Sunday, February 7, 2010

Told and Untold

Too often of late, writing has become a luxury, a rare treat allowed by powers whose scheduling I don't understand. This past week, for example, sheer exasperation has driven me to the almost forgotten skill of writing by hand on paper; I cannot tell how it exhausts the fingers!

I've been working on a short story, on a particularly difficult part: the balance between sincere and corny or fake. This golden mean has proven elusive this time, as it often has, in the past.

All literature, it has been drilled into us, is the experience of being human. But the exact timbre of intensity of some very human emotions & the way veritable people respond to these emotions, eludes me. Just a tad too much of this intensity and it spills over into unforgivable melodrama. My characters suddenly seem banal and caricature-ish, insincere and unbelievable. If I try to control this intensity, impose some decorum and discipline onto it, it spoils and curdles into a blotch of cliches. My characters get reduced to predictable mediocrity and threaten to fade away. What is more, during attempts at such disciplining, I suddenly hear my own voice, lecturing! An unforgivable embarrassment to any fiction crafter, like underclothing peeking out at inopportune moments.

Often, I write volumes of drivel just to reach that sparkling instant of perfection, when I know I can save that phrase, that sentence, that word, and it's potent enough to spin off universes of stories to keep itself company. However, it doesn't help that for really boring reasons, I don't get a lot of time to write, like I used to. So my volumes of drivel have to be dashed off intermittently, like a dying car at a traffic jam.

I must confess, this makes me quite, quite nauseous.

I don't know how Austen did it, finishing a masterpiece in what must have felt like snatched epiphanies in hours stolen from chores. I don't know, but I can very well imagine. For instance, even though I don't have the family problems that plagued Austen, I do know the guilt of awareness that this time could have been, should have been devoted towards some effort at cleaning up my house. I also know that in less than five minutes, I shall have to surrender this keyboard to more pressing matters, to serve more imminent deadlines.

My child is doing an Art History project and I am staring at a rather bad reprint of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and it amazes me that colors, composition, and inherent tale in the masterpiece still take my breath away; it feels like sheer poetry! How did he do it? Reach across centuries, through bad printers, to catch a tired woman at her messy desk, take her collar and force her to pay attention to the timeless?

The answer, it seems, could lie in stories that are indelible features on the face of our species. I shall let the epics work their magic, then; it might be time to revisit poetry and hopefully, that'll help me reach the undefinable.

After all, Odysseus assures me that poets have closer commerce with the gods than anyone else, and Odysseus is a wise man.


  1. Let the housework go! Your creative life is more important.

    Thanks for reminding me of Jane Austen and that great art can be snatched in small moments!

  2. There are lots of ways of being creative, the best is letting go.

  3. Thanks, Dhaval! This is also the most difficult, i think.