Writing in the dark

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Kafka
Franz Kafka, 1883-1924, was consumed with themes of loss, death, and family dysfunction.

Met last night, at a local bookstore, with a new meetup.com group of local writers.

Four of us thronged the long table and pulled long faces at the start.

No, we didn’t know each other; in fact, had never met before. We were shy, introspective,  examining our navels.

Trouble was the founder and leader of the group did not show up, as promised. So there we were, on each other’s hands, in the semi-dark of this book-lined room, and how to proceed?

As a pretty gregarious person and former college writing teacher, I prodded the multitude to introduce themselves. We had D, who tried to write short stories, but they turned out to be poems. (The stories “weren’t going anywhere,” he said.) We had M, just returned from eight years of bumming around Europe and Asia teaching English as a second language. We had S, who offered she wanted to write a book about enlightenment. (I assured her there was plenty of darkness to dispel.)

M read a poem from a book he was assembling about his experience teaching in Alaska. S immediately asked whether this was a dry village. (Alcohol was not in the poem.) And if the natives used sealskin canoes. (No boats or seals were in the poem.)

I read the first page of a story I wrote about a year ago, and brushed up just that day a bit, about patricide, you might say, called “Who You Daddy?” Or maybe it’s about fraternal longing and fecklessness. You may kill off the daddy, in other words, but then when you’re in charge you’re still wondering, Who you daddy?

There is plenty of darkness to go around, all right. We write out of darkness and hope for the light, including of course the light of publication. We sweat and wrestle and doubt ourselves, and fall willy nilly into depression and despondency. What athlete wants to train in the dark, forever, without the chance to get on the field and play the game and hear the crowd roar?

Well, art, if we’re talking art writing, is not necessarily about winning. In fact, I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, it’s about losing and failing. I don’t mean the writer doesn’t want to publish: of course not. I mean he or she writes about failure, as Kafka wrote “The Hunger Artist,” dramatizing the dying artist in a cage of straw at the circus, the crowd sweeping by, ignoring him entirely, for they’ve come to see the lions, tigers, acrobats, and clowns. Or as Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina, about the beautiful woman of the title, who commits suicide in the face of her society’s judgment and hypocrisy. Or as Atwood wrote The Blind Assassin, where narrative itself is elegy, for “taken to its logical conclusion, every story is sad, because at the end everyone dies.¨

So why write? Why not just play golf? Or go to the bar? Plenty of darkness there, too.

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