When you live in Seattle, you wake up to a fair number of gloomy mornings. I look out my window at a lot of green and brown and gray. But there are mornings, like today, when the gray is southward, in front of me, but the sun is rising from the left through a break in the clouds, slanting through my neighbor’s trees. It shines like a spotlight on the trunks of our firs, and the air takes on a surreal quality I’m forever hard-pressed to describe. But every time I notice it, my brain starts churning for the proper words.
It’s like a bruise. The atmosphere is tinged a dirty, yellowish-green. It’s a maddening quality to try to describe. It’s also a mallet to my head of how limited are my powers of metaphor, how bare is my ability to string together imaginative combinations of words. I think a second grader could come up with “bruise” to describe that particular quality of the morning light. And no matter that I’ve sat here hundreds of mornings trying to pin it down, I can come up with nothing more lyrical or uniquely worded than bruise-y. As a writer, this makes me nuts. I yearn to be lyrical.
Instead, I am almost painfully rooted to reality.
Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of imagination. My current WIP is about a modern historian in ancient Pompeii. And I have ideas for two other related books involving modern people intersecting with Incas and Valkyries. It’s just that the scaffolding of my writing is how the world really looks to me. Steel is steel, stone is stone. One of my writer friends can string together the most unlikely images. Sometimes she’ll even take a soldering torch to bits of words to make one new one out of whole cloth, gabfuckery or something like that, and at the end of the sentence I’m sitting there with my mouth slightly agape going Damn, I know what that looks like! And yet, when I read the individual words, the image shouldn’t exist at all. It’s a gift. One I don’t have.I try not to be envious, or demoralized by the fact, but sometimes, in those writers’ dark zones—or on one of the bruise-y mornings—I can’t help it. As a writer, I must rely on storytelling, straight up. I do fine at that, but sometimes I want to push myself, to grow. Or maybe it’s the other problem—the cackling doppelganger shouting of the writer’s inadequacy. That inner demon that needs to die a painful death. I have to catch her first.
And now the sun has risen, the breaks in the clouds have closed, and the view is the regular old daytime-in-gray. Nothing remarkable there, nothing to inspire, nor to make me feel inadequate to the task. Now I can get back to work.