May 31, 2010KR BlogKR

This Year I Rewrite My Novel-Part X, How to Keep Writing When the Manatees Are Dying

I’m one of those people who doesn’t own a TV and doesn’t have the internet. Not just because I’m cheap and poor but because reality, or the reality that it is on television or the internet, the kind of reality that clobbers you on the head, overwhelms me. It is so overwhelming it becomes an addiction–a rapture of the deep.

I feel like a fish caught in the web of a Portuguese Man of War.

Yes, it is that dramatic.

Speaking of fish, I was avoiding the headlines the past couple weeks because hey, how does someone who is practically defined by her squeamish sensitivity supposed to go on and press the snooze button and drip the coffee and go to work when the freaking world seems to be collapsing and covered in oil or besieged by missile strikes?

When Obama’s hair seems to get grayer everyday to the point where it looks like someone shook a can of silver Krylon over his head?

But let’s just say that there was a full moon this week (and that I was on my moon cycle, TMI) and perhaps I was, uh, looking for trouble which meant that I spent way too much time looking at Associated Press slideshows of the devastation in the beautiful Gulf.

Pictures of pelicans covered in black oil. Their eggs covered in muck. And then footage of the bubbles of black on the beaches. Little baby birds kinda cutely getting shampooed in plastic red tubs.

A horror show. But I proceeded to click through the carnage. Some say it’s like loving to look at a car wreck but for me it feels strangely more like an autopsy, not of the dead, but of the buried.

I got all teary and blear-eyed, thinking of what I could do to save the animals. Travel to Florida and volunteer? No. Send money? Possibly.

I do believe in the power of a well-intentioned dollar.

When shit strikes, it can feel futile doing the everyday things that matter, that keep things in sync, whether it be taking out the trash or working on a novel.

The InStyle magazine in the bathroom gets replaced by Nietzsche. I can’t eat anything the color red without thinking of the blood of manatee. Six-pack rings were not meant to held cans together but to kill sea lions.

The entire world, the entire ordinary and mundane world becomes a vehicle for menace.

So when the entirety of life feels futile, when flossing seems overrated, and it’s too expensive to see a psychologist, how does one rewrite a novel or create anything for that matter? How does one sit in front of the computer and peck words onto white screen when the entire world seems to be burdened with too much information, too much suffering, too much heartache, too much of everything already?

In my last post about Shakespeare and juvenile offenders, the arts and the act of making and consuming them not just revel in ambiguity of meaning but make that ambiguity manageable. Ambiguity and uncertainty, the drama and the elusiveness of meaning, become tolerable through acclimation. We write stories and we read them because they sometimes but not always make sense in a quantifiable or even an intrinisically relatable way.

Unlike the news that aims to direct information to you in a consumable, bite-sized way, the fascination of literature is how it can generate meaning in ways that are often explosively unrelatable but undeniably real. Read Crime and Punishment and wonder why someone in St. Petersburg would kill a prostitute, and it is that ambiguity and alienation from the text that plunges me deeper into the ambiguities of myself and the alienation that I can feel from myself and from life. It is a kind of hyper-reality, which operates under the same laws of physics (sometimes) but nonetheless makes the murkiness of the emotional and spiritual world if not beautiful than familiar.

Why write now? The world will always be calamitous and people will always do things for seemingly no good reason. There will always be traffic and pollution and fashion magazines, crime and punishment. But if the word, or the string of words, makes life, in both its ugly and terrific beauty, manageable and less strange, it works.

Even when the rest of the world isn’t.