The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chasing the Story

By Antonios Maltezos

Ever notice how for each story that’s not quite there, there’s always that one central question that seems to be on the lips, on the verge of being expelled, spat out like a hoarker that's found it’s way into your mouth, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it? It’s like you’re in a carpeted lobby, or something. Why is that? Why can’t we dive into the issues our own stories unravel and deal with them like responsible adults? You just know something big will be answered if only you sit down and do it, listen to what the muse is breathing into your ear hotly. He/she isn’t there because you’re a natural and gifted and there’s lyricism in them words you string together. He/she is there for anyone whose willing to make the attempt at creating something fresh and pointed that doesn't beat around the bush and gets lost chasing it’s own tale, or lost in the way we can sometimes get when our farts sound like they’ll go on forever. I made that! You sure did, buddy. Can’t you smell it? He/she is there like God. Meet me three-quarters of the way… and I’ll give you the strength to make that last quarter on your own. Oy, sounds tiresome! And therein lies the problem. Finding that central question your story raises, and then making the attempt at answering it. It's those last two repetitions. It's where the men get separated from the boys, or the women from the girls. Experimental, surreal, magical whatever, but experimental mostly-I’m trying to do something here… are often just excuses for not having the guts to dig deeper until you're completely immersed in the gist of the thing, up to your nose in the stuff, and there’s only your mind to set you free.

Here’s a prime example of a story that’s failing because the author refuses to answer that one most important question. Who or what is the fucking dragon really?

Chasing the Dragon

I get two kinds of dreams as a grown man.

In one I’m always leaning over my mother’s body, only she isn‘t dead yet, just bone tired and very still. I’m trying to give back so my hand is caressing her forehead. The skin is shiny, sickly warm, her hair oily and pungent, coming off in clumps I have to pluck from between my fingers. I coo, the way she would when I was fevered, tucked in, wrapped tight in extra blankets, her weight on the mattress keeping me against her hip. Unlike then, her lips are pursed and cracked. I coo: aaaha, aaaha – the way I remember she would, only I’m thinking of my hand, the yellowish, razor thin skin it’s caressing. Her lips don’t move, only part slightly when the ball point tip of her tongue darts out dry and pale. I’ll get closer, to show that my love knows nothing about germs and the smell of death. My love, as was hers, is strong enough for the both of us. But I recoil from the smell of her breath. It’s baked like a head of garlic, and bloated, that’s why the steady hiss. Her teeth are stained like old tusk. When did that happen? And they must ache, idle as her lips and robbed of their chatter as in the mornings when she’d sprinkled the sugar over my cereal, in the evenings, a warm facecloth in her hand as she wiped the day from my eyes, the grime from my neck. Lying next to her, my father’s eyes ooze a sickly gum where there should be sleep. He’s been on his back so long the large frame of his bones is like an empty box under the sheets. I’ll let my elbow dig into his ribs, as if by accident, because I want to see how hollow he’s become. If he moans -- at least he’s still alive. I’ll peel the softening callous from his hands to get at the new flesh underneath. If I don’t, the callous will harden and crack and bleed the baby skin underneath, the way my mother’s lips bleed. Still, I remember his hands the way they were; how they were the hands I wanted when I grew up. I’ll peel his callous and make a mound of it, just as I collect my mother’s hair, make a mound of it, just as I know I’ll bury my face in their unwashed pillows when they’re finally gone. Nearly dead my parents, their hearts blackened to a crisp, scorched by my dragon fire, I try to keep these two good people clean and comfortable as best I can, in this dream, looking away as I pass a damp rag under my mother’s sagging breasts. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” I say, and their rotting eyes turn upward every time, just like the trout with its cold blood, upward as if they’re desperate to hear the osprey I say I can still hear from time to time, the screeching forecasting better days ahead.


Blah, blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah blah… blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Blah blah. Blah! Blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Blah blah.


When I find myself surrounded by mountains, before me a steam rising off placid lake waters, as in a calendar I might have seen, I’ll hear that distant screech of a young osprey tearing through a pass, shearing the rocks, it’s down ripped off and fluttering like fuzzy horace clinging to cracks and mini-steps for dear life. This is the second of the two kinds of dream I dream. It’s cold and grey, but it’s also alive and untouched by my life closed up in rooms, by the people I’ve known, my parents doing the right thing as simple as they knew how. Don’t ever take candy from strangers. And I never did. Not candy. Eat your liver. I have. I do. Put every fiver away like you never had it. What fiver? My father saved his money in a little vinyl zipper pouch he couldn’t hide from my mother. Sugar pie for him. Hair dye for my mother. A pair of pants for me. Those were the days, the best there was.

Sometimes, when I find myself surrounded by mountains, before me a steam rising off placid lake waters, same calendar, I’ll get the musky whiff of the grizzly bear lumbering out of the woods and onto the shore looking to catch some fish, its hackles trembling as it charges the water, skewering trout after trout with its claws, its teeth gnash dangerously, the fish scales tumbling through the air as in a cartoon. I notice the bear’s claws slash deeper than need be with each swipe, tearing through fish and rock and mountain. The beast is mad with hunger, and with each chomp, its meal of trout, still eyeballing the sky, seems that much closer to its final gulp of air. But… it’s still hanging on.

“Friend,” I’ll say to what is about to heave the placid lake waters into a boil yet once again, a thunderous clap of bat wings so the dream disappears, the calendar, the bear was only in my head. “Churn for me,” I’ll say And then the mountains rumble and the lake explodes, falling back to earth like a millions of drops of rain. Quick like that… and then I’m leaning over my mother’s body again, only she isn’t dead yet.

If only I had the guts, or the energy, to peer into the heart of this and figure out what all the blahs are about.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the angst that I believe all of us writers go through--just what is the central problem in this story?

Wed Feb 18, 05:46:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Yes; it's that loathsome place where all the good bits are...

Sat Feb 21, 11:21:00 am GMT-5  

Post a Comment

<< Home