I grind on
In the last week, I’ve more than doubled the number of (what I think are good) words in my latest Fathers and Sons story, “Twice Blest”. So many, many things remain unspoken in families, and in the case of this story, it’s good that they are. My character, though, is speaking them to his son, but the boy is only a few weeks old, so the father’s rueful, middle-of-the-night confessions are safely spoken.
That doesn’t make them any better though. I hadn’t realized this character had such depth and pathos in him. And it’s a good thing he does. Part of the struggle I’d been having with these stories is that the characters were too idealized, too perfect in their flawed ways. They didn’t feel real to me sometimes, so it was hard to take them farther down the road.
I have two friends from high school who are now Catholic priests. (Not so unlikely for someone who grew up in very Catholic St. Louis.) Should I ever see either of them again, I intend to ask them about the secrets of the confessional. Not specifics, of course, for they would never reveal that. But I imagine that the sins that burden most of the people in the world are, in fact, pretty common and even mundane. Most of us aren’t monsters. (Okay, maybe you.) Yet even the most mundane and commonplace mistakes can weigh heavily on our hearts. I expect my friends would tell me that they tend to hear the same sins from nearly all of their confessors (and I suppose in a way they are grateful for that — imagine receiving the confession of a murderer. What would you do?). Yet these people are individually deeply troubled by their guilt. They want to be free and clean and able to go farther down the road.
So it is with my character in “Twice Blest”. He must tell his son something that is, to him, horrible, though I suspect it is not at all rare among many fathers in the world. He has to unburden his soul, in this case to the only person who can actually forgive him, and then he has to live with this knowledge for the rest of his life. His life is his penance.
For a story teller, this is a good thing. This confession will affect and deepen every word of every story in the rest of the cycle. It will make this character much more fun to write. It will ripple through the stories and the relationships between fathers and sons and grandsons in ways I haven’t even begun to realize. I’m glad I’d decided to write these stories from first to last now (rather than writing whichever one I felt inspired about at the time).
Still . . . it’s been a grind. I had to force myself out of bed and in front of the laptop to work on the story. I no longer feel the pull of days past. It’s a struggle between me and the black dog of apathy that has been chasing me farther down the road this whole horrible year. And I’m not sure I’m getting any distance on that dog either. But I know about grinding. Running serves as a metaphor for writing in more ways than I’ve realized. I grind out the miles and I grind out the words, sometimes (most times lately) without knowing why the hell I’m doing either. Momentum, maybe, will get me there. If the dog doesn’t get me first.
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