Years too late, I am just getting used to the new medium. I have been on the reader end of this shtick since the mid-90’s, but producing a web-site offers an entirely new prospect.
A friend who shall remain Scottish sent me a link in response to the second installment of this series of rants about the business of writing, editing and publishing. As a consequence, I have completely re-written the original drafts of this post and the next. Such feedback and response was not possible in the world of ink and paper, and thus another dawning of light on Marblehead.
I was again humbled by the potential of the internet in making this very post. For a long while I have told a simple story as an example of a moment of realization which now appears to be a false memory, a conflation of several different journeys made over thirty years ago which I have unconsciously edited for a selective purpose and remembered as one.
Many years ago, soon after my arrival in Boston, I went up toward Cape Ann through Marblehead before dawn with a friend and stood at the concrete wall in Gloucester, Massachusetts, close by the Fishermen’s Memorial. ‘They that go down to the sea in ships,’ it says there below the blue-green brass figure of a man in wet-weather garb leaning on the wheel of his boat.
It was a dark and gloomy morning and it was February as well, with a steady bite of breeze and the water worked into a chop of black and gray, with discolored hulks of ice piled in bunkers along the narrow beach. There was no real color, only shades of darkness.
Boats were already out and some appeared to be returning, their lights cutting the black like low flying planes. Not being a very brave fellow myself, I could not think what it took to be a fisherman on such a morning. It appeared to us that our own venture was wasted. There would be no sun. No light on Marblehead that morning. I was for climbing back into the car for warmth.
My friend said “No. Wait.”
My friend had been a fisherman. His father owned a scallop boat out of New Bedford and he had worked there from an early age and he knew the look of the weather on the water. My friend had been to war, and now back, was torn between returning to his father’s boat and all the dangers and beauty there or finishing college. College meant another life entirely. His pilgrimage that morning had meanings I could not fathom.
I turned my back to the press of wind from the sea and pulled my hat down tighter. That way, I faced the statue of the Fisherman. I danced in place for warmth.
Suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown, the fisherman’s face was illuminated a copper red. It was startling, because it appeared the light came from within the metal itself. And at that instant my friend spoke again.
Just above the dark peninsula of land at the far side of the harbor there was now a scar in the sky which transmuted to silver, gold, and ruby red. Slowly then it parted to a pale blue beyond. The world divided before us out of the darkness. It caught my breath long enough even for me to hold my words.
When I turned back again, the entire statue had caught the light, but that first bright illumination of the fisherman’s face was gone.
There are moments of illumination. A popular trope is to call this an epiphany. I am not sure of that. ‘Epiphany’ ought to be reserved to describe a realization. We do not always learn from our moments of illumination. Most often, they pass and are forgotten. This must be because what we suddenly see does not relate clearly to what we already know. But even if we lack comprehension, we have glimpsed a new possibility. We can go that way to see more, or simply consider the enlargement of our dominions from the dark.
My problem now is that this did not happen quite that way. My vision while freezing my butt at the wall in Gloucester happened late one February afternoon, after a false sunset, when a winter storm moved in on our plans to eat lobster at Woodman’s in Essex. The dawn break over fishing boats took place one foggy Summer morning. And this correction of faulty memory took place because of the accessibility of internet. Now I am faced with a certain unhappiness. I liked the re-imagined memory better. That, I suppose, is the nature of spending so much time in the provinces of the mind.
I am currently working through emendations of the text to a novel, Hound, in the light of comments made by one of the publisher/editor/dishwashers who bravely took on the task of making this manuscript into a physical book. Quite naturally, demands are being made to reshape my imagined history in ways that conform to the commons of our language.
To write a story is to live in a separate place in one’s brain. It is that way with me, at least, and I have read the comments of other writers who say much the same thing. It is a form of walking schizophrenia. The attendant loss of grasp on reality is very real.
This place the writer has conjured is palpable to them. To move a chair in a room or alter the words of a character is as mad as walking naked on the street. But often it must be done. The turn of your imagined universe must be corrected to meet the needs of a reader who has no idea of your own madness. And then you must realign the planets in their orbits so that they do not spin away out of control. All of this process is ever more subtle than this hyperbole. But then, it is that way.
As I was saying, I received a link to an article from a Scottish friend, concerning editing. It is an interview with a successful practitioner of the black arts. And that editor confirmed so much of what I was intent on saying in this series of essays, I decided to use his comments to restructure my own thoughts.
(I’ll continue shortly.)