by Shelley Berc
If I were to tell you how I write it would be like
describing the formula of a tragic love story–the excitement of the first meeting (the conception of the idea), the first kiss (beginning of the actual writing), the relationship (the passion and struggle of making the book, sentence by sentence, page by page), and the inevitable destruction of the romance (the ending words of the book and the book then lost to its maker forever). This metaphor would be true whether I was writing a tragedy or a comedy. It would also not be true because writing a book is not as sure and known a quantity as a classic tragic love affair–not my books anyways or my peculiar meandering process of writing.
I believe a book is made up of the moments we spending looking around at our strange and eclectic world and that these moments of seeing are a kind of reading which is the real book of every writer–the one she must read in order to write herself. The writing of individual books is actually tangential to the true book, which is a form of touching with the senses upon every inch of everything that is. As I write this I am aware of the waves (I am at the sea) Greek music on the radio in the background, the restaurant cat rubbing up against my legs as he begs for food, the quality of the late afternoon light and the high pitched little girl whines of the Americans at the table to my left. These will all, whether I like it or not, find their way into the book I am writing at the time, (though most often in heavy disguise or denial). It can’t be helped–they are the fabric of my writing space.
But most of all– and this is what draws me to writing–I am aware of the soft firmness of the keyboard beneath the fingertips and the excitement and curiosity I feel at what might come out of my hands and this board–what surprises, what things I do not know, what transformations of all that I sense in the immediate world around me.
I believe books are made up of minutes of acute awareness and so each book is a book of moments. The book of moments is created in time–the minute by minute tapping of fingers on a keyboard– and out of time–the world of the deep-mind, which has no sense of hours and minutes. Each time I write a book, a play, an essay the work is dependent on two things:
1) Seeing an image or an idea or a sound and
2) Stopping everything I am doing it to give it my full attention.
Each moment is filled with such images that are sparks of wonder. They can either be passed over or attended to. That’s the only real decision that an artist ever makes–listen up or ignore. Art comes from the moment-to-moment attention paid to vision and its patient transcription and/or transformation by the see-er. Some days its almost impossible for me to move rationally through the day, getting things done including writing because I am experiencing such an explosion of sight. Seeing is what makes me crazy to create; it can also make for serious attention deficit disorder. To be en-tranced or en-chanted by sight, like love, can make it impossible to get anything done.
I see a white day lily growing out of a cracked white clay pot and my mind like a camera flashes the image into me, as if I am inside the lens of the camera. And there the image physically seems to explode. There is such an urgency to this sensation of upheaval that the scattered bits of the original vision must find their way back out again or destroy me; and that journey out is the making of story. The image once exploded within must out and that is the reason for the urgent fingers upon a keyboard and the books that will come from image after image piled up, encircled by the artifice of form that gives them a structured garden to live in and flourish. The first lesson a writer learns is that once the image is absorbed in the way I am alluding to, it cannot be disregarded, passed by like any number of things we pass by each day so we can get on with our lives. If we ignore these signs, therein lie frustration, bleakness, terrible anguish and probable paralysis for the writer.
The separate images, fragments, sounds, snatches of conversation of each day we are alive form a mosaic–a journey map that manifests itself through me, the writer, as the elements of story. To another artist, the transformation of impressions might manifest itself as a dance or a musical composition or a painting. In the process of alchemy all artists share a common cauldron called life. But how we mix it up, is a matter of wild differences which has always amazed me because our tools–paint or paper or bodies in the air–are really quite finite as is the time in our lives we have to do our work. As it is I often feel that I am not so much writing as painting. Letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters! These are my colors, my textures, my brush strokes echoing the moments of sight.
Moment: Man moves round white table off a beach as white sea gull flies off from a cliff at the same time.
The intersection of these two unrelated events creates the hole which human imagination in its quest for connectedness attempts to fill in. The machinations of this drive to make sense, to derive causality between gull and man lifting table, not to mention the common color white, is the root of story telling. The double image of bird and man and their props–table and cliff– create movement or action, which is the raison etre for story. In certain stories, especially those built of the mosaic of moments, it is hard to distinguish landscape from action, character from environment, music of language from the arc of meaning of the story. This is because such story telling is based on the natural phenomena of the web formation which is really a series of interconnected spirals or labyrinths. A writer envisioning in this manner is replicating the journey of the hero (herself a human spiral of double helixed DNA) which follows the rocky road of the maze; in this case said maze is an obstacle course of characters, images, philosophies, songs and possibly even apple pie recipes. A writer writing in this manner is in love with life’s riddles and would sooner have a new one to solve than have the answers to those already set before her.
I write to discover things I don’t know. For me writing is a kind of reading, as I have said, of moments–those chosen moments when one stops the action of real life to see deeply into one particular sound or image, thought, or memory. Writing then becomes its twin–that is reading, which is a form of seeing that stops time and life to turn them into another kind of time and life–that of the imagination. Artists tend to read nature, read humanity, read the divine as if they were books. When I read this book of life, I am drawn to put my interpretations and my reactions down in words and so another book is written out of the life book seen and absorbed, exploded within the writer’s body and poured back out into the creation of a new book which I happen to call mine.
My books settled comfortably on a shelf always unnerve me. They never seem real to me and I surmise that probably they are not. The real book is invisible–the book of moments that has a thousand titles and a thousand stories, some written, most merely dreamed while walking down a street and seeing-in-passing a day lily in a cracked flower pot waiting to be read.