Friday, June 9, 2017

Falling Into Trees

Question of the Week: What lessons did you learn from your first (perhaps, failed) attempt at a novel?

I've had a number of out of body experiences in my life, partly as I'm fortunate to descend from highly spiritual forebears, partly because I was a child who couldn't be contained and therefore experimented with touching live wires, hopping out of moving cars, jumping from tall Chicago trees. And then there's all the violence. While they were mostly bizarre experiences which left me feeling lucky to be alive, the one constant is, in each of them, I was a participant–observer. I could see myself falling even before I'd jump. I knew what would happen when I touched the door handle. I knew to take my ass straight home from the party, instead of detouring for an Italian beef and being stuck at the wrong bus stop, at the wrong hour for making it home unabated.

In the moment, I already knew the outcome. Whenever it all went down, I had already seen it before it was happening. My first experiences with being centered and at peace with myself came through danger, and as I experienced danger so many times so early in my life, I had a lot of practice getting there. The tartness in the lemonade I made from those moments was that I only knew how to provoke situations in order to get myself into that state so that I could operate from that knowing place. My process was: get myself into trouble, react, ride the wave. And it worked amazingly well. I used it to extricate myself from numerous bad turns. I lifted myself from poverty. I broke away from my small, closed off world. I reinvented myself more than a few times. I'd have to admit that my early breakthroughs were the result of enduring bullshit until I reached peak frustration. I'd then harness that energy to mastermind a new order. Remake everything and start over on a new level.

Then I reached the age where anger didn't work anymore. Indignation lost potency. Reaction was unsustainable if for no other reason than the better I had it, the less likely others could frustrate me to the degree where all I'd need was a reason to make a change. I had come too far. I was making my own choices and living by them though not successfully living with them and decidedly not interested in living through them. The ability to provoke change was lost on me. There was no one and nothing else to react to save self. That is where my external progress stopped. All that fuel from my resentment got me to another planet, and I had nothing for the return trip and no ideas on how to continue my journey. Lost in space. A space I made by my damned self.

In time, with patience both with myself and the memories I learned to stop defining myself with, I smoothed out the harshness of my life and began making choices that would result in nothing more than fulfillment in the moment. This made my life less volatile and I became more steady as a result. I also lost my sense of ambition, likely due to the realization that whatever I was using my notion of success to get away from was already far enough behind me, if it was ever really there. After many years of, somewhat figuratively and somewhat literally doing nothing, inspiration led me to revisit Elliot Caprice and begin the first chapter of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY. A few years later, we're here having this conversation.

Back to the question of what lessons I learned from my first attempt at writing a novel, and why that relates to out of body experiences. Firstly, over time, I learned the difference between creating through reaction and creating deliberately according to inspiration and then allowing said inspiration to be the baseline for each creative experience associated with said creative project. Much like jumping out of trees, much of writing happens for me on the way down. The initial point of creation is the leap, and each point between the branch and the ground has infinite striations of experience. Same as when I grew up and saw the tree and realized how short a distance branch to concrete really was is the same experience as ending the final chapter, letting it rest, then returning to the beginning to edit. Be it the tree, or the manuscript, I thought "Shit, this wasn't so big. It was that I was so small." If that makes sense.

Secondly, the participant-observer aspect of the out of body experience is my entire trip while writing, and that means anything, including this post. I'm living it while writing and writing while living, and it really feels that I'm centered between myriad realities. I don't have to provoke it. It just occurs when inspiration meets the intention to create. Once the creative moment is complete, when I return to edit what I've written, it is less going over my work than it is my memory. That doesn't always leave me feeling connected to the work. In fact, sometimes I come across turns of phrase in my prose that was so striking to me, I'd fear it wasn't talent or skill at all, but me catching lightning in a bottle. I'd read a line and just shout aloud, "Danny! WTF?!" The worry it was only luck would follow. Sometimes I'd have to muster the courage to continue, rather than stopping there at the point of self-satisfaction. I'm perfectly capable of enjoying proving it to myself and letting that be enough, and I considered it on more than a few occasions. That brings us to my third point.

I learned, in all of it, that my writing is a function of loving myself. I write not for accomplishment, or to follow some formula for success that writing may bring. I don't write to further myself. Not for glory or merit. I don't write to transcend my current reality, as was the motivation for so many other things I had chosen to do with myself. I write because being a writer is how I love myself the most. I demonstrate self-love as I write. When I share what I've written with the world, that's me offering love, and even if the reader doesn't connect with that love, I did, and that's enough. My understanding is that love and fear cannot occupy the same space in time. Writing is, for me, a loving experience, leading to fear's dissipation, which leads to authenticity in my behavior. It is never a closed loop but always a spiral and gets higher and wider as I write, and share, and write. It's still as painful as the fall after jumping out of those trees when I was a kid, but it's not exactly the same.

Now I understand the tree is jumping into me.

- dg


Michael "Lokee" King said...

Church. . .

Paul D. Marks said...

Danny you really went deep with this. And I love the analogy with the tree.