I started reading Ha Jin’s “A Good Fall” yesterday, and I had the same reaction as when I read the collected works of TC Boyle or Amy Hempel or Aimee Bender: This is going to change my (writing) life. Of course, none of those did, but maybe this one will. I keep hoping.
I’m always getting mired in these dramatic, sensitive, emotional, sad, touching, heartbreaking drafts that I slave on and find out they’re crap and I still don’t know why. Then I write what I think is crap and lo and behold, everyone loves it (Harold, for example).
So when I started reading Ha Jin, the first story, “The Bane of the Internet” was very short and I thought, hmmm, I’m not sure what this is, it’s not beautifully written, I’m annoyed with both characters, I don’t quite get the story. Aha, maybe that’s the point! Maybe I’m supposed to be as annoyed with Longsuffering Sis as I am with Catastrophe Sis. I don’t quite see the whole immigrant-experience thing going on – I see that relationship every day with different people, those who count on no-goodniks to supply them with superiority, who claim to want to be out from under the burden of their lazy spouses, diletante boyfriends, copeless relatives, but can’t quite bring themselves to say, “NO” because then they wouldn’t have anything to complain about. The glimpse into Chinese life, where a car is becoming essential and a specific kind of car more so, was interesting, but the whole thing could’ve been written about two sisters in Portland and the emotional context would’ve been the same. And maybe that’s the point.
But the more important point to me – after I read “A Composer and his Parakeet”, is that these stories are valid even though they are borderline surreal, in plain language (that is, as I understand it, his signature style), and more narrative. I love these stories. They are what I’ve been afraid of for years – just writing, what Duncan Nelson used to call “write what happened”. I have to do more of this.
Except, I will backslide, I know. I love to write moody, elegant prose. I love to wallow in doubt and second-guessing and self-obsession. I will return to my Mourning Mom story and try to figure out a way to get her to say, “I lost my son too!” in a way that makes the reader cry, because I think it is important someone feels what I felt in the days after Virginia Tech, when they kept talking about the 32 dead when there were actually 33. And that isn’t going to be an easy sell. Maybe impossible, which is why I’m having so much trouble with the story. why I’m getting lost in plot mechanics. Because the emotional mechanics are impossible.
Anyway, I’ve embarked on something else. “I see dead people,” a flash chapbook of dead people I have known. One murdered. One suicide. One dead while breathing. Maybe a natural death. Maybe an internet death, since I seem to be accumulating them too. A church death. Deaths I feel connected to in some way, not by grief, but by coincidence, humor, guilt, surprise, whatever. I wrote the murder this morning.
Which means I wrote today. Actual writing. That makes it a good day.