Those Pesky Emotions

Upon waking, I had thought to visit the library in search of more books by John Banville, a particular author who inspires me with his style of writing. I am currently halfway through one of his books and have periodically laid the volume aside to hack again at a long labor of mine, alternately caressed and despised, for nearly fifty years. This memoir relates a seven-year period of my life, if it ever sees print, both gut-wrenching and pathetic, a lament, self-aggrandizing, a confessional if you must.

Banville’s style is similar to my earlier writings, what came out of me in those days before I had published anything. My technical articles had seen print, and even essays on various personal topics—dreams, remembrances, all of it boiling with emotion. But after that first book, my writing wasn’t my own. I felt watched, self-conscious, fully inadequate to create anything of merit. What did I know, anyway?

Since then I have detoured into historical accounts of one thing or another, not anything to be ashamed of but nevertheless not of any emotional import. My slim efforts at fiction, where in theory emotion must reign supreme although within the harness so eloquently described by Frost, have failed to engage me—or readers. I have been terribly disappointed in that effort, as it seems I am unable—unwilling, in fact—to express or convey emotion because I steadfastly refuse to experience emotion. This failure is, as one of my characters says in a flash of fury, a response to the reality that emotion leads to pain.

Not just any pain, but a deep intractable burn that settles in the bones and leads like a labyrinth to all the many experiences of pain that I have swallowed down in the years of my life. Why should I willingly lay myself open to examine those hopeless dead-ends and hidden mortuaries? It’s not as if a re-examination will make anything change. I can’t excise the pain like a surgeon removing a misshapen, hidden tumor. Looking at and expressing it does nothing to ease its ability to wound. And re-wound.

But yet, as a writer, I must create stories that convey the experience of pain, of sadness, loneliness, despair, and all other human torments (alongside joy and pleasure, the light part of duality, the yin-yang) in order to give readers what they want. There’s some sickness in that formula, that readers seek new sources of pain in order to exhume and then exorcise their own long-hidden suffering. Is it that we don’t know we have pain? That we must cast our eyes along the pages to learn what we’ve hidden from ourselves? Is it that in living through fictional pain, distant as we are from any personal experience of it, that we can set aside the dragging fingernails of our own grief?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. I only know I that must write, and in so doing, I become caught up in the expectation that what I write will have some meritorious impact, and in that I will gain not only self-respect but also some small congratulation even if only from a few. And so I daily strive, like today, to expand my understanding of how and why people read. I endeavor to learn more closely the peculiar ways in which successful authors manage their craft. John Banville wields words like an expert swordsman and inspires me to take a fresh look at my memoir in the belief, perhaps delusional, that if I can only find the right words, a more musical phrasing, a more authoritative approach to my efforts, I might then be able to invoke the appreciation Banville has garnered.

However, the morning nearly gone and having attended—shall we say deviated from my original intent?—to various uninspiring tasks and only just now trying again to read for inspiration, I am distracted by my plan to visit the library. I am only halfway resting in my chair, so urgent is my sense of duty to get in my car and go.

Which makes no sense because I have a half book left to read and therefore no urgent need to visit the library. I have business at the bank and mail to drop, but that’s only side dressing to my actual underlying urgency to visit the library this very moment. It’s not that I wouldn’t like a couple more Banville books in order to compare his style from one work to the next. Of course I would. The real underlying truth is, I want to escape this duty and secure a stack of romance novels to get lost in, to vacate any responsibility to learning or writing, and simply disappear into a fictional world not of my own making.

This leads me to suspect that if I was able, theoretically, to set my emotions free from their harness to run rampant across the page, I would be confronted with feelings I might not want to hear or see and be forced to start cudgeling them back like the wild beasts they are. Or, as I once understood it, I might start screaming and not be able to stop, embarrassing me, my pets, and the neighbors.

The Journal of Admiral Wade

Admiral ebookStrange dim light, shifts in time, in perspective. Can we experience past lives? How do we survive the inexorably slow loss of love? Why do epiphanies slip up on us?

A man drives his aging Volvo into another day and out of any world he’s ever known.

A woman retrieves an old trunk and finds hidden treasure of inexplicable nature.

Delores is eager to discuss the details of Carlos’ file, which she appropriated from Records across the corridor. “He’s a bright young man, girls,” she says, reorganizing the lettuce on her sandwich with her long nails.

Josie’s room in an ancient hotel built over a Mayan temple leads to intimate hallucinations. Or are these men real?

What quirks of the universe drive us to the thoughts and deeds that ultimately define our lives? Does magic happen? Do dreams transport us?

These lyrical short stories explore pivotal moments, realizations, and inevitable conclusions in lives of unexpected dimension.

With a December 5 release date, this anthology of eight short stories is available as an ebook or paperback. Pre-order the ebook through December 4 for only 99¢. Amazon buy link —

EXCERPT from Her Natural Home:

The dining room opened from the lobby through an archway of gray stone and onto a patio where flowering plants, shrubbery, and vines formed a low wall around the perimeter. Candles and torches illuminated the space. The maître d’ led Josie to a corner table close to hibiscus shrubs with papery yellow blossoms. A starched white cloth spread over the table, which was set with white cloth napkins, a fat white candle in a saucer, and a squat glass vase with vibrant red flowers. Night air wafted over her and above she could see the stars. She sighed and leaned back.

“Tequila,” she ordered when the waiter came.

She imagined throwing the burning liquor down her throat in one quick toss and slamming the empty glass onto the table before demanding another, as if she were some dusty outlaw in a Clint Eastwood western. In planning for the trip, she had pictured herself ordering wine with her meals. Something elegant. Yet the idea of ordering tequila seemed familiar, as if she had considered it without acknowledgement. It surprised her that she had entertained that train of thought and kept it hidden from herself, only now to discover her self-deception.

If that’s what it was. The term seemed unduly harsh.

The waiter set a small glass of amber liquid on the tablecloth in front of her nestled on its own personal round coaster, white and scalloped around the edges. He also delivered a small plate with a mound of coarse white salt and several wedges of lime. All of it glistened beautifully in the light from her table candle. She waited until he left then sipped the tequila. The offensive liquid burned then sweetened explosively in her mouth. The salt and lime relieved her discomfort and by the end of the portion, she felt a relaxing glow in her biceps and throat.

The waiter appeared at the table.

“I’ll have another,” she said precisely, aware of the movement of her lips.

Senora,” he said with a slight bow.

She turned with unusually greedy appetite to the soft enchiladas and guava and meaty sauces that swam in the plate. Sips of tequila diminished the fiery tang of the sauce. Shadows flickered on the tablecloth. She cut her eyes sideways at the waiter as she ordered her third tequila, and he brought a double, along with more salsa and fresh avocado. Red tiles underfoot emanated warmth through her thin sandals. The faint breeze shifted, heavy with the scent of blossoms and chilies and scorched flour tortillas.

What other life had she ever known? What house, what furniture, and why had it ever held any meaning? Who were the people she knew, neighbors, coworkers, relatives she saw on occasion, people at the familiar stores where she bought gas, milk, hosiery? She knew the streets of Woodson Terrace, even of the inner city where she could merge into speeding traffic and compete with the most aggressive drivers. She kept a list of reliable repairmen. She was an assured adult, someone who on a whim entered a contest for a digital camera and won instead something she did not want at all. Something she had not expected and could not explain, now that she was doing it. It was happening. Something she enjoyed very much. Whatever it was.