A quick fyi, began one of the paragraphs in my friends email. Just telling me what shed heard. Shes smart enough to understand that sometimes people have to know what they dont really want to know.
I read it through to the end, then read it a few more times, looking for hidden meanings, subtle implications. Nope, none. I recognized the queasy tightness in my guts back again. I asked myself what I should do, and of course there was nothing to do. Dark outside. I went to bed. This was Nov. 10.
The next day at work I couldnt stop thinking about it. I wasnt sure how I felt. Numb, I guess. I went through my routine obliviously. I have always been a little horrified at how easy that is, what a small amount of self it takes to keep a person moving through the world, making decisions, engaging in small talk. As if the rest served no purpose.
That night I read the email several more times. I thought about defeat, and loss, and my inability to change the situation. Then I began working on my response.
I started out rationally enough, but the more I typed, the more fervent I became. I wasnt numb anymore. I was upset. And then I moved past upset and became angry. Violently angry. But my violence was aimed solely at the keyboard. I was lashing out. I was exacting revenge.
When I was done I had produced a hysterical, semi-coherent, profanity-laced rant, more than 3,000 words long. I clicked Send with a kind of self-destructive triumph. Few people have defamed themselves so thoroughly.
My friend took it pretty well. She emailed me back a few days later. Hopefully that did you some good.
Had it? I had expected it to. Get everything out of my system, I had thought, and then I could go on with my life. But I didnt feel any different.
Why had I written that email? To have my say. Not to make things better, but just to state, for the record, what I thought about the situation, and, while I was at it, the world. Sometimes an immense satisfaction can be gained from that. I had done this, hadnt I? I should feel better, shouldnt I?
I went back and read what Id written. I found myself disappointed. Id glossed over a lot of important points. Id failed to make certain distinctions. Also, the tone was wrong. This was only a clumsy approximation of what I thought.
I started fixing it.
The anger I had felt didnt go away, but it receded enough that I could be rational again. What did I think about the situation? That turned out to be a much harder question than Id realized. Aside from denouncing failure and unhappiness, what was there? The best way, sometimes, is to just write, let your thoughts go wherever theyll go, and not worry about the end result. I did this all through January and February. My thoughts clarified. When I finished, in March, I had 60,000 unfettered words, begging for structure.
That required changing things around. I messed with the order of events. And not only the order, but the events themselves. Some I omitted, some I altered, some I made up out of thin air. I did this with a clear conscience, convinced that I was being no less honest for it. With so few words in our language to express human emotion, and those being mostly rather blunt, distortion is often the only way to indicate a precise feeling.
My third draft of that rage-filled email is approaching 75,000 words, and its nowhere near done. I always carry a notepad in case something suddenly occurs to me, some additional point I need to make. This happens a lot.
Humor, heroism and art are the only tools we mortals have for turning defeat into victory. I expect to be working on this project for another year, at least. It dominates a large part of my thoughts and my free time. When Ive finally finished, and every comma is in place, and every word is the exact one I want, and Ive achieved the effect I wanted to achieve, then I will be able to stop. Then Ill have had my say.