A story is a story and a bar is a bar
November 23, 2004
It doesn't have to be a comment on the state of
the world. It doesn't have to be something that can look the newspaper
I saw this morning in the eye and say, 'Oh yeah? Well here's
what I think about you.' One man's opinion can feel as big
as the world he is expressing opinions about. And that's a good
opinions to feel, but it's good to remember how big and how
little they are too, as far as writing a story goes.
At the bar
the corner, where I go to watch basketball -- I don't have
a television --, there is an understanding as to the importance
of opinions. They are something to have at a place like that,
when another day is about to come to an end. Opinions can
feel like an awfully good match on the world stage, mixed with
alcohol under the bar lights. But the opinionated patrons
back outside to a world not really all that
different from how it's ever been. It's the state of night
A story has to always remember that. The people in the
story don't have to remember it. They can sit in a bar and they
can tell somebody exactly what's wrong with the world today,
but the story has to remember it. It has to remember that the
state of the world starts with the state of itself. It doesn't
have to ignore what's wrong with the world today, but it has
to remember what's right as well, before jumping to any conclusions
such as the written word. What the story is responding to is
not the world's wrongness or rightness, but its worldness.
I've been in the bar when things have felt right and when they
have felt wrong, and through it all there have been the men on
TV playing basketball or doing some other activity.
I've tried to keep them in mind too.
While they play, I try to remember that I am
doing something just as much, and that is living.
A man has to live in the story he
is writing, so the story and the world have to get
along. They may not get along for a time, because a story
can make its own world, one in which wrongs are righted,
but he's going to look up and find himself in the same world
as when he started. If his interest is in making a new world,
he's going to have to pay a lot of attention to the old
one. He's going to have to remember because that's where the
world he's after exists. It's a kind of remembering when one
doesn't really know what he is remembering. He knows it's
something good though.
In the bar it can feel like they've found
it; they can remember things into existence, for a while at
least. It's good to spend time in a place like that. I've usually
on a story when I go in there. I've walked in
and felt like I've slipped right in with what's been happening,
whether I've said a word to anybody or not.
When I've sat in there, it's been the best place to see the
state of the world, even if the people there don't see it. The
newspaper headlines can go all over the world, but they only
tell half the story. The state of the world in the
bar is the same as it's always been: a lot of love and a lot
of suffering. One of them might jump out more than the other
for a certain individual on a certain day, in which case my response
is to say, go ahead and jump.
But I can't think of it outside
of what a story is, because that's what the one that I've been
working on has been trying to tell me. It's been trying to
tell me that I'm in it, and I have to listen to it. I have to
to it even when I don't hear it, when I'm looking at a blank
page wondering what to write, just by not listening to anything
So the way to start is by thinking of the story. You don't
have to know what it is. You don't have to know what it is except
that you are alive in it and that there is both love and suffering,
in equal measure.
I've gone into the bar some nights and watched
a little basketball and left, and it's felt like a great
night because everything I would want from life has been
there. It hasn't been directly at hand, but it's been there
in the bar. It's been there enough for me to come outside and
say, yes sir, there's the
night, which is the thing that makes the light in there so
nice. It has a niceness of its own when I can remember that
going to wake up in the morning and work on a story.
I can't think of anything better between now and
But I have to operate with
A story cannot judge night or day, worst or best. It cannot
say, I'm only a part of this thing when all is well. Things
are too connected, even the newspaper headlines I saw this morning,
and I don't even
have to understand how they are connected, just that they
The people in the bar know it too. They know it by being
by being active participants in the world they know. They
know what the hell is the matter with it. A story
know what it knows. Otherwise it's going to be surprised
by its ending,
and then it's going to want to start all over knowing what
it knows, and you might as well get it right the first time.
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