11.14.2011

On Being Pursued

I have a tendency to rush through my life. I utter more cuss words behind slow drivers than many people utter in a year. People walking slowly in front of me in a grocery store often make me imagine intense "hit and run" cart scenarios. I've broken countless glasses and bowls washing dishes, because any unnecessary second spent doing that chore is a crime punishable by death, and therefore I make mistakes that wind up littering the floor with shards of glass.

For whatever reason, I just don't like being "slowed up." I become anxious. I often feel like I'm being dragged through life by an invisible leash, held by an impatient creature on a mission who will make me pay dearly if I dither too long. I don't know what its mission is, only that I must keep going, for something "in the future" awaits, and I'll never know what it is unless I keep...on...moving.   

When I was pondering this blog, lines from a famous poem kept occurring to me. It's a piece by Stephen Dobyns, entitled "Pursuit:" 
Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass -
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited. And why?
What treasure do I expect in my future?
Rather it is the confusion of childhood
loping behind me, the chaos in the mind,
the failure chipping away at each success.
Glancing over my shoulder I see its shape
and so move forward, as someone in the woods
at night might hear the sound of approaching feet
and stop to listen, then, instead of silence
he hears some creature trying to be silent.
What else can he do but run? Rushing blindly
down the path, stumbling, struck in the face by sticks;
the other ever closer, yet not really
hurrying or out of breath, teasing its kill.
If ever there was a poem that personified me in a most basic way, it is that one. And sadly, my tendency to "rush though so I can do something else" carries into my fiction, where I feel that if I or my characters stand in one place too long, they'll be eaten. Only, in the story, the thing holding the leash is a hungry and impatient plot.

Many people who have read my stories say I'm good at pacing. Others say things feel too "rushed." I tend to agree with both of them. I think for people like me, they prefer things to go at a good clip. They're looking for a quick thrill, something to amp up their pulses a couple notches and keep things interesting as they continue to be pulled through life. For people who aren't being "pursued," they like to take time to soak in all of the surroundings and feelings available to them in that particular moment. They want full immersion. They're in no hurry, because they have full control over their minds and their sense of time and place. There is no leash. For them, there is no monster.

My brain understands the former, but my heart wants so badly to write for the latter. It's my dastardly brain that insists on "speeding things up a bit," that life is something so full of mundane shit anyway so 90% of it can be skimmed over. This tug of war rages in my head through every novel I write. But in my NaNoWriMo project, THE SHIVA PARADOX, I'm telling my brain to go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. I'm only using it insofar as I need it to help me with the "sci" in the "sci-fi." But the rest, I'm taking my time on. Because Bravo is probably my favorite long fiction character I've ever written. And I want to get into his head and his life.

Yes, I can hear distant plot points starting to murmur nervously, shuffle their feet, sigh. Soon, they might even be cussing up a storm. "You're fucking doing it wrong, Dickson! WRONG, I tell you!"

However, I find if I listen to the music loud enough, I can drown out that voice and keep going. With it, I can lull that pursuing monster to sleep, stand in the moment and just be. Because you know what? Whoever said you have to hurry through life, even the mundane part of it, is full of shit. There isn't anything up ahead but more open road, and the only destination is death. Most people who think they have to rush, who think they're being pursued, will spend the rest of their lives viewing life through the rearview mirror, wishing they had slowed down, even once, and dared the monster to to eat them.