It has been ages since I have written here, and the reason is that I felt that much of my creative energy was better spent working on my novel. However, I came to reacquaint myself with the reason thatIstarted this blog to begin with: to document my intellectual journey, to document the reasoning behind the things that I believe in and why I do the things I do. And considering that the writing of my novel has become such an immense part of my inner and intellectual life, I am doing myself a disservice by omitting that particular journey.
In any case, I have come to complete over 88,000 words of my novel. It has potential to stretch on for a bit more if need be, but not by much. The novel’s narrative is largely completed, with all events in place. I need only to fill out some important scenes and to fine-tune the language, to squeeze out as much drama and poetry as I can out of the sentences that fill each chapter.
My novel is very personal to me. It is, as most first novels are, somewhat autobiographical — to deny it would be only a useless exercise of egotism. But, as I have said before, I go to great lengths to ensure that it is not some self-indulgent auto-hagiographic piece of garbage that only my mother would enjoy (even that would be questionable). Because it is a bit autobiographical, I have come to see that the novel is in many ways a way for me to make sense of the world. Considering that Mark is essentially a younger version of myself, my novel is the sort of thing that I wish I had read five years ago, when I was still young and the world was bright and full of promise. It is a highly critical self-examination that hopes to teach my readers a lesson. More importantly, I hope to teach myself a lesson.
What is this lesson though? To answer that question, we must first ask, what is the problem that should be solved? And, as any frequenter of this blog would know, the novel is about loneliness and urban alienation. My novel, then, is a deep study of the root causes of loneliness. It is not, however, a sociological or psychological study. No, that would be too clinical. In recent times, there have been books written on loneliness. I have certainly read them quite readily and with great voraciousness. And while these science-oriented books are rather insightful and interesting, I find that there is still something lacking in them: the human element. Sociology and psychology can explain parts of the experience of being completely and utterly alone amidst millions of people. But it does not necessarily impart that experience to the reader in its entirety. And so one of my bigger aims of the novel is to give the reader an sense of just how eerie it is to experience this urban alienation.
Another reason that I am writing my novel is because lonely people are often misunderstood and misrepresented. Three of my favorite films — Taxi Driver, One Hour Photo, and The Assassination of Richard Nixon — all cast lonely outcasts as crazy violent murderers. The Talented Mr Ripley also depicts a lonely young man with upward aspirations who ultimately ends up being a creepy killer. The Catcher in the Rye does a fine job to a certain extent, but it is sometimes criticized for being immature and a little WASP-ish; and as relevant and relatable as it is, it is out of date by now. The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera are two books that are supposedly good at inducing or portraying the feeling of loneliness; but they are about physically deformed people who are cast to the fringes of society based on their disfigurement. A Single Man does a fine job of expressing a very particular tone of loneliness that is tinged with the melancholy of loss; but it is, to a certain extent, about a gay man’s special brand of loneliness. Albert Nobbs is said to be an excellent portrayal of loneliness:
Even in isolation, Albert is surrounded by people…There is nowhere for Albert to be “herself,” if such a thing exists anymore. (New York magazine, January 30,2012 issue, page 56)
But Albert Nobbs is about a woman pretending to be a man. So what of the ordinary loneliness of the average person? A person needn ‘t be a sexual or ethnic minority to feel lonely. Most people who are lonely do not erupt in violence. Nor are lonely people merely socially inept. Social and spiritual impoverishment can affect even the most socially deft of people. So what I have come to realize, as I shape and reshape my novel, is that my novel aims to portray the most universal and rudimentary aspects of loneliness that is expressed in the human condition. It is the the kind of loneliness that anyone and everyone probably has felt at some point in their lives. It’s just that Mark is the poor soul who feels that loneliness intensely and at every moment of his life, not just every once in a while.
Belying this portrait of loneliness is also another theme: in illo tempore. A recent revelation of mine that came about in my academic study of religion, in illo tempore roughly means—in the context of Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane—once upon a time, or a time long, long ago: the mythic time at the beginning of existence. In Christianity, in illo tempore could refer to the time before the fall of man, before Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise—when things were good and pure and innocent, before it was corrupted. And in my novel, if I do my job correctly, I will successfully impress upon the reader an undercurrent relating to the sanctity of childhood and the minor tragedy of growing up into adulthood, especially when one’s childhood was lost to him prematurely.
I must admit that, at one point, I was quite fearful that my novel would be mocked for being nothing more than a mashup of Taxi Driver, The Catcher in the Rye, and maybe even Lolita (I haven’t read Lolita, but I understand its basic premise). The reasons are many which I won’t bother delving into. What is more important is that I realized that my work is original because it is based on my real-life experiences: most nearly everything in the novel happened to me, and I merely reinterpreted and rearranged the events in an artful and meaningful way. That my novel is “inspired by true events” is not necessarily enough to distinguish it as anything more than a remix though.
Instead, I find solace in my confidence that my work is greater than Taxi Driver in portraying the themes of loneliness, social alienation, and the loss of innocence. Where does Travis Bickle’s desire to save Iris—and thus deliver her from corruption and back into innocence—come from? Who knows; the film doesn’t have the time or inclination to explore Travis’ history and chooses instead to focus on his decompensation and self-destruction. My novel, on the other hand, has the luxury of exploring a character’s motivations more deeply and more symbolically. Another comfort is the fact that many deranged folks (and hopefully even more regular folks) say they can identify with Travis Bickle: this tells me that the themes touched upon by the film are mostly universal and timeless.
But most importantly, it is my faith in others that carries me in doubtful times. Sometimes, I become fraught with insecurities that the novel will not connect with anyone, that it will attempt to make deep insightful connections but ends up falling flat on itself. But then I read about some misanthrope balking at the ironic sadness that being on Facebook can bring; and rather than feeling threatened by the fact that some magazine writer had already written about the same curious phenomenon that I had written into my novel, I feel comforted that my observations and viewpoint has been affirmed. After all, my novel is far from being some fresh, new, truly original work of literary fiction. Being truly original is not only nearly impossible in this advanced age of mankind’s creative history, it is also overrated. My goal was never to be edgy, it was never to buck the literary trend and be a hot new property for the publishing houses to propagandize about on social media and in the papers. My goal was to write for myself, and to hopefully connect with a particular audience who can understand something about my novel—and by extension, understand something deeply personal about me, and about themselves as well. ¶