Saturday, November 29, 2003

Essence of Time

I wish I had more time to write. I've just finished reading this book, a book that languished on my Amazon Wish List ever since I started the Wish List with it, which I finally bought because I was tired of looking at it on the tail-end of my Wish List, and which is entitled Someone is Killing the Gay Boys of Verona. It isn't very good, I'm afraid, though it's also not exactly bad, either.

The story involves a series of killings of gay teens in a small Indiana town, hate crimes that don’t seem to leave sufficient trace for the police to follow, and is narrated by a boy who lives in an imperfectly preserved haunted mansion, whose best friend was the first victim, and who of course was a potential victim himself. There are ghosts involved, a hateful religious sect, vague ties between the past and the present, and a surprising number of comings-out of gay male youth for such a tiny town (apparently there were no lesbians in Verona). It's sort of a gay gothic romance with a gay murder mystery entangled in it.

I found it all a little difficult to believe as a story: the bit with the coroner not noticing that a so-called "suicide" had somehow managed to shoot himself in the back of the head with a .45 Magnum (which even I know is impossible, and I'm not a county coroner) was pretty hard to get behind; the descriptions of the mansion were a little hard to swallow, too, though perhaps someone less well-versed in American architecture would have had less trouble; and the fact that the narrator/hero spent all of his time trying to contact ghosts and figure the whole thing out in his head, Nero Wolfe-like, instead of talking to the police or the victims' families, was simply ridiculous (even Wolfe had actual information and evidence gathered up for him).

The author, who I assume is a grown-up-type person, captures the narrative tone of a seventeen-year-old boy so well that I feel that I'm reading something written by a seventeen-year-old boy (I will generously assume that was done on purpose, rather than that the author himself suffers a tenth-grade reading level). That's kind of a cool trick, but then seventeen-year-old boys aren't well known for telling a good story with any amount of subtext or elegance of language. They spend so much time trying to explain themselves, as well as repeating themselves, and trying to "figure things out," that they don't get around to doing much else. This one also kept using "that" instead of "who" or "which," a grammatical tic that got on my nerves after a while.

There is also an editorial slant towards coupledom that I occasionally encounter in gay fiction, especially the gothic variety, and which always irritates me just a trifle. It took me a long time to discover that not everyone in the world needs to be part of a couple; I did think that when I was seventeen but have since grown out of it. Coupling is certainly very nice, it is the peak of some people's experience, but it's not one of life's essentials for happiness and it's not for everyone. But in this book, everybody has to couple up in order to be happy, everyone... even the dead. It sort of pissed me off, but just a little; I guess I really am turning into a confirmed bachelor, though I hope I'm not becoming a bitter old maid.

There was also, finally, a rather irritating prudishness to the language, boyfriends instead of lovers, one's heart racing with terror instead of pissing one's pants in terror, and an almost fanatical avoidance of discussing any body-part that might be located below the belt. The author seemed to feel that "dirty parts" didn't need to be discussed, that "dirty words" were inessential, and that being "good" required a certain divorce from one's physical nature. At least he didn't pretend that teenage boys are absolute angels of sexual chastity; but I also worry vaguely about authors who never send their characters to the bathroom. While I suppose that's okay in children's literature (I've noticed that the people in Harry Potter's world only shower after games and only use the toilets to plot stratagems and talk to lachrymose ghosts), it's a little odd in a murder mystery supposedly intended for an adult audience.

Anyway, I didn't start out to write a book review (though now I've started I rather enjoy it). Like I said, though, it wasn't really a bad novel, it just wasn't written for me. What it did do for me, though, was turn up the flame on that smoldering and not-very-warm fire I try to keep lit under my keister about writing my own stories. Every time I read a book that irritates me, just as every time I read a book that I enjoy, I try to dissect what it was in the book that irritated or elated me, try to see where in my own stories such elements could be found, and try to figure out how to decrease or increase the occurrences of such things. With a book I love, though, I usually feel pretty satisfied with the experience and file it away for future reference... it's the books that irritate me, on the other hand, that inspire me to write my own, something better.

But when do I have the time? (As we gracelessly return to the title topic) I know I could be writing fiction instead of reading, or I could be writing fiction instead of these journal entries, and I could certainly be writing fiction instead of downloading new furniture and building new houses for my Sims. But writing fiction has always been more time-consuming... I have to be uninterrupted for whole days just to get started on it. And I haven't really done much work on fiction since I quit smoking, or since I discovered the internet: the smoking was part of my writing pattern, I would write-write-write and then get up and smoke a cigarette while thinking about what came next, then I'd write-write-write again, and after I quit smoking I would write-write-write and then just walk around the house three or four times, which just wasn't the same; and after I found the internet, I never get quite bored enough to have to entertain myself with writing, there's always something else to do.

Writing fiction was never something I could do for a little while and then go do something else, it required hours of revving up beforehand, hours of decompression after, and uninterrupted peace without Grandmothers or telephone calls or errands however small during the process, so the busier and more full my life becomes, the less time I can devote to writing fiction. But I know perfectly well that I can't alter my life in order to give myself more time; instead, I have to alter the way I write in order to fit it in to the life I have. I need to learn how to just sit down for an hour or two in the evenings and write some fiction, even to continue writing when Grandmother comes and stands in the door and nags me.

Nevertheless, I do wish I had more time in my life. It seems that I'm always somewhere, at work or in the car or at a meeting or in a show or something. Yesterday and today, and the sick day I took a couple of weeks ago, are the first days I've spent in a really long time where I haven't had to leave the house. Add all this to my age-diminished capacity to do things without getting tired, and it looks as if I've painted myself into a life that allows far too little productive leisure time.

And I don't really know what to do about it. The things I'd like to let go of, my responsibilities and the less pleasurable tasks of my life, can't be let go of; the things I could theoretically let go of, my shows and social life and so on, I don't want to let go of.

Talk about your "luxury problems." I am grateful to have so full a life... it is not so for everyone. My Daddy, for example, has so little in his life right now that everything that comes up automatically becomes an obsession. He can't get out on his own, and he can't hear very well when he is out and so can't take as much part in conversation as he used to, and he doesn't have the vastness of inner resources to keep himself satisfactorily occupied on his own. He is pretty much occupied with The Food Network and downloading free games from the internet, and pestering me to buy things for him from the internet and then pestering my nephew to install them for him. I know he reads a good deal, and since I pretty much only see him on Sundays and holidays I don't really know what the rest of his week is like, but from my conversations with him I often get the idea that he's more than a little bored.

Then there are others for whom a day of minimal boredom is an undreamt-of luxury, people who have to work forty or more hours a week and commute two or more hours a day and have to deal with children or spouses or houses or lovers or dating, on top of all of the other things a person might do. I hear about other people's schedules and absolutely shudder at the mad scurry of it all.

Ah, well. We all have our own rows to hoe. I would like to discover some simple way of hoeing my row more efficiently, some simple way that wouldn't require a personality transplant or vitamins or a revolutionary alteration of my worldview and personal outlook or whatever. On the other hand, I find that I do always have time for the things I need to be doing, so perhaps writing fiction is not what I need to be doing right now.

Perhaps right now I need to be eating pie and watching television. So I guess I'd better get to it.


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