Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stream of Consciousness...

Or stream of undisciplined blather...?

That is the question.

When a writer writes a stream of consciousness piece, it can often be a self-indulgent work that meanders back and forth across the landscape of the page, and never really alights anywhere of note. There are notable exceptions of course, "On the Road", ostensibly feels to be written that way, and mostly was, but as crazy of a process as that may have been, it was edited by one of the great minds in literature on the fly and hence is coherent and cohesive.

My intent was to create a work not unlike that in its unity. Written without the strictures of acceptable-restraint, yet hopefully still imminently readable.

The children of Ndoombo arriving at the The Terry Berg School dedication.
My feeling as I sat down to write "The Beast" practically as the events were unfurling, was to let it flow freely, but also to advance it toward a clear and pre-defined end. I knew approximately how many chapters I would be writing ahead of time. I knew certain elements I would incorporate within the anecdotes - the dedication of the Terry Berg School at Ndoombo, the final days of my mother, my first trips to Tanzania, things like that. I didn't know how per se I was going to get there and the bus ride itself helped to define all that.

I knew before I even opened the noteboook on my lap that I would call the book, "The Beast" and that it would be akin to one of those metaphorical short works by William Faulkner ("The Bear"), or Glenway Wescott ("The Pilgrim Hawk") or even Norman Mailer ("Why we are in Vietnam"). I can't remember if I had discovered the twist at the end so much before boarding the bus or not. I think it was only vaguely broiling in the back of my mind at that point and came more fully alive later on as the writing progressed and took shape.

The structure of the book, I knew would be hourly. Not exactly. But close. I tended to write about the events of 7:30 at 8:30ish, but part of the time - namely when The Beast broke down and we were stranded in the middle of nowhere - I was not writing at all, so I had to catch up with those later.

In a way, there were four threads of storylines working at once:
  • One thread contained the events happening in almost real-time on the bus, 
  • Another was a leap back to the prior few days from this present journey to Tanzania,
  • Another was a leap further back to prior events - backstory if you will to these two sets of events,
  • And the fourth was the metaphorical ethos that began winding its way through the story and leads up to the twist.
Hopefully, the storylines all remain clear and distinct and propel the story forward rather than slow it down. Truthfully, on a 9-hour bus ride, there was a lot of 'nothing' going down. Ennui. Boredom. Staring straight ahead with a limited view of a road that stretched forward but with very little landscape able to be seen clearly from that view. Because of that, any diversion served a very real purpose to keep things moving in the restless mind.

In a few weeks, you'll see for yourselves whether "The Beast" is a rambling mess, or a glimpse at a world in need of compassion. I hope that you find the latter!

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