Pages Without Words, Words Without Pages
Now that I’m thinking that Venus on Mars might actually become a book, I’m back to thinking of how to represent my character Lulu’s missing pages. How to represent words that have been written, but then removed? How to represent “replacement” words that come from other sources, other authors, even words traveling from afar, words that haven’t even been written yet?
Missing words are like gaps in our lives, experiences that go unrecorded, resulting in unknown and sometimes unknowable history. It bothers me that what we call history is made up of what has been recorded in some way (diaries, newspaper articles, photos, videos) and has somehow survived. History is so much more that we will never know.
So shouldn’t someone else be allowed to fill those gaps? I think that’s what drew me to writing fiction based on historical fact, like my first, Screwed Pooch, and now this one. I know I’m not creating history, but I’m augmenting it in plausible ways. I’m especially intent on filling in the blanks that have been created by cultures who ignore whole categories of people (sometimes based on gender, ethnicity, social class). I know there’s more to the story and I feel somehow ordained or at least compelled to create it.
Which brings us to the winds of time. In my story, the wind is a device that brings unexpected but necessary change. The wind blows things away, but it also blows things into our presence – seemingly at random, since the wind has no agenda except to move. What may be picked up, carried, then dropped makes no difference – unless the wind is only pretending to be neutral.
What if the wind is bent on being disruptive, intentionally chilling and ruffling those in its presence? What if it stops, starts, gathers and circles in an eclectic dance with multiple partners like leaves on trees, bedsheets on a clothesline, hats flying off heads, and in its most dramatic (as only Hollywood can deliver), entire cows (think “Twister”) and small houses (“Wizard of Oz”) swirling above us and ending up who knows where.
(Do you know how they did the cyclone in “Oz?” An extra-long woman’s stocking twisting and turning as it rose funnel-like, blown by a fan.)
There’s a grand liberation when giving in to the ultimate power of the wind. Any time I’ve driven the I-5 between San Francisco and LA, whenever I see one of those little dust devils rise in the distance, I’m terrified that it will grow to immense proportions, envelop me and my car and carry us both away to who knows where (“who knows where” must be a place that exists somewhere). But I’m also privately hoping that’s exactly what will happen. Call it my ravishment fantasy.
Because we have such a difficult time disrupting our own lives, perhaps we need an outside agent – like the wind – to accomplish this.
Guess what happens to Venus in my book? Guess what happens to the entire planet Mars? Who knows where they end up, and how often?
Maybe that’s where the empty pages come back into it.
The written pages that have been removed, the loose, blank pages that still must be filled with words. We expect the pages in our books to be filled with neat rows of orderly text, words we can read and contemplate. I want the empty pages to have an equal presence (an absence, actually) that provides similar opportunities for contemplation.
Maybe that’s why Lulu wrote in all directions – she was grabbing pages from the wind, trying to fill them any way should could before they blew away again. It’s like writing as fast as you can before the notion in your head vanishes, the wind like a swirling dust storm all inside your head, liable to upset everything stored there at any moment.
Flying pages can only be present tense; once they’re captured and filled with words, whatever the subject, it has become the past, what has happened. Writing “on the fly” is the only way to preserve a sense of the present, as in Gertrude Stein’s idea of the “continuous present.” Her direction for writing this way: “begin again and again.”
Or it’s like Roland Barthes’ “writerly writing,” text with purposeful gaps the reader must fill, making the experience of reading more integrated with the process of writing. The ultimate, he says, is a blank page.
Or no pages at all, in which case I’ve already published my book, and you’ve already read it. What did you think?