserved, you see. And then she was carried to the top of a ridge, held up by the wrists and ankles, and thrown to the wind.”
The blue bird nudged the meat in the pan. It was cold. The grease was congealed.
“Quail?” it asked.
“Well? Did the princess fly?”
“Uh, yeah, pretty far. As far as ducks. And the king never saw her again. That’s quail, right?”
Poe stood up. He wiped his face and looked at the pan.
“No, I um, I think it’s chicken.”
The blue bird looked up, then flew to the window.
“Do your laundry,” it said. “And clean your pan.”
“Hey, what was that story about?” asked Poe.
The blue bird held its wing to its head again and fell out through the window. It yelled “It’s about whatever!”
I see lots of people. Every day, everywhere. This is what’s good about working in San Francisco while broke. You won’t find free parking. You’ll find trains, buses, and people.
This time a young woman. Twenty-one or so. She bounded down from the upper level of the train to stand near the exit doors. There were a few of us there already. People who burst out in front or linger until the end. A preference for either side of the curve.
She was slight, lithe. Eager in a bouncy way. Flat blonde hair, track jacket and jeans. Most notable was a pair of black lace-up Chucks that extended to mid-calf. She turned around just after she had arrived to raise her foot onto a step and tighten the laces on her shoes. Whether from ritual or necessity, I couldn’t tell.
She looked out at the doors on both sides, as I did. You don’t know which is the exit until you’re right on top of the station. It’s a gamble to stake a claim on one door. That was my general approach, and I had a decent average. She chose to remain in the middle and react to the exit when it became certain. Like a caged animal, she paced a couple steps between the two. She needed off.
It was a long wait. My gamble didn’t pay off and I was stuck at the back of the lead group. She naturally moved to the front. It was clear she was the only one about to explode.
The door opened. She was yards ahead of me in a few seconds. I know nothing of form, but hers was narrow and efficient if I ever saw it. I walked along and caught the final glimpse of her when I walked toward the station exit. She was already at the street, running between traffic. Going God knows where and getting there quick. Just running.
It must be a hell of an experience to run. To be made of limbs and motion. Until then, it’d never seemed of value.
When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you experience that meaning more fully.
The mouse was the size of my thumb. It appeared as a Southward dart while I faced West, toward the San Carlos suburbs. A fast little dust ball. I looked in the general direction and considered that it was nothing. Some figment.
I’d gone too far South on one train and waited for another that would carry me North to Belmont. No book to read. Late summer dusklight behind the clouds. I don’t know what was in my head then, though it was something. I know it because I was pacing and wild-eyed. Searching everywhere. It was standing around at the station that had me noticing things, like that mouse.
It appeared again a few minutes before my train and paused in the open space between rain gutter grates. Right in front of a stucco wall. No discernible movement. Little brown shape, a furry lump.
“Howdy,” I said. I stood several feet away, in front of a bench. One of those wrought iron and wood slat deals.
The little mouse remained in place. I sat down and turned away when it seemed appropriate. I smiled at my absurdity.
I listened for the track rattle and hiss of an oncoming train. My ear has to point toward a thing if I expect to hear it. It means turning away to look at roofs and hills, missing everything in front of me. There was no hint of a train.
The little mouse sidled up while I listened. It was there on the concrete a couple of feet from the bench when I stopped listening for the train that wouldn’t come.
“Hello,” said the mouse.
We waited minutes and I wasn’t sure that I’d heard anything. Nobody uses that word anymore.
I was scared, so I began to hum. Something sad to bring that up to the surface. I hoped my clever sadness would scare away the mouse without the need for shoos and foot stamping.
Instead, the mouse crept closer, and it sat beside me on the wood slats. Its little ears moved. They were dangly flaps of skin and fur about the size of pupils.
“Are we going to sit here?” it asked.
“Your train’s going to be here in no time.”
I looked at the station LED sign. My train to Belmont was 5 minutes late.
“Just a few more minutes.”
We remained quiet for a while. I scanned the roofs ahead, looking for crows. They were usually good for some head tracking, though not that evening. They tend to cluster around acorns in late summer.
“I think this is a rare opportunity for you,” said the mouse. I finally turned toward it. It must have been a baby, small as it was. I couldn’t possibly take it seriously.
“I made a mistake,” I said. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
The mouse brought its front paws together and rubbed its nose. “You are missing out on something that may never come again. I’m a thing far different from you, and you have nothing to discuss? You greeted me after all.”
“Impulse, that’s all.” Then I hummed the sad song again and waited.
The mouse looked ahead, as I did. “I’ll leave you to it,” said the mouse. It stepped back toward the grate on the North side of the platform. It blinked into one of the small holes. Back into its hole.
The train arrived. I was at my destination in two minutes.
Weeks later, I searched for a particular taco truck on the streets of Oakland. I skulked along an empty street and encountered a huge rat crossing from one sidewalk to the other. No Hello, no acknowledgement whatsoever.
I like to believe that stories want to be written, that they must make an effort in order to be heard. They suggest themselves to me constantly, but I have little patience, I am lazy. Now and then, however, when I’m in the right mood, I stop to listen to one and sit down to record it. I think that by now they know I am not patient, so they make themselves short.