Lately I’ve been feeling like a character in a novel. I don’t know the plot, I don’t know the name of the book, and I’m wandering around pages as though I do.
I go about my business, tell myself my stories, think I know what’s going on. There’s a basic plot, there’s characters, there’s a surface I skim. But I have these moments when I suspect some whole other story is going on, some narrative I’m not aware of, just beneath the surface—how really good stories, it seems, are never about what they appear to be about. Sometimes I think I’ve got it figured out, and sometimes I get glimpses of how little I understand what the hell is happening and where the hell I’m going.
I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be fictitious. I wonder if characters in stories go about their plot lines, pulled by the strings of writers’ typing fingers, thinking they know what’s up. But there’s got to be that moment, a terrifying moment, when they realize the story isn’t at all what they thought it was, and isn’t going at all the way they thought it would.
The writers don’t know either, I think. I remember, writing fiction, when I was younger—the exhilaration of the moment, my hair tingling, when a story would take a sudden unexpected turn, as though the story were revealing itself to me, as though I weren’t the writer but the conduit. I was younger then and I loved my characters.
I’ve been reading more and writing less, and that’s probably what all this is. “I thought I knew the narrative,” a character said, and Holy shit, I thought, that’s how I feel about my life.
It’s probably in part that detachment travel affords, when your life seems less your own and more like someone else’s, something you’ve fallen into—a play with no curtains or wings, or wings that are obscured at least, that you can’t see behind the glare of the lights. Maybe travel is the wings, or your life is the wings, or the wings are that big black mystery that surround everything and can never see, only sense sometimes.
I’ve been tired. And quiet. I wouldn’t say I have writer’s block, because I’ve got plenty of ideas—articles and stories, saleable and personal. But I can’t get myself to sit down and do it. I open a file, putter around for a few minutes, then wander off to make coffee. I want to nap, to hang out with friends, swim in rivers and read books in the sun.
I don’t know where any of this is going; I’m waiting for a plot to reveal itself and the right words to come. But in the meantime, I feel very, very quiet.