Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Phoebe Writes A Novel. 3. Phoebe Chooses

When she got home, Phoebe found herself wondering whether she should write a short story or begin a novel. A story had the virtue of being short, pithy, and perhaps doable before dinner (which today was tuna fish sandwiches and potato salad, the kind of dinner you could be late for should your story take all afternoon to write). A novel, which would take months to write and could not possibly be finished before dinner, had the virtue of allowing your characters to have the kinds of adventures that could only be found in, well, novels. This matter was taxing Phoebe and she sat by the window in her room thinking and thinking.

Harold Spider crawled by along the window ledge.

"Harold," Phoebe said. "I was wondering. I am in a writing mood and I thought I might write a story about laundry drying out of doors on a clothesline stretched between two trees. It would be a very atmospheric story full of starch smells and the inner lives of shirts and jeans. But I was also thinking that I might work on my novel set in the South Seas, having to do with an all-girl band stranded on a remote and scary island. The girls all have to play acoustic guitar, as there is no electricity! Isn't that clever? What do you think?"

"About?" Harold replied.

"Harold!" Phoebe scolded. "I just told you. Should I write the story or begin my novel?"

Harold scratched his head with several different legs. "I confess I am in a confused state of mind today. Why couldn't you do both? Or am I missing something important?"

Phoebe thought for a moment. Finally she nodded. "I suppose that's a reasonable question. On the face of it there's no reason not to do both. Yet there feels like there must be a reason. Wouldn't a muse know?"

Harold scratched his head again. "It's amazing how much we muses forget! Just last week someone I was visiting complained of exactly this problem--though that was about writing two songs, but it's the same thing really--and I know we arrived at the reason why she had to choose one or the other. But I can't remember what we concluded. She was twenty-three, by the way."

"How is that relevant?" Phoebe wondered skeptically.

"Well, I suppose I meant to imply that people of all ages find this to be a problem."

"Not just little girls like me?" Phoebe complained, trying to sound insulted. But actually she was pleased that her problem was a real, grown-up problem.

"I only meant--"

"Oh, pish-tosh!" Phoebe exclaimed. "Not to worry! But isn't this interesting and perplexing? I could write the short story today and then start the novel tomorrow. Why not? But I'm CONVINCED that I must choose one or the other and put the other one away, say in my little trunk over there, and if I don't I won't be able to get my whole head around either the laundry or the all-girl band."


"Wait! I'm thinking." She put her elbows on the sill and got into her very best thinking position, with her eyes shut.

Harold crawled away, to stretch his legs but also because it was a muse rule to let thinkers think.

"It could be the following," Phoebe said, opening her eyes. But Harold was gone. She looked this way and that and finally found him crawling up the side of her jewelry box.

"Are you off?" she said.

"No, no! Just doing my walking meditation. Shall I return to the sill?"

"Please! Otherwise I have to scrunch down. I don't think well scrunched!"

They resumed their original positions, though this took Phoebe one second and Harold a full minute.

"Here's what I think," Phoebe began. "I have one brain with a lot of brain cells. Agreed?"

"Agreed!" Harold agreed enthusiastically.

"Now, what is a brain like? Probably you will say a computer, because everybody does."

"I have never likened the brain to a computer--"

"Never mind. Grown-ups always do. But I think the brain is like a jungle full of animals. Now, when they are all going about their own business, many things happen. We have thoughts about warm buns for breakfast, maybe we have a worry about the paper we have to write about the barge canals of England, maybe we think about that new CD we so desperately want. In short, we have a common mind full of common thoughts. Are you following?"

"Yes! I know that mind."

"Exactly. Now, in order for the brain to write, all the animals must come together and form a community. The lions and dolphins must get on the same page."


"A little literary license, please! But if the lemurs and skinks--"


"An interesting animal I saw on our summer vacation in Hawaii."

"All right."

"If the lemurs and skinks are muttering about the all-girl band novel, even though they are far in the back of the circle and hardly audible at all, they will be causing a kind of--" Phoebe paused, searching for the right word.

"Upsetness?" Harold offered.

"Pandemonium! A little pandemonium. Which prevents the group from concentrating on the laundry story, even though the majority of the animals have agreed on the story."

"With the skinks carrying on so."

"And the lemurs! So that is my analogy. One has to really choose what one is writing, because if one says, 'I can write both,' that's somehow like letting skinks and lemurs loose, which produces upsetness and pandemonium."

Harold clapped. "I believe I can visualize that perfectly. The fire around which the animals gather, the exotic birds--"

"All right, Harold. I'm done with my analogy. Now--I must choose!"

Phoebe squizzled up her face something awful. It was a dramatic gesture considerably for Harold's benefit, and in fact after about three seconds she could feel a headache coming on.

"That won't do!" she exclaimed. "Choosing isn't like wrestling, after all!"

They were silent for awhile as Phoebe tried to determine what choosing WAS like. Harold cleared his throat.

"Yes?" Phoebe grumped.

"You may take this to be a bit rude--"

"Well, then don't say it! For I imagine that you know perfectly well that what you are about to say WILL be rude, so why say it?"

"Yes, yes, I admit that. But muses do have certain duties after all, and one is to point out this and that. I am pointing out the following: that in the time it is taking you to choose, you could have your laundry on the line already."

"Well!" Phoebe huffed. She had the urge to roll up the magazine beside her and give Harold one great thwump. "That was not just rude, that was idiotic! That's like saying—“ Here she paused and thought hard, because only the right analogy would sting Harold sufficiently. "That's like saying you could already be on the moon, if you didn't waste so much time building your rocket! I mean, choosing is a PROCESS, and processes take time!"

"Of course, of course," Harold agreed. "But it isn't quite so much like building a rocket! I mean, laundry or island. Not to be small-minded about it, my dear, but it's JUST a choice, not literal interstellar engineering."

Phoebe's feelings were bitterly hurt. "Well," she said, a tear or two angling to venture forth from her tear ducts. "So you think I'm just a slacker. A slouch. A sloth. That I am just AVOIDING writing. That I am just talking the talk and not walking the walk. Well. I am quite sure that you are a very bad muse bearing very bad news and I wish you would crawl away and evaporate."

"Now, now--"

"Go away, you mean little spider!"

Harold waited for Phoebe to recover but she looked greener and purpler by the second, so finally he trotted off. Phoebe threw herself on her bed, which wasn't so much of a throw that she was likely to injure herself, and smuffled for fifteen minutes. Then she sat straight up.

"Well. There's something to what that spider said!" she said to Lexington, the closest cat. "But he was also wrong. Right and wrong both, I say! Choosing IS a process. But perhaps I lingered and dawdled a bit too long. Maybe I WAS delaying, not really wanting to start anything. Plus, I'm not sure the laundry story was really my cup of tea. I think I liked the SMELL of it more than the story. Because I could smell that fresh laundry, which was really very delicious. So I suppose that I wanted to write the novel all along. But maybe I was secretly saying to myself, 'What girl writes a novel?' I fear that I WAS saying such a thing, so familiar does that question sound! Well! Who knew. I had NO IDEA I was doubting myself!"

This realization was really breathtaking and Phoebe had to catch her breath. She never consciously thought that there was anything she couldn't do. To learn that she had some doubts about her ability to write a novel staggered her.

"Well, I'll be the skink's pajamas!" she exclaimed. "On to the novel immediately! I will eat late! I will write and write! Where are my pen and pad!"

She was indeed talking in exclamation points, which made Harold smile. On the ceiling, quite visible if you were looking that way, Harold waited another few seconds to see if Phoebe would open her pad. When she did, he trundled off, stopping only to nibble a red ant appetizer.

1 comment:

Janet said...

So it's both choosing and getting on with it?
I love how your muses are a bit antagonistic at times and yet productive collaborators, also.

Phoebe moves forward! yeah!
et moi aussi.