‘Oh Lord, I’m stuck in Lodi again.’ (Credence Clearwater Revival)
After an interminable seeming wait (the long end of the standard ‘2-3 weeks’ + 3 days) we got the results on the histology on my dear wife’s procedure. Keeping in mind this was a follow up and the result of a ‘malignant’ prior… I was expecting very much the worst when they told us they had found bits to excise and send for histology.
I’m not the first, or hopefully the last, to find the word ‘benign’ exceptionally beautiful.
We’ve been at a series of ups and downs, but that raised my relief levels so high that hearing the little car (which we thought was dead, had been told was just the alternator (relief)) was in fact deader than the moon, was just a small blow, and left me thinking I could somehow weather the council/home debacle, despite their threats of demolition, and us being potentially homeless, especially after we managed to afford a little Suzuki to replace the car. And then at Ambulance training on Sunday, Barbs felt faint – being right there with an intensive care paramedic meant we were able to determine this was not entirely trivial, and she got another trip to hospital. Eight hours later other than ‘something was wrong but appears fine now’ we’re back in limbo, with more tests due. It’s worrying, but not as worrying, so that’s a step. And then a promising development on the council/house front also fell apart.
Besides telling you the saga of the ups and downs of Dave’s life, I thought it had some application to the world of writers (and of course, readers. Without one the other cannot exist). I really didn’t want to find myself LIVING a well-structured novel – which I now plan to write.
You see, a well-structured novel keeps the interest of the reader (and the reader reading) in much the same way. The tension never goes away, sometimes it swaps out with a different source… but it allows some relief which are then balanced with the next (or return of the previous) with new complications. No: contrary to popular belief a good book is not a constant ratchet. It’s merely in retrospect that the intermittent victories and respites are less memorable than the stress of the next. Trust me on this, good books are orchestrated, and well balanced. Some authors plan this. Others just have that gift of good story-telling. And some people’s lives do it for them (No, I am not saying God is an author. It just seems that way sometimes.). Astroturfed lives are dull, disasters and vile villains make for good sales. I should be grateful… no, not really. This is a ‘book’ I’d be happy to have dull. Besides I don’t actually want to do a ‘Lodi’.
I’m still hoping I’m not living in one of those lose-lose novels, where the hero does a Sampson exit. Probably because I am a writer, I understand Samuel Clements/Mark Twain’s advice about not picking fights with people who buy ink by the quart. Especially in an electronic age, a skilled writer can inflict significant and very long-enduring hurt.
It’s hard for me to imagine MYSELF picking that fight – but I can imagine (and have seen) the depth of ignorance and hubris out there. Some people will walk in where angels fear to tread – but it doesn’t stop me wanting to yell (sometimes even at my characters) ‘can’t you SEE how incredibly dumb that is?’
Yeah, I know, ‘from you, Dave, that’s rich. You dive into narrow cracks 30-50 feet underwater and wrestle with critters that can make holes in you, or could keep you there.’ I’m the sort of guy who has spent his life enjoying dangerous sports, and risking his life, sometimes for the benefit of others, sometimes… just because. Those, however, are calculated risks, entered into knowingly. Sometimes knowing the odds are not good… but it’s a knowing decision on my part. And like any writer, I enter into these situations… working out the many possible alternatives. That’s really what writing is about, at its core, is placing your character in extremis in one way or another, and letting the character plausibly (with the nature and tools that the writer can choose to give them) solve the problem.
Sometimes that solution as simple as ‘hit them and endure more punishment than they can hand out in the process.’ Sometimes it’s a lot more ingenious. The author plays God and adds in or leaves out bits that suit him (and not just in fiction, in biographies, histories and even news. Done well, it is virtually invisible. Done badly it’s ‘spin’. Most of the mainstream media try – but are poorly taught, and lack the skill to do it well, ergo: the current very low trust in their profession).
Which brings us back to Lodi – which depending on your point of view might have been a nice little town with a lot of promise once. The fame of the song probably killed any hope of ever being more than that… because the writer was not stuck in Lodi with no audience. Just as Gerald Durrell’s books effectively made Corfu’s tourism of millions of visitors a year, the possible impact of good writers far outweighs most other professions.
It’s something I try to be sensible to and about, even when living in my book.
In the meanwhile, I bain’t dead yet.