Monday, February 15, 2010
Parades of Nouns
A few weeks back, on our trip to Cape May, I pointed out a road sign for the Belleplain State Forest. "I used to have a very minor character named Helen Belleplain," I said, knowing full well she was named after the Forest.
"I think you write in order to name things," Mark said.
He was kidding me of course, but I knew what he meant. Lawnboy would have been a different book without Stan Laskin, Evan Sarshik, Ursula and Sid Sarshik. And The Burning House without Isidore Mirsky, Joan and Laura and Nina Pompoleo, Hazel Luce. Not to be grand about it, but those names are as important to those books as anything: descriptions, narrative turns, phrasing.
And it's not just proper names, but place names too. Thunderbird Road, Luxor Road, Panorama Road, Miracle Mile, Lumina Harbor, Bendix Lane, Boca Bay, Fahkahatchee Strand... Parades of nouns, parades of names: I could go on like this and on like this if I wasn't aware that there might just be a reader on the other end.
It's probably true that my anxieties about namelessness have caused me some trouble over the years. Lawnboy's original title was The Jesus Dreams, Famous Builder was called something else, Unbuilt Projects was In the Unlikely Event, and The Burning House had three other titles: The Gods of Luna Township, Lumina Avenue, and Lumina Harbor. Unfortunately, I released these titles on websites and biographical statements over the course of some years, and I'm fairly sure I'm going to be introduced as the author of "the forthcoming Lumina Harbor" from here on out.
In the meantime, I'm trying not to give a name to my current project, but it's not so easy. It's a little like holding something cold, moving, and opaque, without edges or borders. It slips through the fingers when it doesn't have a name. I don't have to be its parent just yet, which is both a good thing--and not.
More about naming: a passage from the novel Tender Morsels, from the Australian writer Margo Lanagan:
For the baby had not dropped. It hung there against the stars, held up by nothing at all, its head sunk to one side, perfectly asleep.
And it commenced to glow. All around it, needles of light spread out against the night sky.
Liga stepped back. "Go, little one! Die! This is no place for you!"
But the baby would not drop, and the light spread around it, and from the brightening center flung out loops and arcs of crinkled light like loosened swaddling.
At the sight of these, at the thought that they might encircle the baby and take it from her sight, Liga stepped to the edge again, and reached and took the baby out of the air into her shaking arms.
On the sky, though, where it had hung, there hung another baby, or at least the shape of one drawn in the brightest of the light, as if when she took down the child Liga had peeled a layer off the night's skin, exposing the stuff behind that the skin protected the world from. She could barely look at it--it had some kind of burn or chill about it--but she glimpsed within the baby-shape other shapes turning, moving, plumping and contracting; the vague attempts at form of whatever force had suspended her bab, had intervened and cut the connection between her act and its consequence. A vast power had had to be channeled--she was awed and hotly ashamed that it must--through this small aperture so as to be tolerable to Liga's sense, so as to handle the mortal scrap of her child without harming it, so as not to break either of them with its strangeness and strength.
What are your babbies' names? it said, direct into her mind.
Babbies? Babbies more than this one? Should Liga have named that stain in the snow? That little blue personage so quickly handed over to Da? "I have not given this one a name, not as yet," Liga said. "I had not really thought of it."
No name? it thought at her, astonished, and perhaps also offended. She had not known that she was accountable to such a thing.
"Because, you see, we never-- I have not taken her into the town," said Liga. "I have not met anyone with her. There has been no need for a name; she is the only other person in the world with me. She is 'babby,' or 'my little one.'"
There will be need, though, the moonish matter thought, flesh or cloth or whatever it was. To distinguish the one from the other.