I have a scar-a faint gouge in my knee from when I fell down on the sidewalk as a child. It’s always seemed stupid to me that none of the pain I’ve experienced has left a visible mark; sometimes, without a way to prove it to myself. I began to doubt that I had lied through it at all, with the memories becoming hazy over time. I want to have some kind of reminder that while wounds heal, they don’t disappear forever- I carry them everywhere, always, and that is the way of things, the way of scars.That is what this tattoo will be, for me: a scar. And it seems fitting that it should document the worst memory of pain I have.
I have come to see this fear, this sense of my own imperilment by my creations, as not only an inevitable, necessary part of writing fiction but as virtual guarantor, insofar as such a thing is possible, of the power of my work: as a sign that I am on the right track, that I am following the recipe correctly, speaking the proper spells. Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. Telling the truth, when the truth matters most, is almost always a frightening prospect. If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves; if she doesn’t court disapproval, reproach and general wrath, whether of friends, family, or party apparatchiks; if the writer submits his work to an internal censor long before anyone else can get their hands on it, the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth. The adept handles the rich material, the rank river clay, and diligently intones his alphabetical spells, knowing full well the history of golems: how they break free of their creators, grow to unmanageable size and power, refuse to be controlled. In the same way, the writer shapes his story, flecked like river clay with the grit of experience and rank with the smell of human life, heedless of the danger to himself, eager to show his powers, to celebrate his mastery, to bring into being a little world that, like God’s, is at once terribly imperfect and filled with astonishing life.Originally published in The Washington Post Book World
I have a horrid scar right under my left knee from you. Well, the absence of you. Seems appropriate. But I still miss you. My pillowcase smells like you, so I bury my face in it and breathe it in. Things feel empty. My couch, my living room, my heart. I see pictures of things. Silly things, beautiful things, and I want to share them with you. But alas, I cannot, I do not, I press the red button when you call.