Friday, April 6, 2007

That Twisting Urge

95,000 words

Good Friday with Clan Dynamo was much fun. Jotted 1000 words-ish in a note pad at odd moments. It did occur to me that my tennis game would probably improve if I didn't stop in the middle of the action to get down a couple lines of dialogue.

I have a real urge to tell stories. Probably no surprise given I'm writing a first draft in three months, but there you are. Although I've only been 'writing' a couple of years, that urge has been there all along.

Waaaaaaaaaaayyyyy back in my sidetracked twenties, I was the World's Greatest Dinner Guest. My jokes and stories were in great demand (great advice for any starving artist: make people want to feed you), as my various hosts knew that they would laugh, cry, tremble in terror, laugh until they cried, tremble until they laughed, whatever. I made it all up on the spot, or took bits out of my life and put the appropriate spin on them as the mood demanded. It was all about moving my audience in the moment. I was That Guy.

Back then of course, I didn't write. I was tattooing and painting and living as fast as I could (Full Throttle and Fuck It is more than just a writing style...), and those dinners (and picnics, pub nights, bong sessions, coffees, etc.) were the only way that urge could claw its way out of my skin.

I gradually realized I wasn't getting any younger, and the urge twisted. I got serious about my comics, and as is the way with me, turned the machine all the way up to eleven and snapped off the lever.

And completely lost the ability to tell a decent story. Old friends would meet me for dinner and say, "Tell the one about the vomiting Egyptian," or "What about that guy who took off his pants." Half the time, I couldn't even remember how they went. I'd fall back on a joke about two nuns and a cheese grater instead.

Then maybe three years ago or so, I was doing so much comics illustration that I didn't have the time to write comics anymore. Drawing a page, mine or anyone else's, takes maybe six or eight hours. Easy to see why I couldn't do both.

The urge twisted again.

I started writing fiction. Just a little, in a notebook. Then a novel on a typewriter. THen another on a laptop. Then--

Well, I can't tell a joke now to save my life. That storytelling urge is so used up in my work that I fuck up punchlines, stumble over the order of events, you name it.

I've become This Guy: "And these two guys, wait, I forgot. They're not guys, they're girls, and, um, I think, yeah,, that's right, they're nuns..."

Train wrecks, every one. These days people still laugh, but we all know it's at how badly I tell the joke, not the joke itself.

Back in the sidetracked days I used to be with a junkie stripper who fancied herself a writer. Except that she always had a thousand excuses why she couldn't write just at the moment. She could only write on a computer, she said. She wanted to get a bit more life experience, she said. Work took too much out of her, she said.

When she overdosed, she didn't even leave behind a diary. All our friends were puzzled, but I wasn't surprised. She was so afraid of herself and the pain she carried that she'd rather go numb than face it and let the stories come.

Me, I figure my stories would want out if all I had was a circle of faces around a campfire. A medium (printed word) that brings a wider audience? Icing on the cake.


Charles Gramlich said...

Very interesting post. I think I used to be a better story "teller" when I was younger too. I think it has to do in part with the fact that my stories then were simpler, without the twists and turns I like to put in these days. Twists work better with visual or written storytelling it seems to me, because the viewer/reader has an easier time catching them than a listener would have.

cs harris said...

Well, I envy you. I've never been much of a verbal storyteller. I'd have starved. Still, you must have learned a lot by watching people's reactions--learned what worked and what didn't work so well. I'm sure you're using that knowledge now.

Kate S said...

Well, Steve, at least are able to reminisce about the days when you were "that guy" - I've always been your "this guy."

Interesting post.