My published collection of short stories was born of a time in my early adulthood in Manhattan where I was single, sometimes lonely, always rebellious and beholden to no one but myself. My plummet into depths or lift into heights affected no one but me, and my desire to connect with the human condition in all its glory and despair led to much of both.
I yearned for intense understanding of what it is to be, to love — to love too hard or not enough — to long for more or wish for nothing, to see the world and those moving through it with x-ray empathy right into their core. It was simple (save for the sometimes crushing lows) for me to be raw, vulnerable, tough, crass, essentially with emotional and spiritual impunity because I was young, life an adventure more than reality, and mortality little more than fiction — or at least, an enemy to dare.
I look at portions of my recent writing and stare at pages full of blatant gaps and accusatory holes; it is often just skimming the surface of what I really mean, where I intended to go. It might be rich in language, moving and full of a certain truth, but it does not take the daring, unabashed leap into the brutal honesty that would make it…devastating. Enlightening. Real.
The words are there — purposeful, melodic, weighted with intent, but they are merely bobbers on the surface of a deep pool. They are fallen leaves of autumn in the current of a river — vibrant, lovely, slipping and spinning, carrying you away to an uncertain destination, the rush and momentum intoxicating…
But what about all that cool, dark water beneath where it is all plays of light and shadow, blades of sunlight slicing into its murky depth with selective illumination that create corresponding pillars of darkness.
That’s where I must go. To the pebbles and rocks on the bottom that cut your feet or sparkle in shafts of sunlight — to flip them over and reveal the multitude of life, death, and breathtaking beauty. I must dive down and cut my flesh on the sharp edges, releasing my blood into the water, or gather the bits of mica and pyrite hidden in the darkness and bring them to where their glitter reflects that of the sun on the ripples of the surface.
The leaves are lovely and bring melancholy contentment, troubled uncertainty, or simple peace, but they are not — all of it.
I must reach All Of It for the words to say what I mean.
Plumb the bottom where it’s dirty — where too much movement stirs up the silt and makes the water murky, thick, suffocating.
If I’m not reaching there, if I’m hovering only just beneath the surface, why is that?
Because life has changed and to delve into those waters requires a fearlessness that has waned.
Those truths are too possible — those pains, that loss, the trauma, that…death.
I am older, with a more complex life — one I am acutely aware could be damaged, maimed, gone even, in no more than a breath because the truth of life is that nothing is guaranteed.
So I cannot dive with fearlessness because I am fearful.
I know now that some wounds never heal. Some pain is too acute. Mortality is no longer a fiction.
Nothing is hypothetical, imaginative, speculative — they are all very possible realities. And to write them, to explore them through fictional lives with any semblance of genuine truth and honesty — with raw realness — I must experience them. Not in the living world — in the imaginative one. But if I do it with commitment (which I must for it to matter), it feels no different.
But there are nightmares there. Fodder for an anxious mind and sensitive heart.
And yet, it is also what has always, always driven the best words to the paper.
What has driven me to the paper.
I am reminded of the definition of courage: it is not acting without fear.
Courage is being afraid — and doing it anyway.
And when I have courage — I am a writer.
When I do not — I merely pretend.
So I look for courage — and I dive.
OMP Admin Note: Melissa Volker is a writer and OMP Network member. Melissa is one of our guest bloggers for the One Million Project website.
To learn more about Melissa and her work:
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