MAKING THE WORK // The Trouble of Writing
I am lining my words up in their sentences like rambunctious children who need to be disciplined (they just want to play). I spit polish the little fuckers’ foreheads with a vigorous Nurse Ratched-like thumb and tell them to stand straight. I frown in dumb confusion when they look rigid.
I hate people who make it sound like they pull their writing right out of their asses, when all I’ve got is a stick up mine. These writers—the ones who talk about product and never process are, in fact, menaces—or at the very least, anomalies (or hacks) if they really are pounding out books with little fuss.
This is why I’ve been feeling some big love for Michelle Huneven’s essay (adapted from her keynote address at Writing Workshops LA: The Conference) over at The Millions called “The Trouble with Writing”. She begins, “I would qualify to speak to the trouble with writing based on the sole fact that it took me 22 years to finish my first novel.” At another point she says, “I was a restaurant critic for a dozen years, turning in one column a week, 52 weeks a year. Not once did I sit down and just knock one out. Every single review was a tumble into trouble, and a climb back out. You could say, I took the trouble to do the best I could.”
Oh sister, sing it to me.
Huneven’s whole thesis revolves around how writing is trouble, “that great dustpan of a word.” She talks about the many ways in which trouble manifests: the problems to be solved, hitting the capabilities of one’s limits, it not getting any easier, the difficulty getting down to it, the interruptions, the “self-loathing, shame, grandiosity and pride”, etc., etc.
At the end of her essay she concludes, “The trouble with writing is writing.” She advises: “Get yourself into some deep deep, trouble. And then write your way out of it.”
Now, this is an interesting idea to think about embracing—that writing is inherently trouble—and by implication, its goal is the restoration of order. It’s got me thinking about when I used to be a nightclub bouncer. Bouncers don’t resist trouble, they sniff the air for it, letting it whet their appetites, like trouble is a barbecued steak. This is both because bouncers are often silly, bloodthirsty he-men and because their job is, in fact, to wade directly into trouble.
I kept myself fit for trouble when I was a bouncer. I spent six or seven hours a week at the boxing gym. I also learned submission holds like “the c-clamp” and “the goose” during bouncer training. Oh, the pride I took after a night of real Trouble when the boss would slip us a little extra “danger pay” for a job well done. I’d swagger home in the pre-dawn with my imaginary penis weighing down my crotch. When I got in, I’d shove my feet into the arse-end of a pair of bunny slippers, and I’d set to work removing the blood stains from my shirt. (Okay, that only happened a few times, and I was the only bouncer with a Tide to Go pen, but still.)
So this is what I’m thinking. I need to remember my bouncer days and salivate for the trouble of writing. I need to know I'm at the height of my job description when chaos reigns and it tests me and marks me. I can be macho with it: bring it. Then I need to clean up the mess and promise to never pretend that it wasn't one.
MUSIC & MEMORY // “Trouble” by Cat Stevens
When I was in grade ten, I was super hot for Jesus—not the water-walker, rather the chap with the long hair and sandals who my brother brought home from university.
At the time, I was wilting in our small town, very much in want of both culture and some form of soulfulness. Jesus was a Philosophy Major toting Siddhartha and a VHS copy of Harold & Maude. It was like winning some kind of 15-year-old girl sweepstakes.
Harold & Maude was unlike any film—Jesus called it a film, not a movie—I’d ever seen. And it introduced me to the music of Cat Stevens, who’d donated his music for the soundtrack. By the movies denouement when the song“Trouble” was playing (“trouble/ oh trouble set me free”) I was mad with feelings for Jesus.
Jesus was kind to me. One day, when we were left alone in the house, I accidentally stepped on a wasp. Jesus retrieved some dirt from the backyard to make a mud paste for the sting. We then sidled into the living room together, hugging the furniture so as to not disturb my mother’s vacuum lines, and each took an end of the couch. I applied the mud to my stinging foot and we both laid back. At one point our feet touched and Jesus made a joke about us touching soles/souls.
Lavinia Greenlaw, in her lovely, slim memoir, The Importance of Music to Girls, said, “If I had not kissed anyone, or danced with anyone, or had a reason to cry, the music made me feel as if I had gone through all that anyway.”
SEEN & HEARD // The Trouble of Leg-Pullers
I get sucked in by fake news stories all the time. A. thinks it’s enormous fun if he has This & That on the radio and I get riled about why on earth anyone would want to ban talking animals from children’s picture books.
“I mean, what are these animals saying that’s so offensive? Or are these people just pedants and they think that they’re protecting children from the lie of talking animals?” is an example of the kind of thing I’ll say as I furiously subject the apartment to some sort of cleaning.
A. will wait to hear the rest of my rant before he’ll gently say, “Remember that show I told you about where they make things up?”
I tell you though, in this weird world, it’s increasingly hard to tell the real news stories apart from the satirical ones.
So, last week I clicked on a link to an article with the headline “Omagh’s ‘Shawshank Husband’ Dug Tunnel from Bedroom to Pub Over 15 Years.” I should’ve known from the look of the website that it was a leg-puller right away, but I thought maybe Irish websites just looked different. Plus, I just wanted to believe.
I loved the story about the plumber, Patsy Kerr, who began to tunnel a hole from under his bed to the local pub 800 feet from his house after watching Shawshank Redemption. He wanted to escape his snoring wife for a couple hours in the evening. The tunnel took him fifteen years to dig. He caught trouble and was summoned to Omagh County Court after it emerged that he’d been the cause of a collapsed sewage pipe at his neighbour’s house. According to the article, Kerr said, “To be honest I was sort of glad I was caught. She was always smelling drink off me in the morning and I was explaining it away as a natural odour. But recently I was finding myself singing rebel songs and stuff coming back up the tunnel and it was only a matter of time before I was caught anyhow.”
How fascinating, I thought, that this man dedicated fifteen years of his life to such a project when he could've just used the front door.
Then I got to the comments section: “It’s a bit of fucking light banter ye WANKERS.”