Discover more from Practice Space
No. 2 - Blaze
This is where it all begins.
Hello, friends! Welcome to the first real issue of Practice Space. As promised, this one will be about the first piece of fiction I ever wrote. Without further ado, here it is, my origin story.
I wrote my first short story in October 2019, at 22 years of age. Like most fledgling writers, I stumbled through until I reached some sort of finish line. I wrote at night, in my Notes app, and it took almost two weeks, wringing out an excruciating 200 words a day, before the thing was done. I then immediately sent it out to a few close friends and, my gut simmering with anxiety, awaited their response.
The story appears in my files as “Blaze”. Its first title was slightly different, but it got lost to time, and “Blaze” is also how I remember it. It’s 1635 sad, confusing words long, and tells the tale of a young man who commits suicide by burning himself alive inside his car.
Heavy stuff, I know. From this first stunted attempt, my stories have all been emotional and they have, almost without exception, taken a lot out of me. A voracious reader fed up with the prosaic law school life, I picked up writing like one would a lantern at night on a foreign road, as they walked in search of the meaning of life. I opened a new document, and started typing. I spent a few days rambling, committing words to virtual paper just to get the feel for it. But then “Blaze” came to me, as a picture inside my head of a burning vintage car, no doubt inspired by the cover of Portugal.The Man’s 2017 album, “Woodstock”. After that, it was like magic.
I wrote with a fervor I hadn’t thought possible, and at the end was astonished by how a single mental picture could be the catalyst for almost two thousand words of pure fantasy. Two thousand words of stuff that hadn’t existed before I wrote it into being. Finishing “Blaze” was, perhaps, my first real satisfaction.
The story was kind of shit. The characters were thin like cardboard cut-outs, and events didn’t lead into each other in an organic way. It was rough and artificial, like a baby’s first attempts at drawing. All I’d known when I began was that the story would end with Matthew, my main character, dead inside the charred wreck of his car. I didn’t pay attention to the most important elements of storytelling, mostly because I had no idea what they were. Plot was a foreign concept (in many respects, it still is), and I avoided dialogue like the bubonic plague. But I’d always been somewhat good at descriptions, so I described my way to the end.
I once listened to novelist Sir Salman Rushdie’s Masterclass, and at one point he started reading a passage from his first novel, Grimus. He was visibly cringing throughout the read, and at the end looked back into the camera and said, “You see, I don’t even know what that’s about.” I have similar feelings about my own first attempt. I don’t know where the whole thing came from or what might have birthed the devastating feelings it wanted to explore, and the disconnect I feel between the person who wrote “Blaze” and the one who’s writing this today is palpable. But as I think Sir Salman would agree, those first endeavours, warts and all, transformed us into writers. Yes, they were written by an inexperienced hand which left them raw and unfinished, but they were ours. And they were done.
I never published ”Blaze”, so you won’t find it anywhere except my hard-drive. I parsed through it again, looking for a passage I could quote here, something that had withstood the test of time. Unsurprisingly, I found most of it horrendous, and there are sentences in there I’ll shamefully take to my grave. Nevertheless, here’s a passage from right near the very end:
”His clothes catch fire. He sees them turn to ash. The flames swallow the inside of the car, torching leather, plastic, cotton and skin. For the most part, Matthew maintains the calm of a practiced yogi. He closes his eyes and succumbs to the all consuming torching. Near the end, he lets out a long scream, but not a scream of agony.”
Afterwards, the final paragraph reads:
“Matthew’s body is charred beyond recognition. A faint, nearly imperceptible smile graces what remains of his lips.”
Sort of a happy ending, right?
I still don’t know what prompted me to explore devastation like this, seeing as I’ve been lucky enough to avoid this level of tragedy in my own life. In my world, these kinds of things do not happen. Nevertheless, it’s become a sort of common theme for my stories to feature personal tragedy, events which test my characters’ values and their emotional maturity, tests which, human beings that they are, they sometimes fail miserably. This is very odd to me, since I consider myself a die-hard optimist. But I suppose that without tragedy, happiness has no meaning. What would it be like to live in a world where we were all happy, all of the time? Not unlike a monstrous fever dream, I suspect.
After all, as Mark Twain famously remarked, “the secret source of humour is not joy but sorrow.” And I tend to agree.
For reasons all their own, my friends loved the story. And I loved that they loved it. But even more than that, my first experience of the writing process made me realize something. Finishing the story and sending it out into the world had changed me. Until then, I was in the midst of a frantic search for meaning. Dissatisfied with law school, I wanted to recreate, in my professional life, the deep satisfaction I felt when reading fiction. I debated switching to a different college, emigrating to Canada and even trying out for divinity school. Nothing whatsoever created a feeling of satisfaction comparable to when I was engaging with the written word, in any form. But for some reason, long before, I’d firmly decided that I’d be no good as a writer and I shouldn’t even attempt it. After all, what did I really even have to say? This false idea led me on a wild goose chase after a better, more meaningful career than the law, frantically avoiding the one thing I felt, but didn’t know, I was missing. I realized, too, that when I finished that story, I was whole. I had found my meaning and my purpose. And I could pursue them without abandoning my parallel career as a legal professional. Today, I’m a lawyer. But I’m also a writer. I am split between two worlds, which lets me live more fully within both.
So, that’s the gist of it. What led me to become a writer was a search for something beyond the quotidian. Now I want to hear from you. Those of you who write, how did you start and how long have you been going at it? As for the other people, I’m sure you have a hobby of some kind you love to lose yourself in. So tell me about it. I truly want to know.
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