(This was written in the late 1990’s, so it’s somewhat outdated. But it’s all still true, even now.)
I don’t know where I learned to love books. We had very few in our home when I was growing up. I rarely saw my mother read, except for the newspaper and recipes. For a while she got the Readers’ Digest Condensed Books; maybe she read them while I was in school. My father read constantly but I don’t think he ever bought a book. He got them from the library.
That’s where my books came from. I got my first library card while I was in elementary school. I see myself after school, crouched against the wind at the bus stop, eating a pickle, reading a book. That was my routine: Swing by the library, pick up the latest Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, then stop at the deli to fish a pickle from the barrel. I’d munch and read until the bus came along, then I’d stand over some lucky person, reading and dripping pickle juice.
I didn’t think it was strange that we had so few books in our house until I noticed that other people had more. My friend Linda had so many books that I made up a great game for us to play: “Library.” These were the rules: We always played at her house; we always used her books. I made little pockets for the last page of her books, like they had at the library, and sign-out cards that fit inside them. That way I could check out her books. She had really neat ones: The Wind in the Willows and Anderson’s Fairy Tales and the entire Cherry Ames, Student Nurse series.
One day she came to my house and asked if she could check out one of my books but all I had to offer was an obscure Ring Lardner book, a Great American Humor anthology, Tales from Gilbert and Sullivan, some Readers’ Digest Condensed Books, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and a bunch of my father’s medical books. We spent the afternoon looking at diagrams of male and female anatomies, and leafed through a couple of books of illustrated operations. She never asked again.
Later, when my aunt gave me some books that my cousin outgrew, I told Linda to come over, we had something she could check out–The Wizard of Oz–but she said she had seen the movie. It doesn’t matter, I said, I saw the movie too, but this was different. I couldn’t explain why it was different, only that it was magic.
The book had an ugly lime green cover smeared with what looked like jelly stains, I guess from my cousin. The paper was heavy and the print was nice and clear. The illustrations were old-fashioned line drawings and didn’t look that much like Judy Garland or Bert Lahr, but they fit the story perfectly. The drawings that were in color took up an entire page. Those that weren’t, I took the liberty of coloring in myself.
Best of all was the story. I knew the story from the movie, but reading gave it a whole new dimension. I was there. I was Dorothy. I felt what she felt, wondered when she wondered, wanted what she wanted. Each time I read it–and I read it again and again–it was as if I were reading it for the first time. I read it during breakfast, in the bathroom, under the covers at night. I dripped pickle juice on it. I wore it to a frazzle.
I didn’t know who L. Frank Baum was, and I didn’t care. His name may have been on the cover, but to me, the book was self-created. It just appeared, poof, like that. Magic. And I didn’t wonder about the writers of the other books I read. I couldn’t even tell you if Cherry Ames, Student Nurse was written by a woman or a man.
To me, writers were just names on covers. Until I fell in love with Edgar Allen Poe.
Of course, by then I was in Junior High, and I was falling in love all over the place. But this was different. This wasn’t my crush on Tommy, who wore his jeans low and spit-curled his hair in a slow curve over his Clearasil’ed forehead. This was passion. For a writer.
A very dead writer, which made Poe all the more romantic. No more would he pen (and I was sure it was a plumed pen, taken in hand by candlelight in the dark recesses of night) the lush verses that I committed to memory, the horrific tales that captured my darkest imagination. Alas, alas!
I was nuts for the guy. Even now I get retroactive palpitations. I know–he looks pretty hokey today, and I don’t think I would voluntarily wade through “The Fall of the House of Usher” again. But, as convoluted and archaic as the language now seems to be, that’s what sucked me in, in the first place: his language.
Language. Compelling plots. Complex characters. Evocation of time and place. Flashes of insight. Poe did that for me, spoiled me, made me seek those things in everything I’ve read ever since. Sometimes I find one or two of those qualities in a book. That’s good; I’ll read on. Three, four or more and I’m in love.
In high school I found all of the above in John Steinbeck, whom I adored until he made me Travel with Charley. Then he lost me, I don’t know why. The old magic was gone. Maybe we had been together too long. Maybe by then I realized how many others there were to experience. So many writers, so little time.
In college I became promiscuous, flitting from one to another: D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Wolfe, Ayn Rand, Hermann Hesse, Dorothy Parker, Tolstoy, Katherine Anne Porter, Dostoevsky. I loved them all, even though I’m sure I missed a lot of what they were saying. Without much depth of life experience, it was difficult for me to relate. Poor, poor Anna Karenina, I’d sigh–but I couldn’t really tell you why.
As much as I loved to read, that’s how much I loved to write. It seemed so preposterous, so presumptuous, to even dream of being one of Them. It never really crossed my mind to call myself…A Writer.
Whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was automatic: “An artist.” I was the class artist: Chairman of dance decorations, president of the art club, designer of school posters, cartoonist on the high school paper. When I wasn’t drawing, I was reading. And writing–secret writing: Sappy poetry, maudlin short stories, a journal I kept until I thought my mother was reading it so I tore it into little pieces and flushed them. My favorite class was English–next to art, of course. But reading and writing were just for fun–my destiny was Art.
When I went to college, I majored in art. I wore big sloppy paint-splashed shirts and proudly reeked of turpentine. English was my minor. Those were the classes I loved–loved the reading, discovering new authors, re-reading the old. Most of all, I loved writing, which took me deep into the night, the dorm dark and quiet as I scratched away in happy oblivion, writing mostly short stories. But that was just for fun.
My art classes were not fun. I was beginning to dread them as much as I dreaded math. What was wrong? Everyone else handled their materials with ease, turned out dazzling works, actually knew what they were doing. I didn’t. My perspective was off, my colors were muddy, my self-portrait didn’t even look like me.
In short, I was lousy.
The chairman of the art department didn’t put it in those words that day in my sophomore year when he asked me to come into his office, but that’s what he was saying when he suggested I reconsider my major. Taking one last, deep sniff of turpentine fumes, I stumbled, disbelieving, from his office, tears staining my paint-daubed shirt. If I couldn’t be an artist, my life was over, my future as dead as the flowers we had been painting in Still Life.
I wandered the campus that day, feeling very lost. What could I do now? What could I do — if not well, at least competently? Something that would give me pleasure, something–fun. And then it dawned on me: why minor in English, which I loved so much? Why wasn’t it my major?
So English became my major. Once the cloak of “artist” was removed, I was free. Free to read all the writers I desired, to explore different forms of writing, to write without having to make excuses for spending my time that way.
It took that dreadful moment of truth in the art chairman’s office for me to discover that writing wasn’t merely something I did for fun. It could be my focus, my purpose–and it had been there all along. I was still an artist, but words were my medium, and they served me much better than paint.
It was years before I felt that I could say “writer” out loud when people asked what I did. Other descriptions took precedence: Wife. Mother. Teacher. Writing was something I did when I wasn’t doing something else.
I wrote when the kids were napping. I wrote late at night. I wrote furtively, hiding the notebook scribbled with poems and ruminations, stashing short stories and novel chapters high in the closet. I don’t know why I had to be so secretive; no one asked what I was doing. I rarely showed my husband anything; his reactions were noncommittal. I figured I must be terrible.
So I did other things too, things people appreciated. I cooked. I liked to cook. People liked what I cooked and so I cooked some more, eager for their applause. I sewed. I got fairly good at that so I sewed like a madwoman, making all of my clothes and my daughter’s too, until she got old enough to let me know she wanted store-bought things. I took up embroidery, needlepoint, quilting, painting on T-shirts. When people asked what I did, that’s what I told them I did.
But I lied. What I really did was write, and what I wanted was someone who would read what I wrote. I say Yay for people who are content just to write for themselves, but I needed feedback, validation, encouragement–or maybe someone who would tell me I was so awful that I should give it up and bake a cake. So I took a class in creative writing.
It was a continuing education course given at night at the University of Miami. John Keasler, a columnist for the Miami News, was the teacher. We could write anything we wanted; I wrote short stories.
Every week we’d turn in something, and the next week he’d return it, his comments typed out on Miami News copy paper. I kept them, like other people keep love letters. Someone cared! Someone cared enough to take the time to read what I wrote, and then cared enough to write about what I wrote–honest, kind and encouraging comments that made me want to write more, to write better. To stop sewing so much and just write.
Once I confessed to him, Some day I’d like to be a writer. “But you are a writer,” he said. And I believed him. Now I could finally say it out loud: I am a writer. Somehow, his saying it made it so.
Okay. So John Keasler and I believed I was a writer. The rest of the world hadn’t noticed. Not The New Yorker. Not Redbook. Not Harper’s nor The Atlantic. What’s the matter with these people? I’d wonder when I’d rip open an SASE envelope and find yet another rejection slip. Didn’t they know I was A Writer?
So I wrote a novel. That’s what writers do.
I still have it somewhere. I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at it for almost 20 years, although I did recently come across the response I received after I sent it to an editor at Random House. He wrote that the manuscript had made it through three readers (he enclosed their written comments), and if I were willing to revise it, they were interested.
Thanks, but no thanks, I replied.
And I’ve beaten myself over the head about that ever since.
I don’t know why I was such a fool. True, I was going through some health problems at the time and I guess the last thing I wanted to do was revise. I probably expected them to say “Yes! We love it! Don’t change a word!”
But they didn’t.
So I stashed it away and, several years later, began another one. I worked on it a long time. I don’t think I’ll work on it any more. Personally, I think it stinks.
I worked on that stinking novel, off and on, for ten years. Net worth: zero. But I didn’t write it for money. I wrote it because I had to, because there was some itchy thing inside me that made me do it, the same thing that made me write short stories and that other long-ago, much-lamented novel. Sure, I had fantasies that someone would pay me money for it, maybe even pay me lots of money. But I knew that was just a fantasy. I figured, you write fiction because you love the very act of doing it, because it turns the mundane into magic. You just can’t help it.
I also wrote non-fiction, mostly essays about… stuff. If I did stuff, or thought stuff, I got that same itchy feeling that made me write fiction. I just had to scratch that itch, to get it down, even if no one else ever read it–although having people read it was as much a part of my fantasy as the money thing. Somehow, one or both would validate my work, make it okay to spend my time that way. I felt I had to justify the primal pleasure I got from simply writing.
So one day, when I finished an essay about some Ram Dass lecture I sat through–this was in the mid-70s–I didn’t just stick it in a drawer with my other stuff. I took it to a magazine. They liked it. They printed it. Most incredible of all, they paid me for it.
Not a lot. Not much more than I could have made as a waitress or secretary in the same amount of time it took me to write it. But, to me, it was found money. They were actually paying me to do something I loved, and they were putting it in print so other people could read it.
And then I wrote another piece for them, and another, and before I knew it, I was getting assignments. One thing led to another and I was asked to co-author a book on drugs, which led to other articles for other publications, and before I even put a label on what I was doing, I was a Journalist.
What am I doing here?
I still ask myself that question a lot, right in the middle of an interview, or while I’m trying to make sense out of a pile of notes. I asked myself that question every day when I was the managing editor of a home and design magazine.
What am I doing here?
Sometimes I can answer that: It’s an interesting subject. I’m learning something. I’m working with people. I’m being read. I’m being paid.
But I don’t consider myself a real journalist. I have friends who are good–no, great journalists; some have won Pulitzers–and I am in awe of their talent and professionalism. I occasionally free-lance for Tropic, the Miami Herald‘s Sunday magazine. When I go there to discuss or drop off a story, I feel like a kid who showed up at the wrong birthday party.
Journalism scares me. Especially investigative journalism, the kind that can change the lives of the people you write about. It’s a terrible responsibility, a power that only someone very, very confident of her ability can wield. I lack that certainty, even when I know that The Cause Is Right.
I’ve written a few investigative pieces, but I wasn’t really happy with them, either while I was working on them or after they were done. I was scrupulous in my fact-gathering, detailed in my notes, assiduous in my tracking down every last person who might have something to contribute. But when I sat down to write, I felt intimidated, shadowed by the really fine journalists who I knew would do a much better job than I. My writing wasn’t Me; it was who I thought I should be.
Most of the time I write about people I don’t know, but I’ve also written about my friends and family. There’s nothing scarier than writing about people you love. I’m afraid they won’t love me any more if I write something about them and they hate it. I spend a lot of time worrying about what people–those I know, those I don’t know–will think when they read a piece I’ve written about them. It affects my writing. That’s not good. That’s not what they teach you in journalism school. I never went to journalism school so I never learned how to control that fear, and sometimes it controls me.
But something compels me to write about people. Feature writing has allowed me access to people I never would have met–retired circus freaks, for example–if I hadn’t done stories on them. Journalism has taken me to strange places, allowed me to do weird things: How else would I have gotten to be a judge in the Miss Nude Florida contest?
I have written real crap. I mean the kind of crap that either I can’t bear to look at again or, if I do look at it in some masochistic moment, I leave a handprint on my forehead because I’ve slapped it so hard.
I’m not talking about unfortunate examples of fiction or poetry or journal-istic musings. That’s another category of crap, but for me, at least, it’s private.
I’m talking crap-for-hire. Stuff I agreed to do because I either got paid for it, or because I allowed myself to be talked into it. Stuff from which I wish I could erase my byline.
I could include in that category published articles that were edited beyond recognition, but I won’t because they were stories I wanted to write and wrote the best I knew how. What happened to them in their afterlife was beyond my control.
But for crap, pure and simple, there’s the Mall Column.
Once a week for six months, I wrote about malls. Why? you may wonder. I wonder, too. When the Living section editor at the Herald asked if I’d do it, I said No. I said No several times and then I said Yes. I don’t know why. Maybe I was depressed over a series of rejection slips. Maybe I thought it would be a first step to stardom. Maybe I was nuts.
I tried to make the column interesting, but there are limits. What can you say about a mall? I said it all, and I said it about every damn mall from Cutler Ridge to Palm Beach. The only time I was truly happy about the whole thing was when I wrote my last column saying I Quit, and why, and I let it all hang out. I loathed doing the column, and I said so.
Did I learn my lesson? Of course not.
I didn’t even hesitate when I was asked to be managing editor of a home and design magazine. Wow, I thought. Managing Editor! Sounds good to me. Offices on Brickell. Name on masthead. Regular salary. People to talk to. Doing lunch. Doing writing…and editing. I’d always wondered what it would be like to be an editor. Hey, a real job!
I hated it.
I hated it because the publisher was a martinet who amused himself by demeaning the staff. I hated it because the editor, whom I did like, rambled incessantly about her health and how she was abducted by aliens. I hated it because of the usual reasons people hate a job–low pay, long hours, boredom.
Most of all, I hated it because I wrote crap.
What can you write about a house? Not much more than you can write about a mall. Once again, I tried to make it interesting. For a while, I actually enjoyed the job because I got to see some spectacular houses. I learned a lot about architecture and design and landscaping. I learned how to say “lavish” ten different ways. I learned that “ambience” should be spelled with an “e,” not an “a.”
I quit. I was so desperate to quit that I left exactly one year after I started, in November, just so I could clock my time there as a year. If I had hung on one more month, I wouldn’t have forfeited my Christmas bonus. But it was worth it just to get the hell out of there.
There’s more in my crap file: Home and design stories for other magazines; brochures for houses too classy to be listed in the newspaper (well-paying crap, quick and easy–I am so easily tempted); the only article I ever wrote for USA Today, something they requested on Friendship (easy one-syllable words, please).
Crap, yes. But this I will say: Whatever I wrote, I did my best. It was the best crap I could write.
TELL ME A STORY
I understand people who talk to themselves. I do, all the time, only my lips don’t move. But inside my head there’s a running dialogue about all kinds of stuff, from what I need to do to what I should have said: worries, speculations, plots and plans.
Most of all, I make up stories.
Stories about people I see, like that guy in the truck at the light whose finger is buried in his nose; or that middle-aged couple pawing each other in a back booth in the pizza place; or that young woman crying in the cereal aisle in Publix. They all live dual lives: Their real ones, and the ones I’ve made up for them.
Made-up lives are easier to write. I can say what I want. I can give them evil thoughts, an alcoholic father, breath that smells like swamp gas. I don’t have to worry what they’ll think, so I can imagine the worst–or the best–and write that. Fiction has no boundaries, no rules, no restrictions. It’s only limited by my own limitations.
I don’t know if I write fiction well. I only know that writing it is fun, like playing a game or working a puzzle. It gives me permission to create my own world–one that, in many ways, is more than just the illusion of reality. William Sloane, in The Craft of Writing, says “…fiction is as much of a reality as any other experience that the reader undertakes. Call it vicarious if you like, but the reader is not a spectator, he is a participant. A novel can make you laugh or cry or go looking for someone you crave. These things are so real they are physiological.”
The freedom to create another reality is both exhilarating and terrifying. To me, what you do with that kind of freedom is what writing fiction is all about.
My writing is influenced by what I read. I don’t read romance, science fiction, adventure, or Tolkien-like fantasy. I do like to read about families, especially if there is some twist or aberration. I like stories about ordinary people written in an extraordinary way, people that astonish me with their complexity and depth of character, people I can identify with in some way. Conversely, I enjoy reading about weird or unusual characters, or about simple people in bizarre situations. I need to feel that I’ve gained some insight, learned something, felt something profoundly enough that it haunts me for a while.
If I truly love what I’m reading, I’m envious. I want to write like that. When I finish a book I’ve especially enjoyed, I don’t put it down; I go back, leafing through to find favorite parts, to try and figure out how it was done.
I’ve never really thought about whether or not there is a common thread that links the writers I like. Let’s see:
John Updike: family, aging, contemporary life. Robertson Davies: family, mystery, art. E.L. Doctorow: history transformed, family. Toni Morrison: family, myth, mystery. Pat Conroy: family. John Irving: family, humor, weirdness. A.S. Byatt: tour-de-force writing. William Styron: family, history. Anne Tyler: family. Mona Simpson: family. John Kennedy Toole: weird family.
There you go: The theme of family seems to dominate, along with strong characters. But what really draws me to these writers is the way they write. Their language is the magnet–the same element that drew me to Poe and Steinbeck. As different as these writers are in style, they all write prose that sings. There’s a rhythm, a flow, and it all seems so effortless. Sometimes it’s so delicious that I just want to stop and savor it–a particular word, a phrase, a paragraph.
But I don’t, because the writer has a story to tell, and I’m swept away by it. Savoring the language will have to wait until later, when I’ll re-read for those yummy little morsels. I’m too engrossed in what’s going on: The characters are too fascinating, the plot too compelling, the mystery too mysterious for me to dally. I have to keep turning those pages.
TELL ME A TRUE STORY
Most of what I read is fiction, and most of what I write is non-fiction. I’m trying to figure that out. Maybe it’s because there’s more of a market for non-fiction; nobody’s asking me to write fiction. The novel I worked on for ten years was a labor of love that never saw print; my non-fiction occasionally gets published.
I enjoy writing non-fiction, even if I worry too much about what my subjects will think. When I write about actual people, places, and things that have happened, I realize that the cliché is for real: Truth is stranger than fiction. There are some real mind-benders out there. I have acquired, from a snake-and-rat-breeder, a recipe for frozen toadsicles (first put the toads in a blender…). I have watched a man pound a stake into his nose with a hammer.
Doing research makes me happy. While I still like to play “Library,” I prefer talking to people. They’ve told me things during interviews they wouldn’t tell their best friends. Conducting an interview gives you permission to be nosy, to ask probing, often embarrassing questions. The amazing thing is, you actually get answers.
The only thing I don’t like about doing interviews is taking notes. Scribbling frantically on a notepad detracts from the fun of just finding out about these people. So does trying to decipher the scribbling when I get home. Tape recorders are worse. I generally don’t use them because all I can think about is: It’s not working. The little thing isn’t spinning. The battery ran out. I have to turn the tape over. It’s on the wrong speed.
I’m paranoid about these things because they’ve all happened to me. I’ve lived the nightmare of coming home after a two-hour interview to discover that there’s nothing on the tape. Technical stuff makes me crazy.
And then there’s the challenge of assembling notes, making sense out of them, and coming up with something people want to read. With fiction, most of that is eliminated, until you get to the “something people want to read” part.
Although I may reach first for a work of fiction, non-fiction articles and books of quality get my attention and applause. I can appreciate the footwork, research and just plain drudgery that goes into it. Maybe what I miss in a lot of nonfiction is the poetry of good fictional prose. Often, it’s the story or the subject, not the writing, that’s the attraction of nonfiction. But certain writers have the talent and great good fortune to be able to tell true stories in magnificent language. M.F.K. Fisher, Jonathan Raban, Paul Theroux, Annie Dillard, Tim O’Brien–reading them makes me realize I deserved that mall column.
ME, MYSELF, AND I
It should be easy to write about myself. I don’t have to worry about hurting my subject’s feelings. I don’t have to take notes. I don’t have to think about what I’ll wear to the interview. All I have to do is to be honest.
And that’s what makes it so hard.
Essays and memoir: Me, me, me. What I do. What I think. What I want.
The reader cares–if I’ve done my job. If I’ve written it well enough. If it’s something that the reader either identifies with or wants to know about. First-person essays and memoirs are really about others. If someone gets a shot of recognition, if she can see herself in my ruminations or revelations, then what I have to say is universal and not just a self-indulgent bit of navel-gazing.
But it does feel good to write about me. It’s a form of therapy. Sometimes I don’t even know how I feel about something until I write about it. As Joan Didion says, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
I didn’t know how much I would miss my kids when they left home until I wrote about it. I knew, but all the things that would make up that loss weren’t clear until I put them down in words. And I never really explored, until I wrote about them, my deepest feelings about being alone at night, or my husband’s beard, or Mallomars. After 40 years of hanging out in my subconscious, Raoul, my first boyfriend, popped up in an essay about our daycamp romance. How did he get there?
I never thought too much about my grandmother until I started writing about her. Until then, I just wrote her off as a cranky old lady who divorced my grandfather, only no one ever acknowledged the divorce, they just lived at opposite ends of the country, that’s all, but she went a little crazy because one son was killed and then another son was killed but listen, her mother was crazy too, eight kids and she took off and went to Florida alone, and then my own mother is a depressive, who knows why, and she married my father who…
Wait a minute! There’s a story here!
When I began writing memoir for a class, I triggered a thinking process about my mother and father and grandparents, excavating facts and feelings that may have lain dormant forever. I found myself writing about things I had accepted as normal all my life, but I now saw them in an entirely different way. These people were characters. So was I. But even I wasn’t who I thought I was. In writing about myself within that context, I became a nonfictional fiction.
You’d think at this stage of my life I’d know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I know I want to be a writer. But I don’t know what kind of writer I want to be.
I don’t think I want to be a screenwriter. Or a playwright. Or a poet, even though I enjoy writing poetry. The limited experience I’ve had writing in these forms makes me appreciate them all the more. I learned a lot, and feel that they’ve all contributed to my writing. But I don’t think I do them very well. I don’t feel compelled to do them.
They just don’t give me that itch I have to scratch.
Fiction and creative nonfiction do.
If I’m going to shut myself up in a room for hours with nobody for company but the dog, I’d better love what I’m doing. When I’m working on something that completely absorbs me, when I look up and the sun is setting and I realize I forgot to eat lunch, then I know I’ve had a good day.
It’s weird, this writing business. So, I suppose, are writers, who, says Annie Dillard in The Writing Life, “…enforce in themselves the ludicrous notion that a reasonable option for occupying yourself on the planet until your life span plays itself out is sitting in a small room for the duration, in the company of pieces of paper.”
I’m lucky enough to have a room of my own, my office. It’s filled with my stuff. My desk is cluttered with a computer, phone, fax, answering machine, light, pencil sharpener, books, Rolodex, tape, stapler, Greenpeace newsletter, file folders, and a box of Vanish Drop-in toilet bowl cleaner I’ve been meaning to take into the bathroom. Taped nearby are notes, phone numbers, a postcard of Einstein sticking out his tongue, and two photographs of myself at about age 5–one in a tap costume, the other in a ballet tutu. Two boxes crowded with three years of photographs. Printer. Several bookcases loaded with books, all kinds. File cabinets. Plastic crates filled with magazines. A sewing machine. A chair. The dog’s cage where she’ll sleep until she stops eating my rugs. Scattered doggy toys. The dog. Some masks I got in China. Paintings, prints, framed photos of my kids at different ages. Stereo receiver. Teddy bear in a scuba mask. A million distractions.
I like to sit here on a rainy day and read while the trees weep outside my window and the wind chimes go wild. Sometimes I’ll roll my chair around like an amusement park ride, scooting from file cabinet to bookcase to computer, just sampling stuff: leafing through things, looking at photographs, playing with an idea that might work. For much of the day, my life is in this room.
I feel centered here. This is where I write. When I turn the computer on, my brain turns on. The relationship is symbiotic. I don’t know how it works. I don’t care about synapsis or motor control or left brain/right brain theories. All I know is that what flows out of my mind, into my fingertips and onto the computer screen is nothing short of mystical. It comes from the same place those pictures come from that I see when I’m falling asleep.
I assumed that everyone saw those pictures until I asked some people and they looked at me like I fell from the sky. I tried to explain: Sometimes there are patterns, designs, colors. Always there are people. People I never saw before, faces and figures, not always earthly. Sometimes they were doing things, sometimes not. I see peculiar objects, and places I know I’ve never been. It’s a landscape from another world, and I’m just visiting. Watching. That’s how I fall asleep sometimes. Just watching. I don’t think. If I think, it goes away.
When I was working on the drug book, I came across a term for what I saw: Eidetic imagery. It’s what people sometimes see on drugs, like LSD. The term was just stated with minimal explanation, so I did a little research but I didn’t find much. It’s just there. Like writing.