Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Milestones or Millstones

Birthdays are like New Years, they start me thinking of relevance and context, of marking time with notations about what's been done and left hanging. (The latent researcher in my soul.) I'm not sure it's a good thing.

Done is done. Over, put to bed. It's the book finished, and there's always a curious depression with the elation of accomplishment. Put it off like the end of a good party. Bad party means bad characters that you want to chuck in the bin. Good party and it's three AM and you didn't notice, gotta go and soft bed's sounding fine, but the desire underneath is to keep it rolling just an hour more so you can all stay up and go out for breakfast. But it's done.

Not done's worse. Regrets for unwritten letters, books, stories left in the head where they're still perfect, which is why it's so hard to put them on the page because you have to ruin them to do that, break the shell, let all the messy stuff out before you can shape it into something decent, or at least to what you hope is half there. God, I love rewrites. It's the chance to paint over the canvas, get it good the way you can't in the rest of life--I always get the perfect smackback two hours too late. Rewrites--second chance to heaven.

Not so with that done/not thinking and marking up time since either direction is looking back or ahead, and the view can be bleak or terrifying both ways, and looking means not getting much else done since it's about the same as being seized by vertigo. Or buried alive in sucking mud. 'Course you have to take the time now and then to look. How else do you know where you are? Back in the trenches.

Back to doing. So much better there. In the middle, keyboard going like the drums in King Kong. Staccato bursts of Tommy-gun dialogue shooting up that bar around Indy and Marion. Doing like crazy. Bliss. No milestones hanging heavy from the past, too big and overshadowing the work at hand like a megalithic (ah, such a word) henge--hmmm, should it be unhenged instead of unhinged? Better still, no milestones ahead to shadow the road, make it seem impossible--it can do that on it's own, thank you very much. Everest is for sissys. Try struggling up a novel, clawing one scene at a time by your fingernails, baring the truth like your teeth in a grin, and being one of the souls who'll dance naked on a metaphorical table (and thank you, Sister Krissie, for preachin' that one to the choir, telling it like it is, amen and awomen and asoul who dares look the dark in the eye and cull the heat from brimstone). Folks like that help you shake off the birthdays and kick-start the new years.

Which is as good as any a time to kick those milestones, start grinding. Bump and grind and strip the hesitation. Turn 'em all into a big fat useful millstone, not one hanging around the neck like yesterday's baked albatross--live ones are good luck, doncha know. Yep, keep it living, keep it grinding, dance with the words even when the tango goes to tangled and you wish you could just take that sentence out and shoot it as a mercy.

Birthdays and new years, good time to put the head down and look at one foot before the next, one word after the last, not look too far back or far ahead, not in the story, not in the life, not think about the wish-it-were's and why-it-wasn'ts. Good time for a toast, and to get drunk on the words. Again.


Alfie said...

Hey, Shannon, March 15th must be your birthday. (You share it with my sister if it is.) Hope it was a great one. Your post was wonderful. I loved all your plays on words. (Especially the tangoing with words that become tangled.)

Nancy Herkness said...

I also really liked "take that sentence out and shoot it as a mercy." SOOOO perfect!