Dispatches from the Empire


The kidnapping I can’t escape

…I was about to start writing my second novel. It was about a wealthy family on Long Island who lose their money, the leakage of my frustrations at watching the middle class disappear and at the moneylessness of my own youth. (Let’s all agree, for the sake of this story, that relative moneylessness isn’t a dollar amount but a state of mind and stomach born of your own particular circumstance.) I was grappling with a question I had, which was this: Who was better off, people who were born with money and never had to worry about their survival, or people (like me) who didn’t feel they had the financial stability and who had to learn to be survivors on their own? Did having money doom you in a way?

I wanted to see the Teiches because I was embarrassed to report that, though the fictional family in my unfinished novel bore only rudimentary biographical resemblance to them, a kidnapping kept finding its way into the plot. There was something I couldn’t resist thematically about it, because it elucidated one of the many paradoxes of money: that money can put you in a kind of danger even as it brings you safety, too.

People (especially non-readers) so often assume that a writer is in control of a story, when it’s always the other way around.

I’ve long struggled with talking about my own writing, about the craft of it. I rarely-if-ever talk about it with non-writers, as they simply can’t understand. But I try at times to elucidate the process both here and elsewhere on the internet in hopes of discovering, well, what exactly?

As the adage goes, writers write what we know, and thus writing is extraordinarily revealing. We cannot hide who we are, not convincingly. And while something inside compels me to write “my truth” (groan), I’ve read enough Greek and Roman mythology to know a relentless pursuit of truth tends to become a lonely endeavor. Honesty tends not to win you friends or lovers.

So then how do I balance vulnerability and honesty? Where do I find the courage to reveal the ugly, anxious, embarrassing parts of my self in my work? How do I trust that I’ll be met with some measure of grace when I struggle mightily to give it to others?

As of late, understanding that a story writes itself is table stakes for any meaningful connection. Ideas come to us, they are not of us, and this is the foundation of every relationship, every personal interaction, every bit of writing in my life.

Perhaps because of this, I often feel alone and a bit adrift, looking out on the world with earnest curiosity.