They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing–these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. –Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
“The thing about a story,” wrote Tim O’Brien in “The Lives of the Dead,” the concluding short story in his most famous collection, The Things They Carried, “is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is an illusion of aliveness.” It’s not hard to see why this is my go to creative writing instruction book, despite its place on the fiction section at your local bookstores. Writing comes to people in many forms. As a way to remember the past. As a way to warn the future. As a way to entertainment. As a way to breathe life into those we have lost. As a way to finding our sense of place.
I’m Looking for Safety
Writing started to pass the time. The early stuff is never good. And unless you’re a dying kid, no one will ever glance so much at your gnarled poetry and crumpled prose. I faked emotions and attempted to write in moralistic endings that leave the reader in awe. None of these things do I attempt anymore. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem outside of a creative writing class.
Maybe it was my love for Michael Chabon‘s Wonder Boys or Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita that sent me on the deep – get it? – end of writing. My favorite authors of my college years included Ernest Hemingway – whose ability to say everything by saying nothing astonished me – Nicholas Sparks – the first few books, anyway – and J.D. Salinger – because at one point, every guy wanted to be Holden Caulfield.
Influences, you see, shaped the way I used language. It’s why I stand on the argument that reading is just as important to writing as writing. It’s why I believe every writer – no matter what medium you’re venturing end – should read and own a copy of The Things They Carried.
And what started as a way to while away the day and my boredom, I learned how to use to rid – or gain – myself of emotions that I was incapable of expressing.
When I first thought of writing about Carlos Ochoa and the crime he committed, I was torn. We were never close, Carlos and me. I don’t think what we had could even be considered a friendship. If anything, we were acquaintances. We had theatre arts together. That’s it. Nothing more than two goofy clowns who shared on class in common. Still, my memories of Carlos include him posing as “The Thinker” with his hand on his crotch and his joking around that bordered on homo-eroticism.
But in a flash of light, it’s gone. And are we willing to erase the man we knew for the man he’s become? It’s difficult, to say the least. Still, he committed a crime – inebriated or not – and punishment must happen. I have no attachment to a higher power. In my philosophy, there is only us. Now. This. This world. Nothing more and nothing less. I see no reason for prayer, especially for his safety. Because where was the mercy when he pulled the trigger? Where was an understanding, benevolent creator at that single moment?
After I heard the news about Carlos, I started writing again. A story that I’m calling “It’s What Happens After.” The first draft is, well, a first draft. It’s no good. It’s the idea of what I would like the story to be, what messages I would like to convey without actually stating anything. It’s not about Carlos. It’s about death. Because isn’t that what life eventually comes to?
Baby, baby, baby spend your time your time on me
“Why don’t you write anything about love?” asked one naive girl back in high school. Years later, an annoying ogre by the name of Ernie will ask El Senor and me the same thing. “Why don’t you write anything happy?”
I do. It’s just never as good as the angry. As the depressing. As the horror. People want happy to forget how miserable their lives really are. They want happy to feed their apathy. They want happy because they don’t know what’s good for them. I’m here to educate, not propitiate.
And as happy as I have been for the last couple of months, I don’t see a change in my style. For all I know, “It’s What Happens After” might just be a horror story of Lovecraftian proportions – highly doubt it. Life just imitates art just imitates life.