Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Lost in silence...

Amazing how silent the world can become without you noticing. It can surround you like a cold blanket and make everything still and meaningless. The deaf have an advantage in that they know they cannot hear, and they have tools to supplement that even if they are not perfect replacements. Sign language, lip reading, a heightened sensitivity to the emotions of others, these help them communicate around their limitation. But what tools do you have to combat the quiet when it's self-inflicted in such slow steady steps you don't realize it's enveloped you until there is nothing else?

This weekend I spent in my apartment. It was wet and rainy, outside, and I'd look out my window every now and then at the rain and think, "I should go walking in it." But I didn't. Instead, I worked on OT. And today I finally caught on to how disconnected I've become from everything that matters to me except my writing. I used to sketch or paint to keep me grounded in something other than words, but now seem unable to. When I can't write, I can't do anything except nonsense stuff.

Something vaguely like this happened to me in Santa Monica in 1983. It was before the storm that destroyed the pier, and I was visiting my folks in Glendale while trying to decide what to do about Graduate School. I'd completed the coursework but needed to submit a thesis, and this one professor was being difficult about it. I'd written a couple of short scripts dealing with simple human emotions, including an adaptation of Chekov's short story, Champagne, that everyone seemed to love. So he wanted me to do a script along those lines. But I couldn't. I had no idea what to write to fill 100 pages.

I'd done a first draft of an action-thriller, Delay En Route, about a fighter pilot who stops in Paris to buy a car and gets caught up in terrorism and love. He'd trashed it by pointing to one bit of dialogue in the script -- where the lead is drunk and seated by his plane and sees a bird flitting in and out of the intake duct, so he pulls the twigs out and covers the flap and says, "This is no place to build a nest" -- and he told me, "That is the only line worth keeping." Devastated me.

So I'd come out to LA to ponder my next move and went down to the pier. It was a funky place, then, with bait shops and souvenir shops and cold and wet, but I like it like that. Some people were about, even though it was late. I felt peaceful and easy. I walked around and then down to the end of the pier and gripped the railing and looked out over the black water to listen to the surf roll in. No horizon was visible.

The breeze was gentle. Quiet. My mind went blank and I just enjoyed the moment...until a fog rolled in that was so thick and complete, I could not see or hear anything. Nothing. Not even my hand in front of my face. All I could feel was the icy railing and all I knew was that I was standing on the wooden planks. Otherwise, total sensory deprivation. I freaked out. Panicked, totally. I dropped to my knees and tried to find anything in the way of a light, but there was nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Just cold icy black, everywhere.

I finally regained some control and felt for the railing I'd been holding, found it, remembered the beams of the floor were set lengthwise to it so if I just backed up over them, I'd be fine till I hit one of the shops. So I crawled until I caught a glimmer light from a lamp. When I got to it, I stood up and could must make out another lamp so headed for that and finally found my father's Chrysler and got in and could not move for ten minutes. I had this sick feeling I'd just glimpsed what death was going to be like, and I shook from it.

I can't say I really learned anything from that experience except that's when I started to focus on writing instead of art or directing. I blew off the Master's Program and moved places that would present few distractions and worked at becoming better. I took jobs that would be easy yet comfortable -- in book stores, usually. I felt comfortable being surrounded by authors. I think I became a bit too comfortable, because I sought out jobs like that, culminating with Heritage Book Shop and its focus on the glorious writings of the past. Even now I work with books of all kinds., rather than fight with OT, I transferred old files from old Zip disks to a thumb drive...and going through them reminded me of how little I've progressed even as I've worked at improving my ability. I'm still filled with self-doubt and can be my most severe critic, but I'm a hundred times improved from when I was in Grad School. I love my characters, even the vile ones.

And yet, I feel nothing but silence around me now. It's an odd place to be in. This is no rut; the best analogy would be me caught in a neverending trench between bombardments.  I listen to music. I watch movies. I talk to family on the phone. I surf the web and research stories...and I'm caught in stasis. I've lost track of who I ever wanted to be. If I even knew. All I know is I write and work to improve my writing...and now that's not enough. I need to take it up to a new level beyond just writing.

But what that is, god only knows...and only god knows how I'll be able to do it.

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