Doubt, Misery and the Meaning of Story: A Lost Page from a Writer’s Journal

I must remember that I don’t know who I am. I must remember that I am only a story.  What is a story? A story is a moment of illumination in the life of a fictional person that shines a light on yourself. But why do I write them? That’s something I should try to remember. The why part. The moments of illumination are often startling. I feel a strong sense of knowing without understanding what it is I know. I feel an ache inside my belly. It’s like a light that you follow. A flicker. You don’t know what it is because you’re in the dark. But you follow. That is your nature. I was born stubborn and curious. The light will take me to a place I never thought I knew. Remember this: When your pen touches the paper it’s merely a line that connects what you see to what you know. I write stories because I feel things that don’t make any sense to me. I don’t choose this. I imagine that the world is composed of billions of invisible waves. Emotions travel in waves. Stories are also waveforms. It feels almost as if I collide with the waves and suddenly I am carried off to a life I may have lived before. Or am I catching the lives of others? Am I fractured? Am I insane? Maybe I was scattered and I’m putting all the pieces back together again. I write stories to reassemble myself.

Why am I working on this old story? Is it because I am clinging to it, needlessly holding onto this one fractured moment? I can’t seem to let go of a story once it begins. Serpent Box began as a story. I clung to it for over nine years. And now there is this other one. This other story. There’s something about it that seems to me unresolved. I want to finish it for the sake of finishing it but I am losing faith in my voice. I thought today that maybe I still have not found my voice. This story is in the old voice. But it still speaks to me. It would be easy for me to conclude that I am afraid to let go, to move forward. You don’t know this story, but I will tell you that it is about a man who has lost all hope. He returns to a place from his childhood that reminds him of a time when all things were possible and it just so happens to be a sacred place in Native American culture and it just so happens that this man is a Crow Indian. He has just gotten out of prison after more than twenty years. He killed a man he thought was his father but it turns out he wasn’t his father after all. He learns the truth about who he is through a series of letters between he and his grandfather – the only man who ever gave a damn about him. While in prison he plans to take his own life in this scared place and on the day of his release he travels to Wyoming for this purpose. In this far-flung and desolate place he meets three young men in the dawn of their own awakening. One of the young men touches the Indian, who’s name is Tom. The two share a strange bond. They become known to each other under a brilliant night of stars. Theirs is one of those chance encounters that hammers home the existence of God.

What is the theme of my work? It is this and this alone:  We are here for each other and there is no such thing as an accidental encounter between two living beings. The invisible waves that web this earth are linked to us all. You feel it when you accept it and you’d be surprised how strong it can be. You meet somebody and there’s a pull, a pang. This happens all the time. Once you look a person in the eye and see them, they are yours and you are theirs. There is magic in the connections. I am communicating poorly now. So awkward and clumsy. What is the thing that holds us together? What binds man to man? I think it is God; which is just a word for something no word can possibly encompass. Get over it. If you stay secluded, if you shut yourself off from people, from strangers, you are depriving yourself of something powerful and good. I say this not to rebuke you, friend. You have found me and I have found you. That is how strong our need was, is, will be. We pull people into the vortex of ourselves. We are healers, you and I. Together we can do great things that begin small.

The truth is, I am still becoming. The truth is that I have yet to find my voice. I am a child waking now into the world of men. And I don’t like it. A writer, a true writer, is a person who digs into himself and gets his hands very dirty. We generally protect ourselves from the pain of living, the pain of knowing. Most of us are very numb. I have never been numb to the pain of the world. I am not good for you. I live the pain. I channel it. It hurts and brings me down but I think God has given me the tools to rise above this and survive. It is a very heavy weight that can destroy us. I may be destroyed by this some day. The burden of feeling.

*

Today my dog will surely die. Last night was bad and this morning was worse. I do not expect to see him breathe again. You have not known this, but I have lived with his dying these last few weeks and it a small part of myself is going with him. You never knew my dog. His was a beautiful soul. Perhaps the most beautiful soul I have ever known. He is like a child, he is like a baby. I look into his eyes and I see the goodness of the world. He would give me anything. He would die for me. He is dying for me. And I believe I have killed him as surely as if I had shot him with a gun. I am not well.

o O o

Editor’s Note: This essay was written in 2008 and locked in a vault until this morning when I discovered it accidentally while looking for a memory stick. The story referenced in this piece is Dream Houses, submitted to over 25 literary publications and rejected every time. I began writing that story in 2003. It lives now only in my memory. But, I think it may be time to share it with you. On the following day the dog died. Wracked by epilepsy and severe nerve damage, he took his last breath with his head in my lap looking straight into my eyes for the salvation I could not deliver. 

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2 thoughts on “Doubt, Misery and the Meaning of Story: A Lost Page from a Writer’s Journal

  1. Is that the same Dream Houses that you read as the final story on Bound Off? That is a wonderful story and I’m glad you prompted me to go listen when you posted your comment on Facebook recently.

    Isn’t it just possible your dog was looking at you, not for salvation, but because he was glad you were there with him? Dogs have a mystical understand about us that we seldom give them credit for.

    There is much insight in this essay. We influence others in mysterious ways known only to those we touch. Most of the time we never know we are touching them until someone tells us so. I’m telling you that now, my friend.

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