My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have perhaps six months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Hypnotist

It's fascinating to me to perceive the extent to which an artist's relationship to the work conveys itself to the audience.  When imagining my characters' lives, I try intuitively to feel them, see them, witness them up close.  As with all lives, their experience reaches me in eminently subjective ways.  And great art, I would argue, thrives with a measure of uncontained subjectivity.

Van Gogh didn't paint a vase of sunflowers so much as he painted a vase containing the beauty that informed, enriched and redeemed his life -- a sort of euphoric view of those outsized blossoms, splashing the canvas in pieces of amber and gold and the hope the carried him forward in 1888.

How do I imagine the lives of my characters fully?  With my current novel, I listen to music that parallels the narrative -- I read literature that lays bare the elements of transformation -- and when I'm working in my library, I burn candles scented like honeysuckle and the sea.  The process feels a bit like meditation or even self-hypnosis.  If I manage to open a door to the fictional world, I can slip through it into a fully-realized universe of my characters' days.  Then, I'm just writing down what unfolds, rather miraculously, in front of me.  It's similar to what athletes refer to as "flow," an effortless engagement with the art, a day of creation that feels as fluid and seamless as breathing.

Later, when I meet with my professional writers' group to hear their impressions, I'm immensely pleased when they feel the same magic I felt while I was writing the words.

"How are you doing this?" they ask, as if I were levitating in front of them.  "Tell us your secrets."

But there's a mystery at the heart of beauty.  I don't like to question it too much.  When I'm fortunate enough to bring my characters to full and resplendent life, I would rather accept the inexplicable gift -- day after exquisite day -- until the story is told.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Unspoken Secrets

"As usual, there was a story behind the story, and that is where the truth was hidden." -- Kenneth Eade

People trust me, I know, which is why they tell me the secrets they share with no one else.  The banker recounts to me that his daughter is battling leukemia.  The entrepreneur at the coffee shop tells me that he survived a brain aneurism eleven months ago.  My seatmate on a plane explains to me that the 40-year-long love affair she shared with an extraordinary man has just ended with his death -- and because their relationship was secret, she cannot cry with anyone she knows.  Yet she cries with me, silently, while I hold both her hands.

I've come to the conclusion that, despite outward appearances, we know almost nothing of the private hopes and griefs of others.  Their internal lives, hidden from us, provide the narrative of their days.  Yet their family members, their co-workers, their best friends and neighbors -- may never know the truth of this silent story.  It often remains buried, like a diamond, in the vast rocky landscape of the mind.  But it's the stone of greatest value in that territory.  It's where the spirit returns again and again, checking, worrying -- is the diamond still where it was so carefully placed?

I don't know why people have begun to tell me their deepest longings, their most profound regrets, their unspoken truths.  I just know that I feel abundant compassion toward everyone I meet.  I love them, mysteriously enough.  And somehow they realize this mystery -- and begin to confide in me about love and death, joy and heartbreak, passion and loneliness.  And I listen -- honored to be the one they've chosen -- privileged to stand by them while they unearth their most hidden, most treasured truths.  Like diamonds cupped in their gentle hands, their secrets shine brightly indeed.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Passion Within the Stone

"The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire, and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation." -- Auguste Rodin

Whenever I'm in Paris, I make a point to visit the Rodin Museum, where I'm always overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotion Rodin coaxed out of the marble and bronze, plaster and clay.  The pure passion within the entwined figures of The Kiss, the monumental intellect within the striding form of Balzac, the rapt contemplation within the mesmerized posture of The Thinker -- all are engaged in their own private worlds, which somehow convey a sense of breath and sensuality and vigor that seem more vibrant than the everyday lives we see surrounding us.  Rodin captured his ideal of life in all its intensity by depicting those moments in which people seem to transcend themselves in the service of something greater.  He conveyed the resplendent beauty of the physical figure, yes; but we're captivated by the spirit that surpasses the physique -- sometimes passionate, occasionally tragic, always true.

On Thursday morning, I'll take a break from the writing in order to visit the Cantor Arts Center exhibit, "Rodin: The Shock of the Modern Body."  The exhibition is free, and in the words of the curator, "celebrates Auguste Rodin's relentless pursuit to convey complex emotions, diverse psychological states and pure sensuality through the nude."  The exhibit runs all this week from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.  328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford, CA.  If you live in the Bay Area, I hope you'll try to see it for yourselves!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Beautiful Illusion

"We travel initially to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. . . We travel, in essence, to become young fools again -- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more." -- Pico Iyer

In Bolivia, at 12,000 feet elevation, near the crest of the Andes, there's a magical salt flat called the Salar de Uyuni.  In the winter, with an infrequent desert rain, a mirrored surface is created all the way to the horizon -- rendering a miraculous doubling of the sky.  So at night, we feel as if we're standing at the center of the universe somehow, with all the stars of the galaxy revolving around us -- like diamonds unstrung.

It reminds me of meeting someone who mirrors our own identity.  Their constitution reveals itself, like a magic trick, to reflect our own qualities back to us -- our kindness, our openness, our creativity, our internal fire.  Only perhaps the most astute among us can see what lies beyond the reflection -- the more complex, almost liquid identity that has given shape to the beautiful illusion.

I enjoy perceiving both -- the David-Copperfield magic -- and the mind that has created it.  Being a fiction writer, I'm fascinated by every detail -- by the mirror and by what lies beyond it -- by the art and by the artist.  It's my talent to notice every nuance, no matter how slight.  And so I see everything within those I meet, on the surface and at depth, simultaneously.  I don't do it voluntarily, this x-ray of the psyche.  It just happens -- like seeing beyond the normal spectrum of light.  Whether my abilities are a talent or a curse, I don't know -- but I'm often accused of knowing too much about the secret universes within the minds of others.

In creating my fictional world, I, too, arrange its universe with infinite care -- placing each star in its firmament as if I were arranging the first and last constellation that would ever matter again.  I'm telling a story with an intent to unveil a truth we've always known -- about identity, about transformation, about the connections between people that are unexplained and mysterious and necessary.  Without them, life would become dull and diminished.  The sky would only be half-full.  And who would choose a life lessened by this kind of want?  Everyone hopes to be truly understood, to be wholly loved, don't they?  Even those who consider themselves enigmatic and unfathomable.

"We travel to find ourselves" . . . Yes.  And finding ourselves, we must return home once more.  My books are scattered about me -- my Tolstoy and my two bright apples and a single silver pen.  In three days' time, I'll gather it all in my backpack and wend my way home as well.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Thoroughbreds

I rode thoroughbreds throughout my childhood.  Each one represented an impossible love affair of the sweetest apples offered in an open palm -- sun-drenched, bareback afternoons of free grazing in overgrown meadows -- intricate braiding of wild manes, both mine and theirs -- and mesmeric, cantering turns around the show ring.

My friends and I acknowledged that we were "horse crazy," passionately in love with the power of the bond with the animal, obsessed by the obsession of riding, unable to carry on with the normal ebb and flow of life without the presence of one's beloved equine partner.

I've commenced riding again recently, and I'm intrigued to discover that all the former passions come flooding back.  To ride well is to merge with the horse in some metaphysical way -- to harness their power as one's own and to re-emerge into the world as a more potent self, unconstrained by convention or expectation.  One's spirit unveils itself -- electrified, fast, fearless.

The thoroughbreds I have loved have taught me further lessons as well -- how to heighten my senses to life, so that I feel every shiver in the grass, every dimple in the wind -- how to connect to someone so closely that the sound of their voice and the grounding of their touch become as necessary and encompassing as the air -- how to open myself to gestures of kindness and guidance, mastery and flow -- because the dance of horse and rider is always choreographed magically for two.  The thoroughbred turns toward deep connection like a necessity of the soul.

But thoroughbreds have also taught me that miraculous ability to bolt suddenly, if not met by a person who is genuine and substantive and respectful.  I instinctively flee from fakery and pretense, and always from cruelty.  It's not really a choice so much as a physical mandate, a compulsion to stand with those who are protective and sustaining and true.

Thoroughbreds represent a mysterious alchemy of power and instinct, senses and spirit, grace and emotion -- and those who ride them can't help but reveal the same mysteries within themselves.  And the electric force that flows through animal and rider alike?  It's the force of life itself -- charged and overflowing, transformative and indomitable.  It's both a dream and the dream's awakening to reclaim this force as my own.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Music 7

I've made a few additions to my travel tracks -- so I thought I'd share them with you.  I hope to return home in a week or so, though I'll try to post before then.  In the meantime, enjoy!

Where's My Love -- Alternate Version -- by SYML

Numb -- by Carlos Vara

Never Tear Us Apart -- by Bishop Briggs

Dare You to Move -- Alternative Version -- by Switchfoot, The Beautiful Letdown

Supercut -- El-P Remix -- by Lorde

Make It To Me -- by Sam Smith

Retro pick:  Yesterday -- Remastered -- by The Beatles

Monday, March 5, 2018

The First Hero

"I am the master of my fate.  I am the captain of my soul." -- William Ernest Henley

Once, many years ago, my father wrote a love letter to my mother, even though he knew she was engaged to marry someone else.  In it, he said he knew they couldn't spend their lives together in the way he had hoped, but he wanted her to know he loved her anyway, unconditionally, irrevocably.  And if she ever needed his support, she could call on him -- at any time throughout her life -- just call on him and he would help her without question -- like a mysterious benefactor in a Charles Dickens novel -- like a mythical figure who appears in a Greek drama at the critical hour -- like a lover turning to his beloved.

Because my mother had a quality about her -- a passion for life, a purity of spirit, an ethereal beauty, a charisma -- that my father knew he would never again find in anyone else.  He might go on looking for my mother in other women, he admitted -- but he knew he would never again encounter her.  So, his life would be a pale imitation of what it would have been otherwise -- a shadow play of its potential -- a diligent exercise in going through the motions.

But fate, like all great narrative, is filled with reversals.  Love given freely is sometimes greatly rewarded.  I owe my life to the unexpectedly generous letter of a broken-hearted graduate student who was trying to figure out how to piece together his second-best destiny.  My parents were reunited a year after his letter was sent.

My father was an adventurer of the first order.  He rode camels past the pyramids in Egypt, he dove miles under the ocean in a one-man submersible; he spear-fished; he scuba dove; he raced sailboats; he rode horseback.  At 6'4", he swam the butterfly every day in the open ocean in a way that inspired open-hearted awe in those who saw it -- myself among them. He explored every continent and all seven seas by the time he was 40.  But he never showed more courage than he did in writing a simple letter, declaring an unconditional love for a woman beyond his reach -- a thousand miles and a permanent heartbreak away.

It's a remarkable risk to extend such a love.  And it's an astonishing grace to inspire it.  My parents did both, proving that sometimes the best love stories begin after their seeming end.

Thanks for being the first hero I ever met, Dad -- intrepid, brilliant, adventuresome, stoic, loyal, wise -- the strongest captain in any storm -- the first man to extend to me a love beyond all bounds.

*** Please note:  I am away on work-related adventures for the next several weeks, so please be patient when trying to reach me.  I will respond to emails, etc. as soon as I can during travel.  Thanks for your understanding, everyone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Adventuring

I'm away from home on work-related adventures!  Enjoy Oscar night, everyone!