June 14, 2010

To sleep, perchance to write

"I am the canker of my brother Sage's life. He has told me so in no uncertain terms. Tonight as we eat hamburgers in the car on the way to our first scuba class, he can't stop talking about the horrible fates that might befall me underwater. This, even though he knows how scared I am after what happened last November."
-The Isabel Fish, Julie Orringer
As far as car food goes, I prefer spam musubi to hamburgers. But in the tastiness hierarchy, spam musubi ranks below some (including a certain Shack Stack), but not all, cheeseburgers. The addition of eggs bumps spam musubi much higher – probably close to a tasty cheeseburger. Now that that's settled, The Isabel Fish was one of my favorite stories from Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater. It's rare for me to feel immersed in a short story, since it's so, well, short – but some of the ones in this collection really pack a punch.

In Roald Dahl's Lucky Break, he explains that if you wish to become a fiction writer, "You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader's mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don't." 

A good fictional tale does not just pluck you from your life and shove you into another world. Personally, I think movies are more successful at that particular task. Rather, it still allows you to be you – but it also beckons you to slip into this other person, leading this other life, fashioned from and connected through language. This experience is almost like being in a dream – you might realize, somewhere in the back of your mind, that it's not real, yet you can't help but feel fully absorbed by it. As such, those of us not gifted enough to "make a scene come alive" can take comfort in the idea that we all become fantastic fiction writers when we sleep. Alas, retrieving that gift upon waking is another matter.

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