Today a good friend of mine stopped by my office unexpectedly to deliver the devastating news that his partner of 14 years is unhappy in their relationship and wants to move out.
“All around me,” he said, “long-term couples are splitting up. Just never thought it would happen to us!” And then, because the guy still had an ounce of irony in him (but just an ounce), he said, “Why couldn’t it be something simple, like cancer. Something that would bring us closer!”
I hate when my friends split up. It’s a more intense version of the oh dear! I feel when I notice that a restaurant or shop is closing its doors. Even though I was born in a German-speaking country, I don’t think I cotton to the Schadenfreude too easily. I tend to take the failures of others personally. Evidence that the world is one big rug waiting to be slipped from underneath, sending victim after victim ass-over-teakettle.
I asked my friend (who’s a successful, published writer) if he was unable to write during this crisis. He looked at me as though I just asked him if he’d bought a 357 yet, with which to blow his brains out.
What he answered would have been exactly my answer a year ago when I left my long-term relationship. “It’s the only way I know how to be with this. I’m writing like crazy, but fictionalizing the situation. Exploring all of this through fictional characters is the only way I know how to get through it.”
And, it must be said, this sort of writing is not journaling, exactly. One doesn’t write what he knows, or write feelings down and attempt to parse them and parse them until an epiphany leaps up and grabs the jugular. No. It’s about inching through the morass in the dark, following a mostly-hidden depth of inquiry, and banishing anything anything that presents as an epiphany. What you’re looking for is the thing that scares the shit out of you. You’re blindly whipping your stick back and forth to arrive at the monster. Shame, basically. An epiphany subverted. Something you’ll turn away from at first.
Writing fiction is the only way I know to court clarity. It’s the lonely heart’s version of 12-Stepping—giving your story up to a power greater than yourself. A character who you keep following through that dank chasm until the walls spread a bit, and granules of light mix with the pitch.