Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Self-Therapy for Orpheus ?

Last night was the Wordos Halloween Short Story Party. After a quick round of business, we sit back, eat snack food, and read each other 1000 word stories. The theme this year was "parties" (I modified mine to include "gatherings"). Stories ranged from pretty funny, to macabre, to downright creepy.

My science fiction story surprised me. I'd originally thought I'd write a sarcastic send up of the recent Sedona Sweat Lodge Tragedy - something snarky about plastic shamans and prosperity theology. Partway through creating the manuscript I realized I was writing a diatribe and switched gears. The deadline loomed and I wrote snatches of the story between preparing for the Shrew's memorial and other family obligations. I forced myself to stop re-writing the beginning and get to the end, which I think I wrote very late at night in bed. Tuesday morning before the reading, I ruthlessly (sort of) chopped out 500 words to make the story fit the reading format.

Tuesday night. My turn at the podium came. I hauled my laptop with me and began the story. As I got to the end, and I started to choke up. I'm loosing voice control and tears are threatening. "Great," I'm thinking as I'm trying to read the ending. "People are going to not understand what I'm saying, and I'm going to look like one of those writers who is overcome with the brilliance of their own artistry. How professional."

Sometimes, a writer will put personal truth into a story. In this case, I drifted into a story resonance through a kind of word association game induced by focusing on the writing-under-deadline process. I hadn't had a chance to read it aloud in its entirety. I don't read my stories so much as perform them, which triggered a catharsis.

In some ways this seems worse - writing as self-therapy. I want my stories to get into the heads of other people, not be a vehicle for me to work through my own issues. But on the other hand, stories are supposed to have heart, an "ah ha!" moment, a place where they speak to a listener's truth. After some reflection, I'm afraid I wrote a typical John story: someone muddles into danger, but mystical music somehow (we're not quite sure how, but it was also a religious experience with dense and obscure philosophical meaning) saves the day by calling them back. But I hope I wrote a story about searching, a story about being lost, a story about family, a story about being found.

Sigh. I guess I have to go watch The Wizard of Oz and Moulin Rouge now....
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