It takes me the longest time to write stories. That’s frustrating in its own right, but what’s even more troublesome is how long it takes me to actually come up with an idea for a story. Some people would then say, “Well, perhaps writing just isn’t your thing.” This is when I should qualify my original statement. It takes me the longest time to come up with ideas for good stories (or, good by my standards). Anyone can come up with a story. But is it good? That’s an entirely different thing.
I don’t get too disheartened, though, by my plodding pace. Plenty of other authors run into the same trouble. Alacrity is not a prerequisite for excellence; the lack of it may, in fact, be a good thing. I don’t know. I think one of my literary idols pinned why it could be difficult for me to come up with good ideas. She wasn’t writing about me (obviously), but what she said grabbed me. Her name’s Arundhati Roy, and she said the following in a lecture she gave in Santa Fe nine years ago:
“Writers imagine that they cull stories from the world. I’m beginning to believe that vanity makes them think so. That it’s actually the other way around. Stories cull writers from the world. Stories reveal themselves to us. The public narrative, the private narrative—they colonize us. They commission us. They insist on being told.”
This is spot on, I believe. Roy lives in India and had a phenomenal novel, The God of Small Things, published back in 1997. She has not written a work of fiction since then, but has been flooding the political market with her essays of activism. She lives in the midst of great turmoil—the cultural raping of her country at the hands of Western corporations’ self-seeking globalization, the state-supported genocide of Muslims at the hands of Hindu citizens, the increasing tensions between Pakistan and India, and a tiny thing called nuclear bombs.
In my postcolonial literature course as an undergraduate student, my professor put forth the notion, “Conflict breeds the best literature.” The longer I live and the longer I try to write, I find this more and more to be true. Roy lives in New Delhi and says, “Fiction dances out of me.” I don’t doubt it. If she wants to think of a complex plot muddled with conflict, suffering, and the desire to escape it all, she only has to look at the environment around her.
I, on the other hand, can not do this. Sure, everybody suffers, but I have to be honest: I haven’t really. I won’t try and exaggerate the times I’ve been hurt. Physically I’ve never suffered. I’ve never known hunger. I’ve had my heart broken once, but now I realize that was a trifling situation to which I horribly overreacted, enough to where I’m probably the one who broke my own heart. I’ve never lived in the middle of political corruption (Americans’ ideas of what that is stands inordinately miniscule when compared to the rest of the world’s; we’re sissies is what it essentially comes down to).
Now, am I stating, “I just wish life were harder.” Of course not, just like Roy doesn’t exult in the suffering of her nation’s lower classes. Roy writes against the pain of her people because she’s furious they have to live like that. She wants to see it end. Any normal person would. So I won’t sit here and say I’m not grateful for the world in which I’ve grown up. I am very blessed. But you write about what you know, and what I know is a pretty cushy life so far. Ergo, it takes me a little longer to write stories.
Perhaps that’s the conflict I’m looking for, then. Anywhere you see a discrepancy the word “conflict” is sure to follow shortly. Maybe my subject matter is the great contradictions in the lives we live here as Americans and the lives the majority of the world knows. If the two collide, detrimental fireworks would be sure to happen. This is essentially what all postcolonial literature highlights: the collision of cultures. Throw in some imperialism and ethnocentrism, and it’s a grand show that will wrench your heart out. But to write something like that would require me to know something about other cultures, which I don’t (at least not right now). And I don’t want to write postcolonial literature anyway. Not my thing. I like studying it, but that’s about the extent of my contact with it.
So I will continue to search for that “muse.” As far as I can tell, my influences are the South with a sardonic splash of modernity mixed in with a cherry on top that is capitalistic Christianity that doesn’t save, but rather, starves the soul. I have enough material right now to keep working on my short story collection, but once that project’s done, it’ll be back to the drawing board for God knows how long. But by then, there’s no telling what all will have happened in this nation and in my life personally by the time I set to a new project. Life has a way of continually giving you something to keep writing about it. Or so it would seem. Or so I would hope.