Birds, man. They’re everywhere. Not only have I just finished reading Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s instructive, hilarious and justifiably famous writing guide/meditation this morning (read that if you want or need to know a few home truths about this gig), having sat up late reading it last night, I got straight back into it bright and early when I was again woken by – you guessed it – the birds. Constant cacophony, that’s all I can say. It’s like there’s some territorial stoush going on… the spring finals. They seem to be fighting for treetops out there, and it’s getting ugly. And the kookaburras, well, frankly they’re like a group of wildly drunk carousers returning from a buck’s night out. They barrel in together at dawn, dishevelled, inconsiderate of the sleeping women folk, and it’s all about laughing at their own jokes and urinating off balconies. Just like home, really.
So anyway, let’s get to the firearm part of the post. I don’t know if any of you remember this, or were even kind enough to be reading my little piss-ant blog a year ago, but there was an excruciatingly painful night at Varuna when I inevitably had to read from my MS, and after finishing was greeted by dead silence. Not the dead silence I’m craving now I’m deranged with lack of sleep (I will n-e-v-e-r complain about noise at my place ever again. No, not ever. I mean, there’s a frighteningly industrious bush turkey building its nest right beside my ear hole), but the type of dead silence that has less to do with noiselessness and more to do with rotting human flesh. Specifically, mine. The mortification was just tearing strips off me as I sat dying in my chair, barbecuing them up on the spot like the kebab man had come to Katoomba. Oh, it was horrible.
And a year later, I am here to tell you that last night, the dead silence returned like Freddy Kruger’s stripey torn jumper. It tapped me on the shoulder and then slit my throat from behind. I was glad, because all I really wanted at that moment was to die. And leave some pretty fucking stubborn bloodstains on the Cottage Point couch. Oh, it was horrible.
And all I read was page one. One. Just the first page. That’s it. Admittedly this page has been hardest to write because of my problems constructing a functional narrative arc, but I had hoped, dared to dream, that the first page was getting there. In the silence, I heard the unanimous verdict that it was not.
Then I think Jenny broke the air of decay by pinpointing a specific paragraph that was problematic or at least that she found confusing. She asked me to repeat it, and so, joy of joys, I got to read it out again. Yeah, that was so fun, pretty much exactly what I want to do on my birthday. But it very quickly emerged that it was this same paragraph JB and Catherine had trouble with too. The rest wasn’t so bad. They liked the other stuff. They even liked the core idea behind the offending paragraph. They just didn’t like the paragraph itself. It was convoluted. Obfuscating. I stared at the words on the screen thinking, but I like this paragraph. Or I did until the first three people to hear it all gave it a resounding thumbs down.
“I just found it confusing,” Jenny said. “I wasn’t sure what you meant.”
Then she very sweetly started qualifying that sentiment, suggesting maybe this confusion was somehow her fault, so I said – and I know this to be true – “That’s very sweet, Jenny, thank you, but it just shouldn’t be that hard.”
And it shouldn’t. If three trusted readers (Darkling Deb had a overnight pass) all have a problem with something, chances are, there is actually a problem. I told myself, You, you are that problem. You are a fucking failure. This is never, ever going to work. This manuscript is going to be the only thing you work on for the rest of your life, and even then it’s still going to stink, and it’s never getting published, and no one will ever read it, and then you’ll die. So maybe hurry that along.
Right on cue, Llew called.
“Hey,” I told him when Catherine handed me the phone, “I just read out my new first page.”
“And how did that go?”
“Oh, like hell.”
Llew laughed. The girls started protesting. I went on some rapid-fire self-loathing jag that I can’t quite recall for you now, it’s a blur, but primarily it involved a lot of hysterical, too loud laughter. Llew hurried off the phone when I got to the bit about intending to neck a bottle of wine and then some.
I did not ultimately do that.
No, I looked at the paragraph. And I hated myself some more. And then I allowed myself to be gripped by this really awful, sick certainty that I’ve spent this entire redraft adding in loads of paragraphs just like this one. Confusing. Convoluted. Obfuscating. Ruinous. I glared at the screen and really just felt like crying. But then I thought about the conversation we’d just had.
“What is it you’re trying to say here?” one of the Darklings asked me. “Just tell us that.”
So I told them, very simply.
“Well, maybe try just saying something like that.”
So I picked apart the paragraph. Deleted this, restructured that, fucked around a bit more, thought about the core idea, changed something else, and read it out again before we went to bed. It’s better now. And they were right. It may interest you to know it is also exactly half the length of the paragraph I started with. So now I have to go back in, guns blazing, and start hunting rabbits. In my case, this means eliminating the kind of verbal vermin that – left unattended or indulged even for one single day – breeds and breeds and breeds and breeds and breeds. So. Hunting season is officially open for business.