Even as a kid it was always about challenging everything. From my parent’s rules, to school, to conformity, and yes it has gotten me in trouble, but it’s also been something that has made me think differently and approach difficult situations and in doing so helped me make positive changes in peoples lives, and find solutions through deductive reasoning. From helping solve cold cases, to speaking out against hatred and violence, to being able to assist many people in dire situations, find, help, hope or housing.
When it comes to writing, I seem to want to take on that same challenge and accept the same risk of being banished, or making a difference in someone’s life. Even my first visit to the local public library, there was the children’s books on the first floor, and then these huge, 400 page Hard Cover books with dust jackets, and I took Socrates over Curious George. Isn’t that the whole concept behind George is to be curious about what’s upstairs? So if you can pick up what George is putting down, you can bypass George and go straight to Socrates. And there you will find all your curiosities and questions put to the test.
And I loved it. I still do. I love a good old fashioned Socratic debate. Just ask my wife. Ask any person I’ve worked for or with. Ask an old friend, who I no longer talk to because we’re no longer friends because I really do love a good debate.
But even I know, and I can thank Socrates for this: the only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.
It’s funny how this statement annoys people. I know because I’ve used it in debate often, and I’ve watched people become visibly upset, thinking what Socrates meant by that, and what I mean by that when I quote Socrates is that I’m calling them stupid. When actually it’s quite the opposite.
To me its a challenge to open your mind. It’s about having intellectual curiosity and it means listening instead of talking, and not just hear what people are saying to you, but listen, watch, and give them your attention.
This is a debate for another time. Because the challenge I’m referring to is when it comes to writing. Since Socrates, there have been many books to challenge me, from religious texts to poetry, from Gatsby, to “Atlas Shrugged.”
These books always seemed to challenge me and the way I think, and the way I look at the world. One book would lead me to another, and so on and would in some respect shape me and my views and have as much of an impact on me as did “life” you know, “reality” the thing that exists outside of our imaginations, the place outside the rabbit hole, where most of all the things we write about we take from up top, and down into the hole and attempt to understand it through allegorical tales, and fables, and parables.
Most of the writing before 2018 has been under pen names, or whatever, because many of the things I wrote about were political, and controversial, and I would receive hate mail, and mail of support, and besides, I’ve always been a private person. I’m not sociable, and I don’t have a huge network of friends, no dinner parties, no game nights, just me and my wife.
I just recently wrote a book “The Month of April” and the main characters are female, lesbian, and I’m a 45 year old man, former Marine, and one may ask: what business do I have attempting to narrate a story as a 21 year old woman and a 19 year old woman?
But I can say assuredly, that the story just came to me. “Like a vision she danced on the front porch as the radio played.” As Springsteen once said. And that’s the truth. All my life I’ve been surrounded by strong powerful, inspiring women. Many of the political writings I had written involved the legalization of same-sex marriage.
I did consider using a pen name to write the story. But eventually said screw it, I wrote it and I’m proud of the story. It’s not overtly sexual, it’s a love story. To me that was the thing, it wasn’t about the identity, it was about love, and love is love, and I didn’t want to make a political statement or push my views on people, I truly did feel inspired by these character’s and most importantly the love they have for each other.
Where was I? This goes beyond writing, it also goes to the challenge of the style of writing. I prefer writing as did one of my favorite short story authors, Raymond Carver “with brevity and intensity.” I love so many styles of writing, but I love the idea of writing a story without as much narration from the author and allowing the reader to take in the story, and read between the lines so to speak, and ask, is the narrator lying, or being honest. If I’m writing as a specific character, the character may not choose to be honest, and in this particular book I use other character’s to challenge the narrator, instead of me as the writer making it my responsibility to do so.
Hemingway once wrote: “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.”
In “The Month of April” that is the approach I took while writing the story. The “Thumping,” of music that leads Dani to leave her hotel room. Was it the music, or was it something else motivating her, that she did not proclaim loudly, but it can be deduced that there was more to it than just the music making her unable to sleep. Later, she will be challenged to justify her actions, and that’s the beauty of show versus tell, or allowing the reader to take from the story and realize that it really is about listening to the story, and if I’ve done my job correctly, you will find there is so much more going on and so much depth to the characters, that the reader can establish without me taking them below the surface and pointing out what lies underneath the tip of the iceberg.
According to legend, when the great director Steven Spielberg was approached by the great producer Quincy Jones to direct “The Color Purple”, Spielberg was reluctant direct. Jones purportedly changed Spielberg’s mind by saying you don’t know alien’s either, but you were able to tell that story.
I love that. Whether it’s a true story or not, I don’t know, but I love the rationale behind it.
When writing, I love these challenges, to take on a subject or a character, and if so inspired, to write their story.
So with all that said, I’m going to end this post here.
In Part 2, I will discuss the challenge of not only getting the story written, but the equally important part of getting it right when there is no one standing behind you barking orders or giving you a deadline.