I’ve got this old corkboard that I’ve been dragging around with me for decades: every time I’ve moved to a new house, it’s moved—eventually settling in to a comfortable place in a corner of my office. In the science fiction world of 2010, the idea of a corkboard—covered with pushpinned family photos, ancient New Yorker cartoons and quotes cut out of magazines or copied to index cards—is decidedly retro: I’ve got plenty of other family photos in my office—they’re everywhere—nicely framed. And the quotes could easily be digitized or, for that matter, discarded. There’s really no reason for the board to be there. It’s more for the history of it, the comfort. In many ways it’s visual white noise: the thing might as well be invisible. But there are moments when something long-cherished but forgotten suddenly pops out at me, like this quote, from science-fiction writer David Gerrold (best known for his novel The Martian Child and his Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”), torn out of an issue of Starlog magazine (remember that?) back in the 1970’s:
“I taught a class in writing once. I told them that a good story is about pain and hope and the transition from one to the other. Most important, it is about what we learn in the process of that transition. The essential quality is hope.”
Reading that, more than thirty years ago, Gerrold’s words resonated with me because they reflected something I believed, knew, to the bottom of my soul, but—as a young writer at the beginning of his career—had never articulated. “The essential quality is hope.” It’s so much easier to create stories that damn the universe as meaningless chaos, that dismiss existence as an endless chain of suffering. But to look pain in the eyes and find hope reflected there? To journey down to the depths of Hell and discover Heaven? That, to me, is the essence of a great story. And a wonderful life.
Here’s another corkboard quote—this one typed on a now-yellowed index card—from my literary god, Ray Bradbury:
“A day without writing, I often said, and said it so many times my friends sighed and rolled their eyeballs, a day without writing was a little death. I did not intend to pitch me over the graveyard wall.”
Honesty first: I don’t write every single day, if writing is defined by sitting at a keyboard producing pages. Never have. Never will. But I’m always writing. Time away from the computer allows my unconscious mind to breathe and play, uncork dreams and visions, and then surprise me with the results. (Sometimes I’ll be in the shower or resting on the couch or on a walk and I’ll start seeing movies in my head: a new story playing out—characters, action, dialogue—on a screen in my mind.) Writer’s block, I’ve learned, isn’t a block at all: it’s an opportunity.
That said, few things in life can compare with the days when you do put those erupting ideas on paper, when the words take on meaning, when the meaning becomes an honest-to-God story. Death himself couldn’t pitch you over the graveyard wall then, because you’re fully, vibrantly alive. That Bradbury quote is there to remind me to keep nurturing my creative self. To keep dreaming—and bring those dreams out into this larger dream we all inhabit.
Finally, some corkboard wisdom from Meher Baba, hand-written, by a friend, on a small rectangle of lined paper:
“Do not keep the door of your heart closed.”
I think that one speaks for itself.
© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis