Bungee Jumping, Parasailing, and Excess Punctuation
The wonderful Stephanie Pearl-MacPhee once said that taking a chance on knitting was about the best thing you could take a chance on. It wasn’t bungee jumping or parasailing—nobody ever got maimed when they dropped a stitch or mis-crossed a cable. It was knitting for sweet wool’s sake! And even Lily Chin, who crocheted David Letterman a sweater in the span of a show, still employed that lightning fast speed (and rather acerbic wit!) one stitch at a time.
There are some things that take risks better than others.
Writing would seem to be one of those places where risk taking is on the side of safety, right?
Here you are, at your desk, typing a thousand words a minute and what? Your fingers will become helplessly tangled? You’ll sprain your pinky? Oh holy jebus, you’ll misspell a word and thou shalt never type again! I mean, no risk, right? We even write on word processers these days—we don’t even run the risk of deforestation should we continually run into the same blank writing wall. Instead of a trashcan full of balled up dead tree, we have a deleted file. See? No risk-taking was every safer, more private, or more worth doing. I mean, really, what’s the harm?
I mean, what if you write about a character people shy away from—a con-man, a porn star, a cheater, a thief? What if you tackle a sensitive subject—HIV, race relations, ADHD, the nature of morality or the fabric of reality itself? What is the big furry deal if your characters screw up, say mean things, cheat on their lovers, shoot up or hold a razor blade to their wrists?
And not just your characters, right? I mean, who’s gonna know if you futz around with punctuation, twiddle with narrative voice, insert a tool in the space-time continuum, or dress a trope in satin lingerie under a three-piece suit? What about turning a noun into a verb, animating anaphora, activating allegory, or squeezing a simile so fresh no one has ever heard of it before? (Holy Goddess Erato I swear by your Cithara that I live to metaphor so freshly no one has ever heard of it before!) Isn’t the nature of the writer that he or she longs to play with language, to lounge naked on satin pilcrows and be ravished by strange lengths of prose and lusty epic girths of poetry?
Isn’t it sexy to break the rules, isn’t it forbidden? After all, it’s you and your word processor—who’s going to know? Bare your tantric writer’s breadths, spread your wanton boundaries, allow your nimble fingers to tantalize your own cerebellum and stroke your language centers to completion?
Don’t you want, yearn for, need, that symbolic orgasm, spewing the seed and secretions of literary fundament over thin skin of the imaginary page?
You long for it now, don’t you? Your fingers itch to caress the keys, to stroke the boundaries, to rip the away the societal prophylactic of what is expected from your writing. After all, you’re alone, right? When you’re lovingly fondling new ideas, holding them slick and swollen in your hand, who is going to be there to see? To be hurt? To condemn?
But… never, never forget…
Just like a teenager’s first peekaboo pictures, once that file is saved, it is saved forever.
And what started as an innocent risk, a thing that would hurt no one, has bloomed exotically, a rose with sharpened ruby petals. This flirtation with the dangers of words and ideas that no one has ever seen can become the most dangerous thing of all.
It can become real.
All of a sudden, innocent exploration can lead to a manuscript pregnant with layered meanings, a clear formula that is soiled with unexpected surprises, a once pristine idea of simple romance rife and infected with the insidious notion that a blank page is like virgin flesh—it has no sensuality unless it is touched and can touch others in return.
And that, my friends…
That is permanent.
Not only permanent, but, by its very nature, public.
What once started out as secret, private, safe, is yearning, thighs spread, orifices oiled, to be penetrated by public consideration. Inconsiderate fingers, bitter, scathing tongues, pompous, arrogant pricks—once a manuscript is published, it is no longer innocent mental masturbation.
It is, in fact, ready to be fucked and fucked over by public opinion, under the glaring lights of a porn set, where every nook and cranny of a secret exploration is open for exploitation and disdain.
Are you ready?
Because if you know me, if you know my work, you know I’m a blatant, exhibitionistic, wanton literary hussy.
I have committed every sin without remorse and bared it to the world.
I have written cheaters and porn stars, con men and alcoholics. I have let space-time run sensuously through my fingers and purred obscenities in narrative voice. I have flogged tropes until they begged me for violation, and once I’d wrung every last drop of emotion from them, I’ve reshaped them, reformed them, given them sumptuous, necessary aftercare in an orgy of denouement.
I have endured censure from readers, and have hung, exposed and naked, to see my work violated by critics, shed bitter tears as what was perpetrated in innocence was violated until my heart bled.
And I will tell you this.
For every risk I took, for every time I broke a rule, included a character or a theme that made others uncomfortable, shed light upon a part of my heart that I would rather be gentled than savaged, and wept orgasm upon the page--
I am unashamed.
What I have written is as true as I could make it. What I have shared I have shared for pleasure. The mistakes I’ve made, I’ve made in innocence.
I am unashamed.
So think about it, the next time you sit at your keyboard, an untouched document spread before you. It’s just a touch. It’s just a word. It’s a risk that hurts no one—until it’s published. It’s private until you decide it’s private no longer.
It’s not bungee jumping or parasailing or sex with a stranger.
Will you do it?