Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two worlds, one body, and a bad elbow

Trying to get this out before my arm rises up in revolt and crawls out the mail slot. I mentioned earlier that I don't believe in reality, but as I sit here, I'm wondering if that's entirely accurate. I think it might be closer to say I have trouble deciding which reality to believe in. (Okay, philosophy majors, relax.)

I just finished a tough chapter in the sequel to my novel and I'm stuck in that weird, throbbing membrane between two worlds. Those of you who are unfortunate enough to be around me after a writing session already know the half-sentence, glassy eyed state I'm in. For those of you who have never seen this Altered States scene, let me walk you through it. Quickly, since my elbow is on fire.

I can't speak for all writers. Hell, I can hardly speak for myself. But there is a sensation that comes from writing that, if I could put it in a lotion or a drink or a sex toy, I would make a bazillion dollars. It is the uncanny sensation of existing in two worlds at the same time. I'm not talking about that all too familiar sensation of having your mind in two places at once. You know, talking on the phone while you answer your email and pretend to listen to one of your coworkers complaining as you scratch your ankle with your big toe. That's not it. That's about as far from it as you can get. That, in my opinion, is not being in ANY world. This is a far different, sublime sensation of touching a live wire in a universe far, far away.

It usually starts like this. I sit down at the computer with all my usual totems in place. I'm not much of a totem person, but even I have a few touchstones. There's a candle lit, mostly to hide the smell of the litter box down the basement stairs. My notepad is beside me to catch any weird little scribbles I need to make and to keep track of my word count. (NaNoWriMo habits die hard! More on that later.) I have a big cup of coffee, now in my Greenbrier mug, courtesy of my sister Monica and bare feet. That last bit I used to think was unimportant, but now I'm not so sure. I have only the barest framework of an idea of where the chapter will go and I start to type.

I would love to tell you I promptly pull an Isasc Asimov and hammer out three hours of solid prose, but that would be a huge lie. I sort of scratch out a sentence. Delete it. Reword it. Swear. Get another line or two down. Bemoan my miserable typing skills. Swear again and then the most amazing thing happens. My fingers take over and I begin to think, not in my head, but from the knuckles down. And then it happens. I am in two worlds at the same time. I can see my kitchen. I can certainly find the M&Ms over and over again and my coffee cups keeps getting refilled. But all the while I'm chewing and pouring and muttering and typing, I'm fully present, fully immersed in a world more real, more colorful, more immediate than any I've ever known.

It doesn't last long. Two, maybe three hours, although the sessions are getting longer the more disciplined I become. Sentences, scenes, emotions, hungers, they run through me like light through glass and even as I'm lost in it, somewhere I'm thinking "Man, this is fabulous!" (Not necessarily the writing, just the sensation. At this point, judging yourself is lethal.) And just as suddenly as it started *pop* I'm on the other side with a sensation I have no choice but to describe to you as squirting out. Believe me, I've searched for another way to describe it but until my French gets much better, there is no other way. I squirt through some sort of membrane and I'm back in my kitchen. Just my kitchen. My feet are on the floor. I have chocolate breath and coffee jitters and, tonight at least, a red-hot elbow from typing.

Save. Print. Reread. Even when the prose is, shall we say iffy?, rereading what happened when I was straddling that chasm is surreal. It's the ultimate leap of faith. It's tunnelling down into the imagination and standing back and watching what splashes up. That sensation, more than any drug or any drama, will make you blissfully suspicious of all the little required toll-booths of everyday reality. Even the reality of needing an icepack for my abused elbow. As I said earlier, if I could bottle it, I'd be a billionaire. But if I had to choose between selling it and feeling it? A billion dollars doesn't seem all that great.


Anita Clenney said...

It is a powerful feeling, existing between two worlds. One minute you're immersed in a place with warriors and demons fighting for the planet and the next, you're wondering what on earth you can fix for dinner in ten minutes, since you were so busy saving the world you forgot you have kids and a husband that need to eat.

Liz L. said...

Love the analogy. I know exactly what you mean when you say you are "squirted" back to reality.

And trust me, you will sell. You have a tiger fighting for you.