I’m going to give the advice I always do in my English classes. It goes back to Keats’ notion of negative capability: “When a man is capable of being in mysteries, uncertainties, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
What that means is the writer is not someone who creates truth, but apprehends it with the preternatural patience of an animal stalking its prey.
It’s an ability to handle ambiguity, to “hang,” “to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald said.
To use a sports metaphor, think of the true greats, the Jordans and the Gretzkys, the guys who seem to have the ability to slow down time around them. When they’re in the lane or the slot all eyes are on them, everything is rotating around them. Jordan’s aerial abilities are one thing, his ability to know where everyone is at any one time as he’s converging on the hoop, the guards, is another. Gretzky similarly would come cruising across the blue line and hold the puck, still but fast, like a big fish moving in water, the wings all crashing the goal and other team back-checking, and he’d back the defenseman right down into the goal mouth, hold that puck for long seconds—you see, I understand this from my old high school hockey days when all the fathers were behind the goal screaming at us, Shoot! Quit screwing around! But, you know, this is your moment. You’re seventeen. Your girlfriend maybe is in the stands. You’re at the height of your powers. It’s all downhill from here. (So you believe.) But you take an ill-advised shot anyway from too far out or at a bad angle and the goalie gloves the puck, the ref blows the whistle and the coach calls for a line change. Now you’re on the bench. You can’t do anything on the bench! All because you were listening to all those voices around you, which amount to a conventional wisdom. — Gretzky now is holding that puck until some critical point where either he knocks it down the goalie’s throat or the goalie shoves the defenseman out of his crease, or the defenseman pinches and Gretzky dishes the puck to the wing, a little give and go….
In practical terms what this means is that one should learn to withhold judgment. Our culture is rotten with opinions, mostly received, ill-thought out, at any rate. A writer is one who refuses to join the chorus of shouting voices
In less practical terms, one should go looking for difficulties, in fact. Conflicts without a ready solution. Moral gray areas. I studied with a famous poet who said that when he really gets stuck, when there doesn’t seem to be a way out, that’s when he knows that he’s really working.
I don’t think that writing is for the faint of heart or for those who merely want to be liked. Being nice is not high on the writer’s list of priorities.
When twenty-something post-grad Nick Fillmore discovers the zine he’s been recruited to edit is a front for drug profits, he begins a dangerous flirtation with an international heroin smuggling operation and in a matter of months finds himself on a fast ride he doesn’t know how to get off of.
After a bag goes missing in an airport transit lounge he is summoned to West Africa to take a voodoo oath with Nigerian mafia. Bound to drug boss Alhaji, he returns to Europe to put the job right, but in Chicago O’Hare customs agents “blitz” the plane and a courier is arrested.
Thus begins a harried yearlong effort to elude the Feds, prison and a looming existential dead end…. Smuggler relates the real events behind OITNB.
Later that afternoon I walked, drunk, through the Musee d’Arte Moderne in Brussels, down a winding white hallway to some inner recess. In a corner, behind glass, a little ventriloquist’s dummy in baggy pants and jacket sat before a brass bell. For minutes on end he just sat there with his feet sticking out in front of him, like he’d been knocked down in the street. Then something seemed to stir inside him and the doll’s torso jerked forward an inch and its metal head—bang! struck the bell producing an unexpectedly bright peal like the bell of a steamship. A little placard read, “Attempt to Raise Hell.” Dennis Oppenheim. American.
A small group waited in anticipation for it to happen again. Just as a couple turned to walk away, bang! the bell clanged again. I stayed for another half hour listening to the intermittent clanging; the little brute kept at it, as if he had a mind of his own—as if, in spite of whatever wind-up mechanism controlled him, he was determined to carry out this errand he alone knew the meaning of.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Nicholas Fillmore attended the graduate writing program at University of New Hampshire. He was a finalist for the Juniper Prize in poetry and co-founded and published SQUiD magazine in Provincetown, MA. He is currently at work on Sins of Our Fathers, a family romance and works as a reporter and lecturer in English. He lives on windward Oahu with his wife, his daughter and three dogs.
Author website: http://www.nicholasfillmore.com
Publisher Website http://www.iambicbooks.com
Nicholas Fillmore will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click Here!