One of my friends recently told me that perhaps I needed to ‘start at the beginning’.
Burning bridges and looking back. I have never really ‘looked back’; it’s not how I’m… built. And yet, for the past few days, the temptation has been alarmingly great. Perhaps it’s because there are no good films to watch and I can’t seem to read at the same pace I once could. So at present, I am merely letting my fingers clap at keys with my mind numb. According to Sean Connery in Finding Forrester, it sometimes serves the purpose of beginning an actual thought. Just… typing. I am working – surprisingly hard – at creating a present moment and I have never had to work at it before. The music selection is sublime for scaring up some sentiment: unhealthy dealings of Dylan, Cohen and the occasional Joni Mitchell. There are also culinary conduits: cheese and wine, no going wrong there. I’ve even painted after years. I’ve scribbled thoughts, and yet, for a change, I want to be nakedly honest and I am afraid that is too scary. I want to write out something that isn’t pretty, poised and poignant, or forever attempting to be. I want to write something visceral, brutal, hurtful – to lash out at all the fucking assholes who have stomped over me simply because I was stupidly considerate enough to not stop them from doing so. It is no life-altering recognition acknowledging that one is a pushover after 30 years or having been one; however, it is alarming to discover that one has lost the ability to sidestep the default position one has carved out.
It’s a cruel fallacy folded in flawed familiarity.
Sometimes I wish it were still a noble aspiration to be a librarian. To be satisfied with merely being a keeper of books without needing to be a great reader or writer. Do you ever feel that? Watching some garish, sappy romantic comedy where a single, happy, healthy female protagonist lives in some ridiculously romantic setting running a book store… isn’t it sublime? Until she recognizes her life still isn’t complete because she’s single. Sadly, I can’t even aspire to being a bookstore manager in Pakistan, because my education dooms me to far loftier aspirations, but I wish I could move away and live in a rinky-dink town someday running a bookstore. Not one of those Barnes & Noble or Borders-like behemoths, but a tiny nook of a shop, with old musty smells and tight corners one could hide away into. With just enough customers to keep you going but not enough to keep you well.
I wish I had just enough ambition to allow me to write one book and no more. I have been told that it is only the first book that belongs to an author; everything that follows is tainted by someone else’s expectation. I now know that my book will be about the books I have read and the person they have made me. My only consistent companions in life and my only solace, the only geniuses who do not judge me and in whose company I feel secure and not stunted. Each chapter an homage to a novel shaping a person into another person, and searching for all the ‘something missings’ to fill that layer of a character.
I have my first sentences:
This is a book about… other books. Better books. This is a book that will shamelessly borrow and covert the best turns of phrases, plagiarize the most sibilant philosophies and romanticize the unromantic. This book is borrowed from all the books that have written it because She borrowed from all that she read.
They say write what you know. Well I am a reader – that is really all I know. I am hoping, once again, that it will be words that will bring me out of this mess if only I could have the courage, conviction and dedication to keep writing them. I am perversely inspired by DT Max’s eulogy for Wallace in The New Yorker, published a few years after his death: “[…]What all these residua of his life have in common is that they are testaments to Wallace’s belief in the power of words. Even when things were at their worst, as, sadly, they often were for him, David was writing; if not poems, then fiction. If not fiction, then letters. He used words to wound, words to heal, words to persuade, words to enchant. But in the end, despite their potency—never more compelling than in his hands—these symbolic representations of thought and feeling couldn’t save David: not from his mental disease or from his ambition to be more than just another remarkable writer… So today, on the anniversary of his death, on September 12, 2008, it seems right to echo the narrator of his late, brilliant suicide story, “Good Old Neon,” on a copy of which he annotated, “Ghosts talking to us all the time—but we think their voices are our own thoughts,” and end, as he did, with:“Not another word.”
Wallace once said, “The purpose of fiction is to combat loneliness” and yet it has been ages since I have read a novel. It used to be the only thing I was capable of doing. I would even dream in voiceovers because the words were always prettier than people. Come to think of it, that still hasn’t changed. And I am lonely. Comfortably lonely.
That is finally beginning to scare me.
Maria Amir is Features Editor for the magazine.