Writing (And Reading) On the Edge

A friend recently taught a class about writing on the edge — writing at the edge of possibility and freedom; exploring the shapeless, the uncertain, the indefinite and the incoherent; accepting the endless, the multiple, the fragmented, the collaged, the ambiguous, the disjunctive, the long forgotten realms of the mysterious and the wild.

Her point was that we are addicted to easy reading as something to lull our senses and to provide respite from our daily lives, and that challenging ourselves to move beyond that changes our perspective and makes us better able to deal with the increasingly complex world.

I would have liked to take the claVenice Beachss since it seemed a good way to discover unreached recesses of my mind, but the 1000-mile commute would have been a killer. Besides, although I would like to explore the long forgotten realms of the mysterious and wild, I’m not a fan of complicated writing. I like books that are easy to read but that have depth or something new for me — a new idea, a new place, a new insight into life or humanity or something. If it’s just a rehash of the same old stories and ideas, I get depressed.

Once a long time ago, I gave my mother a stack of books I had finished reading, and the language in one of them dismayed her. I didn’t know what she was talking about, couldn’t remember any such passages, and said so. She gave me an appalled look and responded, “I’d hate to think that any daughter of mine was so naïve as to not know what the words meant or so jaded that they didn’t bother her.” I just shrugged and said, “I don’t read words.”

That really shocked her, and I could never make her understand the truth of it. I don’t read words when I read a novel. I read by some sort of osmosis. Reading words is dreary task, especially if the passages are complicated and not easy to understand.

The truth is, as my friend suggested, I do read to lull my sentences. (I mean senses, but I left the typo because . . . what a cool faux pas!) For me, the whole point of books being easy to read rather than convoluted and incomprehensible is not so much to find a respite from daily life but a way of running toward the truth, toward real life, and the lull provides a space so the hard work can go on beneath the surface. (The story and words keeps my conscious mind busy and frees me for the important task of inner exploration and assimilation.)

During one horribly depressing time in my life back in my late twenties, I couldn’t stand to read anything that didn’t have a happy ending, so I descended further and further into easy reading — ending up with Harlequin romances. And then I really got depressed! It took me about three months to make the correlation with the books I was reading and my suicidal thoughts, and when I did make the connection, I gave up reading for several months until I found a bit of equilibrium. Now, all books give me that same “harlequin” feeling, which is why I can’t read any more. There is nothing in books but the easy reading. There is nothing to fill the space created by the lull.

Maybe someday when grief is no longer defining my life, I’ll be able to read again, but for now, I’m finding that the lull created by not reading is as important as the lull once created by reading.

Meantime, I’ll see if I can find my own edge and then figure out how to write beyond it to see what lurks in the wilds of my mind beyond the lull of daily life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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7 Responses to “Writing (And Reading) On the Edge”

  1. 1writeplace Says:

    As always, Pat, I enjoy your honest retrospection and that you can laugh at your mistakes.

  2. lynn doiron Says:

    Well written, Pat, and I almost understand the process. Not quite, but almost. Writing this comment, I find the comparison that comes to mind is the struggles I have with learning Spanish. There is much that I comprehend without truly understanding the specifics. Not ideal, but I’ll get there one day — with Spanish and with the reading process you describe. ;)

  3. Mike Croghan Says:

    So this question keeps flitting through my consciousness. Wondering if you need a lead person to look into real estate investments in PV, Guadalajara. No commission charged, guaranteed satisfaction with services rendered. Just sayin’. If you don’t want them to get your goat, don’t let them know where you keep it. > Tim Frey > SMU Football Coach

    Peace2U, Mike

  4. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I have been introduced to complicated writing. I was once given a copy of the Steam Powered Boy. Beautiful, weird and strange use of the written language but this made the story hard to follow. Hence very few people know of the writer or the book outside academic circles. This may have been fine with the author. Me? I want anyone who can read to be able to pick up one of my books or an anthology I’m involved in and get some enjoyment out of the experience.

    The only author who ever really touched upon the virtually indescribable with success for me was H. P. Lovecraft. He was a master of shadows and suspense. His mythological gods trying to break back into our universe – the Old Ones – have been used by numerous other writers. His most famous creation was the sea demon like god Cthulhu.

    I think it is more than enough to make your writing clear to others. Editor help in this task.

    As for an edge, the cliffhanger suits me best in that regard.

    I don’t really have out and out heroes and villains in my writing to give comfort to the reader. I just think that it is more exciting for the reader not to know straight off how a particular character will act and yet have that character to be still in character. I would say that some readers will sympathize with some of my villains even though they do at times act villainous. That’s where the complications of my own writing begin and end.


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