Zen and the Art of Literary Maintenance

© 2011 by Todd Crawshaw

Navigating through life as a writer you will, at times, feel crushed like roadkill on the superhighway.  It’s unavoidable.  My advice, when this happens, is to take a deep breath, chant the philosophical mumbo jumbo (i.e., the pabulum of gurus) “life is a journey…not a destination…life is a journey…” And voila!  You magically rise above the flattened mess of your existence and hover in the air, looking down upon your body, a still life, a work in progress, this incredible wreck of flesh and blood you call yourself and embrace the moment of becoming a free spirit again, aloof, disembodied, at peace with the world!  That is, until you hear the rumble of another semi truck with its cannonball air horn blaring and you awake from your reverie and scramble to safety, to some ditch, where you assess your psyche for damages and needed repairs, dust yourself off, then forge ahead.  Life being a journey and not…whatever.

Okay, so I fantasize.  We’re professional daydreamers, us writers.  And, if wise, we learn and grow from each encounter, however numbing or bone-crushing the event may be.  Which, naturally, reminds me of a story.  A short one told by John Gardner, the great novelist of Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues and Mickelsson’s Ghosts.  In his book, Becoming a Novelist, published posthumously, Gardner writes about a close encounter he had one winter night.  To paraphrase, he came upon an automobile accident while traveling on a mountain pass and stopped to help a severely-injured woman.  During the encounter, Gardner mentally told himself: “I must remember this!  I must remember my feelings!  How would I describe this?”  He had responded promptly, helping the victim, while his voyeuristic self metaphorically hovered above to observe with detached fascination – wanting to fully interpret the incident.  This is the yin-yang conflict, the curse/gift of being a writer.  Coincidentally, John Gardner died shortly thereafter by losing control of his motorcycle on a similar mountain pass.  Life is strange.  No question about that.

Beautiful too, this life.  Exquisitely so when we encounter love.  Inexplicable, these moments.  Yet, being writers, we try to depict their essence.  We can’t help ourselves.  It’s our nature.  In my novel, Exploits of the Satyr, the protagonist realizes he has found love upon his tumultuous journey: “Slater felt comforted by the sight of her, this mesmerizing port, offering calm water and peace. He could hear the buffeting wind and crazed waves fading at his stern as he gently touched her.” Beauty often arrives with the birth of a child: “Miraculous form.  Twitching contentedly as he rode her back and forth in the rocking chair.  Her eyes gazing upward at him.  In that moment, Slater realized she needed him.  They needed each other.” As a writer, an artist, I yearn for these poetic insights.  And by happenstance, I come upon them, like witnessing the birth of a butterfly emerging from its own womb – then taking flight.

So where am I going with this on-the-road travel analogy?  Basically this.  Whether we are here or there, we will be in the same place we were yesterday and will likely be tomorrow.  Consciously aware we are something as opposed to nothing, scavenging through our minds to make sense of this mysterious place we find ourselves foraging within to survive, forever searching for that trump card holding the answer to a universal question: What is the meaning of life?  For one convoluted analysis on the subject and glimmers of insight, consternation, and poetic ambiguity, read my novel, Exploits of the Satyr. Alternatively, if this 550-page tome is too much of a time commitment without guidance from signposts shouting acclaim and encouragement at each bend in the road to reassure you this exploratory ride is worth the ticket – a guarantee of payoff at the end of the rainbow – well then, read Light-Years in the Dark.  My soon-to-be-released collection of StoryPoems.  What’s that?  Think of Debussy’s Preludes for Piano, where each concise piece is a cosmos, an entire distilled symphony.  Here’s a sample:

Rainstorm

She walked into a rainstorm of cobalt blue.  Viridian green.  Aquas.  Emeralds.  The colors fell around her with each brush stroke, spattering her clothes, her hair, the ground.  She reached into the sky and brought down a shower of wetness with her fingertips.  She fell in love with the droplets as they shimmered, trickling off dark green branches to brighten a cluster of mauve and violet flowers.  Within this misty light, along a garden path layered chocolate brown and zinc white like icing on a wedding cake, she was to meet a man at its end.  When it was time she brought his form into being.  With a palette knife she blended dabs of lamp black and burnt sienna, smoothed it with sable hairs, then crowned his image with her fingernail by adding a glint of gold.  She spent the remainder of the day with him, alone in her studio, his face staring back from the darkness.  By late evening she knew him completely.  He had emerged from the shadows of her life, arriving in this downpour of blue to save her.  She washed herself in his presence with turpentine, then submerged her body in a hot bath.  Up to her neck in a prism of bubbles she dreamed of their life together.  She stepped from the water to walk naked across the hardwood floor.  She had to see him again.  Magnificent, everything she had hoped he would be.  She draped her body in a warm towel and prepared a smooth bed of white canvas, stretching and sizing it for the next day.  She wanted to be ready.  Tomorrow she would paint the sun.

For additional excerpts from both books, visit www.ToddCrawshaw.com.

Thanks for taking the time to read me, my fellow roadkill warriors writers.

Todd_Crawshaw_LCW11Todd Crawshaw is a visual artist who writes.  He has been writing fiction for 39 years.  Exploits of the Satyr is his fourth novel. He founded Crawshaw Design in 1975, a San Francisco graphic design studio that has evolved – significantly with the advent of computers and their global proliferation – and provides integrated brand marketing for print and the web.

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