In the Wild
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.
- Jack London, The Call of the Wild
The object of reference in this quote by one of America’s most beloved authors could just as well be writers - especially novelists.
We’re out there: in coffee shops; grocery stores; concerts; church; homes of family and friends; driving down the road.
We are in the “wild” . . .
. . . on the loose.
And we are writing.
I often used to wear a t-shirt to symphony rehearsals that said “I’m writing my novel.” It was true. I wrote whole chapters while playing Mahler on the violin.
All the time.
Whether it’s through people watching, driving, washing dishes, making coffee, etc. We constantly create and / or talk to characters in our heads, edit, and think about where a story line is taking shape while loading a truck or babysitting a nephew.
We may not appear to be very observant, but quite the opposite is true. The “wild” calls to us and we answer. Ecstasy. A complete forgetfulness that one is alive. Yet, out in the wild is when novelists are most alive. It is where our real work - and living - takes place. Once we are ready to put pen to paper, the story has already percolated to the point of bubbling over. Yes, of course, nuances, syntax, editing, and re-writes take place; this is part of the work as well. But the tale itself, character development, action, humor, and interweaving of all of it takes place in the mind beforehand; it whirls around in both left and right hemispheres of the brain, connected by a thicker-than-most corpus callosum found in creative thinkers. Juices flow. We have difficulty getting it to stop once it begins.
Out in the wild, we mostly people watch (not like that -- not with binoculars) . . .
It’s not easy to spot us, really, and probably why we may seem a bit dangerous. A friend recently asked me in a rather melancholy tone whether or not I ever felt invisible. I responded, “Yes, but I’m okay with that.” Sort of like a super hero. I can draw attention to myself if I wish. But I like the fact that I can be invisible as well. It serves me quite nicely as a novelist. It’s amusing to think about how photo-conscious people are these days since everyone has a camera on their cell phone. We all know how easily our picture can be snapped at any given moment. But authors could care less about taking your photo. We’re not going to put your picture in our novel. However, we might take a few seconds to take note of the way someone cocks their head when they talk, a bold outfit, or food order choices.
If we’re in a research-rich location, we pay attention with our five senses. When I researched old ships for my first novel “The Big Smile”, I spent a lot of time at the Maritime Museum in San Francisco on the docks near sheds where boat builders kept open containers of varnish, piles of wood and other materials. I didn’t interview any of the builders as I didn’t want to interrupt their work. I simply observed and listened to their conversations. I remained in the wild.
Lest you be uncomfortable, don’t. We’re harmless. We do not invade privacy, nor do we stalk. We simply take note, and write observances on our brains with indelible ink. Notice I didn’t say picture or photograph. We use words to paint images. Most of us barely know how to use the cameras on our cell phones.
As I write this article, I am in a coffee shop. I see a mother with four little children under the age of four. They have cake pops. The mom is texting on her phone. The youngest, approximately age two, is about to wander. He’s squatting, giving his mother side-eye, trying to determine the best moment to make his move. He bolts. Without skipping a text letter with her right hand or looking away from her phone, the mom’s left hand jets out and grabs him.
The wild is calling me. Ecstasy.
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