The essay is actually a take-off of one of my posts here, that odd little bit I wrote about how I should have married Michael Jackson. For the purposes of this blog, I tried to narrow the focus to something writing-related; I had just finished my book and, as a result, I was suffering from a sort of free-fall. It can feel that way, can't it? We writers need a project. Now. If I don't have a place to blast away this manic writing-energy, I'll spin off into fantasies that are utterly bizarre even for fantasies. I mean, Michael Jackson? When I was eight, I wanted to marry John Schneider. At twelve, Kirk Cameron; Johnny Depp at twenty. And at thirty-five, this wobbly, emaciated, eccentric (to put it kindly), and frail person: half-little boy, half-icon. Both awe-inspiring and pathetic. A man who had had so much plastic surgery his nose was dissolving away by the end.His own sister called him a pedophile. This larger-than-life tragifigure, a generous philanthropist, a gifted artist, and one of the most magnificent entertainers of our time. A damaged soul.
Anyway, the essay. With my fiction, I've rarely been able to draw a clear line between my own life experiences and the events in my stories. My characters are composites, my settings are hugely embellished versions of real-life places I know, and my plots are (usually) entirely concocted. Sure, I use plenty of autobiographical info. for the details, but at least on the surface, the work is not about me. In fact my goal, as a fiction-writer is to get out of the way of the story.
But, now, with my essay I can unapologetically focus on myself. I can ramble on about my odd obsessions and pontificate on what all this MJ-obsession might mean. Is it related to my childhood? My relationship with my father? Does it have something to do with how tragedy and magic and regret and ambition have played out in my own life? Is it because I really do love to dance? I can self-diagnose, self-obsess, self-deprecate, self-pity. I can sit by the pond and bend forward, gazing deeply into my neuroses. Admire them, love them, throw rocks at them.
Yet, of course, all this self-stuff is inherently risky in a way fiction-writing isn't: it's me. No hiding behind a hypothetical father-daughter relationship, no variables, no alternate realities. The tough truths I expose--to myself and to others--are about me. The character squirming there on the page--oh, crap--that's me.
And I still have to worry about the reader. It always comes back to the reader. If I keep the essay so narrow that it never rises up to meet the reader, or, in the very least, to offer the reader a way into the story--then all I have is a diary entry. And, an uninteresting one at that. Even I get tired of myself. Writing is dialogue with the world, even if you do it all alone.
PS. I knew I had to write about Michael Jackson because my response to his death was just way too much. I was painting my kitchen and crying. I watched Thriller on youtube, showed my kids a video of MJ's very first moonwalk. The very first time I spoke with my agent on the phone--when he called to offer representation--I babbled on and on about Michael Jackson. (My agent, btw, is incredibly gracious and very, very patient with me. After I launched into my wreckless babbling, he didn't even try to rescind his offer. Instead, he chuckled good-naturedly and changed the subject.) Anyway, I figured it was time to write it out and be done with it. So much of this writing-thing is about that, writing it out. Anybody know what I'm talking about?