|(photo cred: crazyface.com)|
Some nights I've spent so many hours grading -- poetry tonight -- I can't muster a word of my own. My hands are cramped from writing comments in what might as well be invisible ink for all the attention they will attract.
An arsonist is terrorizing my neighborhood, setting the same houses and garages on fire over and over like he's daring the police and fire fighters or a neighbor with a permit to carry to catch him. Every night we hear the fire trucks blare and see the blue and red lights spin and flash and smell the smoke. We've been on the news -- not for our home tour last month or our chili cook-off this month or our block party in July or for all the rehabs people are working on. We're in the news because of some a son of a bitch who's setting historic 19th-century houses on fire. His mother must be so proud.
I picked up a friend at her house tonight, and we went out for dinner. On our way back to her house, we had to take an alternate route around the corner the fire trucks and police cruisers had blocked off. "Why do you want to live here?" she asked. "I'm selling my house so I can get out of the city and away from problems like this."
"Because I love it here," I said. "It's interesting." I could have added, "I was bored in the suburbs. I didn't have anything to write about except barking dogs and the growl of riding lawn mowers at 7:00 am and my garden. I felt like some essential part of me was waiting to be born, and here in the city I have given birth to many stories and the authentic me. I belong here, where I can hear train whistles as I write late at night, where I can walk to school and to bars, and yes, even where I smell smoke from an arsonist's plea for incarceration. I live in a Victorian witch's house almost a century and a half old with a transgendered beta fish named Lady Fish and the ghost of a red-headed boy who wears a white dress. Does it get better than that?"
The first rule of writing fiction is that you must put your main character in danger; you must create levels of tension by making things happen to her -- both good and bad. This should also be the first rule of living a life worth writing about. I have to put myself in places and situations where I can feel tension. You won't want to read my words if I don't.
Please forgive me tonight. Sometimes my students take most of my words. And this is one of those times. Maybe when you get up this morning and read my late-night-radio ramble you can think of a story to tell me. You know I love a good story, don't you? Almost as much as I love cookies.