Carmiel Banasky grew up in Portland, Oregon. She has dabbled in environmental politics there and in Arizona where she went to school, organized a pro-choice movement while collecting family lore in Mississippi, and has seen elephants traverse midtown at midnight in New York City, where she now resides. She will matriculate in an MFA program next fall. Her work can be found in The Boy Bedlam Review online. "Save" is her first print publication.
The Physicality of Words or Sometimes I Stand Up To Write
This is about swooning. Swooning for a text, that is, and not only swooning: feeling a connection to a story or character or even a sentence equivalent to that of familial, unconditional love. The idea of being scalded by a work of art, of physically burning.
We are taught to read like writers, and that to be a great writer, one needs to be a great reader. And though it does count for something, this does not mean only the size of your library. We must close-read everything to the extent that what we note about the meticulous craft of a sentence is married both to the effect it has on the reader, and to the inner editor who teaches us how to reach that effect. To write something that moves my readers, I know I must be open to being moved by a text myself. To be an active reader there must be allowance for attachment, to fall in love, to trust a stranger.
We know also that no text stands alone. All texts are informed by other texts, be it literary predecessors or the neon sign blinking, blinking, blinking across the street, bouncing off your window and reflecting in your computer screen, the corner of your reading glasses. Likewise, no text is isolated from our previous experiences with words, with people, with the subject at hand or a private association to a set of signs. It is a wonderful thing to read with such intensity that, when you must put a book down to meet a social obligation, you exist in both worlds, that of the characters you have grown to love and live with, and your everyday adventures. In the same vein, it is a wonderful thing, too, to be always in the midst of writing, no matter where you are.
In college, when I was discovering music and art, and conjuring a mixture of self-righteousness and guilt concerning my creative endeavors, I read John Fowles's The Collector. Never before had I encountered a character like Miranda, so like myself. She is, in part, who I wanted to be, and in part who I was ashamed of being. I loved her flaws and saw them in myself: how pitifully impressionable she is, the way she falls in love with and allows herself to be seduced by art, music, and unavailable men. She, too, listens to the Goldberg variations. Though it may sound cliché, this book made me do what literature should make one do and that is to say, out loud: I am not alone.
With something similar to sympathy pains, I read J.D. Salinger's "Franny." Interestingly enough, it is her pain and physical reaction to a text, The Way of a Pilgrim, that in turn plagued me. I remember feeling ill to my stomach. Perhaps the act of reading, of connecting to a text, is like the prayer Franny obsesses over. She says, "the prayer becomes self-active. Something happens after a while. I don't know what, but something happens, and the words get synchronized with the person's heartbeats...which has a really tremendous, mystical effect on your whole outlook." Just like a great text.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin changed me invaluably. I know this because I dreamt of the characters later, during which I felt, both subconsciously and consciously, a deep, icy pain in my chest, the same pain I imagined her characters felt. I cried as if a friend had died, the story itself being like a friend, taking me on some wild journey.
Once I took the wrong subway because of a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I felt trapped by it; I could not look up, as oppressed by his words as the protagonist is by her circumstances. Sometimes, perhaps I should distance myself from what I read just enough so that I don't get lost in Queens.
Most recently I read Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky. In the end, the Sahara is left unchanged, no footprint to take responsibility for, but it leaves its footprints on the characters, more changed than not, unable to go back, or leave at all. At times a prison of words, in other moments a completely liberating experience, Bowles's sentences and ideas had that desert's effect on me, leaving its lasting footprints. I was left devastated, shaken, punched in the gut, and at once frightened of and in love with life. Though that all sounds awful, that's it: to be able to say, I am changed.
This is how I want to read, and therefore write—I want to have a physical impact on the reader, to intertwine a reader's limbs with those of the characters. When we read, and mean it, we are in exile and in exile again when we put a book down, in and out of the new countries of our favorite stories. Yet the connection we forge with a text makes the acts of reading and writing tolerably less isolating. That connection is at once a burden and a gift we carry with us like our own past. And then we start a new novel (which will inevitably be informed by all previous encounters), but only after the proper reflection that must follow any story of vast proportions. As if to pay respect for a lost friend who left impressions in our hearts and, quite possibly, in our writing.
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