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Friday, November 11, 2016

Insanity, Figment of Imagination, or Actual Presence of God

In late 2014, I finished writing one novel and was trying to decide what my next novel should be about. I’ve worried about global warming since reading Roger Revelle’s comments in the 1970s. (Revelle was the professor who taught Al Gore about climate change.) I was thinking that all of us really need to do something about it and the one thing I could do was attempt to write the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of climate change. I would do my best to repair the world, which is an English translation of the Hebrew biblical phrase Tikkun Olam.
Fast forward to Thursday, November 4th, 2016. Every working day at lunchtime I write my climate change novel on my laptop propped between my belly and the steering wheel. There can be no Internet in the parking garage deep underneath my job’s building. There are no distractions. It is absolute privacy: the best environment for writing. The chapter I wrote on November 4th concerned father and son characters who hate each other. The scene as I had written it ended with the father saying, “Why do you have to be so God-damned right all the time, so damned smart?”
Then I noticed another line on the screen. It was two words: “they hug.” I did not remember writing those words. That was not how I viewed the scene. I did not know why those words were there or how they got there. But then I thought to myself that this is exactly what the scene needs. I needed to rewrite the chapter so at the end of it the father and son hug each other: each one sobbing. It will be one of the strongest scenes in the book. It will be the culmination of their relationship so far and the start of their relationship going forward.
Suddenly, my whole body started to tingle. It was not from emotions. It was physical. There was something in the car with me, just over my right shoulder. I turned, but there was nothing there. My first thought was to open the car door and start running. I needed to run as fast as I could possibly go, as far away as I could get. And I knew I had to go to an ocean. The safest place would be a boat in the middle of the biggest ocean I could find. —This is all true. That is what I thought.
Then just as suddenly as it appeared, the tingling, the presence in the car, was gone. I sat there trying to breathe. I was again safe. And I thought, “Jonah.” That was how Jonah must have felt when God came to him and asked him to go to Nineveh. I had always wondered, as a kid, why Jonah ran. How could he not have known it was impossible to get away from an all-powerful God? But that was exactly what I had wanted to do. There was something in my car that was far too powerful for me to be next to. I had known I needed to get away, before that power stopped my heart from beating. If that being had stayed any longer in the car with me, I would have died.
Of course, over the next few days this was all I thought about. I didn’t think I was crazy. I am not religious enough, egotistical enough, or stupid enough to believe God would come into my car and put words on my computer screen. So, I decided that it must have been a figment of my imagination. I must have typed those words. What had happened was the result of my having read the story of Jonah during Yom Kippur services, and I had recalled the scene from the movie, “Oh God,” in which God makes it rain inside George Burns’s car. But it felt so real. For the rest of my life, I’ll have doubts that it might actually have happened.
I would like to add a comment that this novel is coming along far, far, better than I could possibly have imagined when I started it. I never thought I had the talent to write something as good as the novel I am currently writing.
I hope I am being funny when I say, “Hey God, if you are helping me out here, well, then, thank you.”

2 comments:

GreenHearted said...

I'm so pleased that you're writing this novel. Now, if someone could also write the climate change anthem (you're right that story moves people, and music binds us), we might have a hope of getting started on safeguarding the future from the climate change emergency.

I overheard my husband (who has written two unpublished novels) talk with a writer here in my community the other day about the thrill of the characters taking on lives of their own, leading the author in unknown directions. It could be that one of your characters was expressing delight when you listened to them (the father? the son?).

If you ever need help with any of the climate change science (understanding it, staying up to date), please contact us through greenhearted.org. My hubby, a retired physician, spends most of his time synthesizing the research for lay audiences.

All the best with your novel!

Shawn Oueinsteen said...

Thanks. The marketing campaign I am putting together includes several articles I am writing that argue we need to persuade the hearts, rather than the heads, of the vast majority of voters everywhere. To do that we need not just a tear-jerking, incredibly powerful, and uplifting novel (as mine is turning out to be), but a few Bob Dylans, plus some "Daisy" commercials, and several photographs like the napalm girl, the image of JFK Jr. saluting his father's coffin, and the Kent State couple.

It's only in one's first few novels that a writer thinks the characters develop lives of their own. After the third or fourth novel, the writer understands the mechanics of mastering each character's personality. Pert of that mastery is tricks one plays with one's own brain. When I am creating a character with a sardonic sense of humor, I develop a sardonic sense of humor; when my point-of-view character is happy, I am happy. I work at that. It helps me develop my characters. But I control them. They don't control me.

MOURNING DOVE is a thousand times better than anything I have done before. It's possible that trying to save civilization is "raising my game" considerably. But I will always have a nagging suspicion that God truly exists and is helping me keep humanity alive.