Under the influence

I’ve only been snorkeling a handful of times. The first time I tried it was in Caribbean water. I’d never been in warm ocean water before, and I’d never snorkeled, and it was beautiful and disorienting, and occasionally scary. The silence, more than anything, made me feel very cut off from the world. The sun was on my back, but I was lost in the water.

Writing is much the same for me. It’s a solitary pursuit. No one can hear the story in my head. No one can experience it the same way. The outside world is right there around me, and yet I see none of it. It is also beautiful and disorienting, and more than occasionally scary. There are times when it takes conscious effort to allow myself to submerge into a story, and to leave behind not only the details of daily life, but the sense that writing must be accomplished a certain way.

I’m swimming in story at the moment. It makes me a poor conversationalist, unlikely to arrive anywhere on time, and sometimes just plain grumpy. I also have a cold, which doesn’t help matters. Peppermint tea, congestion, and getting to the end of the chapter I’m working on are my lot for the afternoon.

In place of anything incoherent I might have to say, I leave you with a quote. Molly Gloss wrote a great novel called Wild Life. If you’re interested in it, I direct you to this review (and you should be interested). (A review, incidentally, by Jo Walton, whose novel Among Others is deserving of its own post–a wonderfully strong and honest story.) The following passage from Wild Life is one I keep at my desk.

“To write, I have decided, is to be insane. In ordinary life you look sane, act sane — just as sane as any other mother of five children. But once you start to write, you are moonstruck, out of your senses. As you stare hard inward, following behind your eyes the images of invisible places, of people, of events, and listening hard inward to silent voices and unspoken conversations — as you are seeing the story, hearing it, feeling it — your very skin becomes permeable, not a boundary, and you enter the place of your writing and live inside the people who live there. You think and say incredible things. You even love other people — you don’t love your children and husband at all. And here is the interesting thing to me: When this happens, you often learn something, understand something, that can transcend the words on the paper.”

Again, Molly Gloss. Wild Life. Read it.

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