Stalled on page zero

We all have one great novel within us, or so the old truism contends.

The suggestion is that our lived life itself, situated in an age and saturated with its themes, is that one great, resonant story there for the claiming. No matter how quotidian, conservative, or mundane, the sow’s ears of your days add up to a tale worth telling, while presidents sign bills and quarterbacks make touchdowns.

But maybe it is not a monolithic novel within us after all – one big thing collected at the end with the help of a ghostwriter – but something more like a blog or a feed or a drip, a steady tapping of the active narrative and interpretive instincts, an accretion of miniatures that one hopes add up.


Storytelling, it seems to me, is not something done by the great after the fact of greatness — live first, tell later — but rather our essential mode of processing experience and making meaning. The narrative impulse seems to precede and structure experience, not simply to package it with a bow and a moral.

My own great novel, for example, is stalled on page zero. and I can’t seem to resolve the hero’s struggle with non-existence. Meanwhile, I pile up words and thoughts by the thousands here and on social media.

But take these as the words of a miniaturist perforce. Whatever it is my brain is missing — I suspect it is something between “stamina” and “design” — it confines me to short forms and circuits: poems, skits, songs, microcriticism, memoir and a whole lot of what you might easily dismiss as art blob. I accept that the scope of my muse is ultra-narrow.

The proof is in 58 years of puddings. Whether it is deep is not my place to say.


Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.