Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Lights at Night

I've been thinking a lot about the novel I want to write, to the extent that I paced the dark living room at 2 this morning, talking to myself, trying to figure out why one of my two main characters wants so badly what he wants. In that half a chapter I didn't even know I wrote, I have what he was like in high school with his passion. The other main character, the narrator of this novel, saw him in action in high school, watching in awe how he didn't seem to be there. It's like he was one with what he loved. It may be the reason why the narrator decides to join him on this vast road trip. It's something he can't see himself, but he wants to understand it. In idle moments, the narrator has occasionally thought about this guy, and here is this chance to see firsthand perhaps why he is what he is.

Vague, I know, but I'm still working out countless details. Last night, before the pacing, before talking myself through different scenarios, I looked up the website of a mall here in Southern California that I want to use for my novel. Before a certain restaurant closed in the town where this mall is located, we used to go to that restaurant and then to the mall. That mall retained the heavy historical feeling of that area, like the ghosts of the past were always there, and I loved that because the mall was honest. There are few frills to it. There were no outlandish decorations to try to attract people (perhaps during Christmas, but I've not been there then, and from what I know of this mall, I think they'd do a few things for the holiday, but not everything), no gigantic signs pointing to this side of the mall and that side of the mall, no enticements beyond what the stores sometimes offer in sales. There's also a pizza place/arcade/amusement center in that mall that replaced the whole downstairs area, which included a uniform store. Strange as it is for these two men to be going there without any kids with them, the obsessed main character has his reason and he thinks it might be in the arcade there.

Whenever Mom, Dad, Meridith and I went to that mall, it was always either in the late afternoon or in the evening, after it got dark. That's when I want these two to be there. The restaurant I mentioned has been closed for a while now, but I'm thinking of setting this novel in a time when it's still open, or keeping it open anyway, which reminds me that I should get its old address from Yelp.

Before thinking more about this novel that's been in mind for two years, I never realized how much an author puts him or herself into a novel. Obsessions, curiosities, past pain, favorite things, it can all be there unless the author decides to write a different novel entirely. But even then, even in another genre, you still find pieces of the author because what they've written has obviously interested them enough to spend a few years with it alone.

It also got me thinking about why nighttime is my favorite part of the day. I don't need a lot of night. I just need enough before I go to bed. But in thinking about that restaurant and that mall, I thought about them at night, seeing the streetlights, the lights in the parking lot of that mall, the lights inside the restaurant seen from the outside, how brighter they are at night.

I don't think I could have my characters living entirely at night, but I do want those moments where they're looking at the lights around them at night, thinking about something, thinking about this search that they're on.

When we lived in the apartment in Valencia, when I walked Tigger at night, I always took him to the edge of sidewalk next to one of the apartment buildings that faced the closed and locked maintenance shed, where the golf cart was kept in the garage there, the one that the women in the sales office would use to take prospective renters around the property to empty apartments. I stared at this maintenance shed, with the same mindset I have whenever walking through a Walmart or Target or strip mall or outlet mall or outdoor shopping center: I wondered who the electrician was who installed the light above the maintenance shed's office door. I wonder who installed the hoses that allow people to wash their cars inside two separate stalls next to the maintenance office. I thought about how amazing it was to me that this maintenance shed, and those two car wash stalls just sit here, totally still, while the rest of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles rush about, doing whatever they must because this seems to be the only time to do it. I think I went to that particular spot at night because it felt like the calmest place in the universe, the zen-like center of the whirlwind.

My lights at night do include the Las Vegas Strip, but to a lesser degree. It's only part of my life in Vegas and Henderson. On our most recent trip to Henderson in January, I remember us driving through Victorville at night, and at the far end of one side of the road, where you could see buildings lit up, there were trees in front of all that and it seemed like fairies were flitting about, or just a deluge of fireflies. To me, there's a kind of magic in the night because during the day, everything is exposed. You can see the roads, you can see the houses, you can see where you put your garbage and recycling bins for pickup. But at night, you can imagine that the roads lead to new lands hitherto undiscovered in your state, perhaps those of a different dimension that's only accessible by making a specific wrong turn.

It's why I only keep the light on in the kitchen that's above the sink when it's my night to wash the dinner dishes, and I keep the blinds open. When it's dark enough that you can see all the house lights on the mountainside above us, I look below that, past the rail top iron fence that's at the back end of the pool, down to a neighborhood below us where there's one bright white light on, attached to a garage. I of course think about the electrician who installed it, where their job has taken them now, if they're even still an electrician. But I also think about the darkness in that neighborhood, of the trees so still, of the flowers sitting there, of there being some adventure out there in the darkness, something to see that you can't know in the daytime. It's there.

I don't think I'd have my characters roaming the darkness all the time, but I do want to put in there those memories of nighttime being so fascinating to me. It's that mall, and also that motel we stayed at in Alabama when we moved from South Florida to Southern California in August 2003. It's that maintenance shed in Valencia, and it's those late Friday afternoons at College of the Canyons after my once-a-week cinema class ended. It's so much I'd want to include in whatever night scenes I produce for this novel, and what I can't, lest it be overkill. But it's all about seeing what I can use, what would be good for the story I want to tell. That's why I talk to myself at 2 in the morning, and why I sometimes act out my characters, getting to know them and understanding what they want. It's my adult playground.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent. So cool how you can see little stories everywhere you look. Can't wait to get a look at the novel once it's ready for the world...