A Man Under the Influence

images-1Something has gone haywire.

My Muse has taken charge of my summer and is refusing to relinquish it.  Writing a couple of stories for the Esquire fiction contest was supposed to be a warm-up, something to limber up the ol’ wrists and get the synapses firing.  I wrote the first story and the second one occurred to me and a third…and all of them featured a recurring character, this Conrad Dahl fella, at various ages, from 13-19.  I’ve pondered and batted around the idea of writing (at some point) a linked series of stories but had made no specific plans, didn’t even have an outline committed to paper.  Now here I am with three stories–“Twenty-Ten”, “An Insurrection” and “Never, Ever Say That To Me Again”–written for that fucking contest.  One (“Twenty-Ten”) is complete and was submitted with about four hours to spare before the deadline and the other two need at least a week of polishing and I’m bouncing around the notion for a fourth Conrad Dahl story that would (he hopes) complete the cycle.  Which means at least another 2 or three weeks and pretty much the rest of my summer devoted to short fiction.

What about that novel I was supposed to be revising?  What about the filming and recording I had planned, to sample and explore some of the features of this amazing, stunning, paradigm-shifting new iMac (I’m still enamored, can you tell)?

And do you think I can seize back the initiative, demand that my Muse shitcan this story cycle, at least for now, and get back to the novel?  Not bloody likely.  It doesn’t work that way, my dears.  I can’t program my inspiration, channel it with any degree of success.  Not this lad.  And I’m very single-minded, I can only focus on one project at a time; I’m not one of those agile bastards who can juggle any number of novels, article ideas, short stories, what have you.  After I finish this blog entry it will take me the rest of the morning to regain a fiction-writing mindset.  I’ll play lots of music, pace around my office, let every last vestige of this post evaporate away before I’ll be able to return to my regular work.  Get my game face on again.

I have no idea why my Muse has determined that these short stories should be given precedence.  I’m frustrated by this change of plan; I thought I had my summer all figured out.  Matter of fact, this entire year to this point has been taken up with works that weren’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities.  My “Innocent Moon” radio play took me wayyy too long to research and complete, eating up the early part of 2009.  And then I worked on finishing the long version of “First Room” and a short story that will shortly appear on this blog called “Death Threats”.  And now these linked tales.

Grrrrr.

So what happens if my Muse decides to try to try her hand at writing a ballet or a libretto to a fucking opera?  There’s no way of getting around it:  I’d have to give it a shot.  I throw up my hands in frustration, I curse and shake my fist at the sky but in the end I must accede to the wishes of the one who defines me as an artist and person.  I’m a control freak and the act of writing is the only time I let that go.  That can be terrifying, enlivening, thrilling, daunting; like walking a high wire naked, with no safety net and only half the world watching, hoping you’ll fall.  Addictive and sick-making.  Adrenaline-charged and gut-churning.  I often quote Robert Penn Warren, the act and process of writing the pain I can’t live without.

I’m guessing some of you out there know what I’m talking about.

We’ve sacrificed our backs, fingers, even our peace of mind.  All for the sake of following our Muse wherever she takes us:  never without complaint but, in the end, always obedient, wary of offending her fickle, unpredictable sensibilities.

The horrific, unspeakable risk such an attitude might entail…

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4 comments

  1. Cliff Burns

    Ah, Gene, it’s a case of pleasure and pain. The pain being paramount, I’m afraid. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I complete a story or radio play but it’s (invariably) short-lived. My Muse already tugging at my sleeve, the obsessive part of my brain opining, yeah, but let’s see you do it again

    And so back to the grind.

  2. Mike Cane

    Always be slave to the Muse. Otherwise she will bitch-slap you and you’ll have to beg beg beg the bitch to return. And she never treats you as well later on!

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