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Fear of Falling

Tom of Finland (excerpt)

A strange attitude problem has taken me over lately regarding my novel in progress. I don’t understand my thoughts, but they’ve persisted for several days now, so I’ll get them out here to see if I can make any sense of them.

After a writing hiatus that lasted seven months since last June, and a marvelous healing experience right around Christmastime, I am composing and posting chapters again on a blog dedicated to that purpose. I’ve written five chapters in the past three weeks. Yippee!

Except I’m also kind of pissed, because no one’s noticed, left a comment, written me an e-mail. How dare these people not give me some encouragement!

(Mind you, the only people this applies to are 3-4 personal friends, not the general public. Any blog that goes dark for three days is given up for dead, so I certainly don’t blame a casual visitor for not stumbling through the door.)

But where are my friends, I wonder? The ones I have in mind all subscribe to the blog, so they know about my recent activity.

And it’s not like I expect them all to pat me on the back for the greatest writing since Tolstoy, or even Keith Olbermann; I’d be as happy for feedback as for praise.

But not to notice, ooh, that’s rough. If you really want to hurt someone, be indifferent to them.

Meanwhile this is what keeps me from whining. The rational part of my brain recognizes that this emotion I’m having, that wants to blame my friends, is really an indirect expression of something else in me. It’s not about my friends at all, but some unknown discomfort I’m having with me.

Forget what Peter might say; do *I* not like what I’ve written lately? Is that why I’m needing reassurance and attention?

Actually I do rather like these five recent chapters, at least insofar as the plot is concerned. I feel like I’m focusing fairly well. The action is moving along for once. But I’ve rather lost control of where it’s going, and that can be scary. The other day a plot device started writing itself, while I sat here taking dictation.

Any writer will tell you that a story that starts writing itself might turn out to be worth reading; I’ve had that experience myself, especially with the “University” series. It can be a joyful thing when the characters start telling the writer what they’re up to. All the writer can do is grab his hat and take off behind them.

But it’s been years since that happened to me, and now I’m scared. It all started with a two-by-four, a block of wood; now it’s shown up three more times, including this afternoon.

I am thankful, with this novel, for anything that helps me pick up the pace. The story is “about” the making of a Gay Christian marriage, which is a process, not a plot. A couple gets together and has experiences; okay, fine, but what actually happens, and how does that help them be together (or not)?

The characters, a cop and a reporter, are favorites of mine, and I am so interested in seeing them learn to be together that this book has always threatened to turn into the Blob That Ate L.A., an amorphous monster that consumes everything in its meandering path. When it comes to suburban sprawl, I’ve got whole neighborhoods laid out. If this were a toy train set there’d be tracks and trestles, barns and bridges in every room in my house. But where is this train going?

Well, the cop’s going to solve a murder case, and he’s actually getting there faster than I thought he would. This time his buddy, who was so prominent in their debut novel, is forced to take a back seat. He gets the action started, but ends up as a stay-at-home boyfriend most of the time. He thinks he doesn’t like that, but it turns out he does; as an author I have no problem with the two of them taking turns and being versatile. Another thing I like is that by The End, they both end up being people of substance; Ward and June Cleaver they’re not.

For the book to be at all successful, the crime has to be solved as far as possible, and the reader has to believe that these two men belong together, that they have a reasonable chance of making a longterm relationship—including a spiritual basis that grounds them, that they can build on.

“The Centurion’s Boy” is a Josh Thomas book because I can write uniquely on this theme. Getting the book finished, polished and produced is a job God calls me to, part of my vocation.

So I can’t be spending my time getting drunk every night, because then I don’t write—the book sprawls, it eats L.A., the train doesn’t go anywhere. It goes everywhere but nowhere in particular. The temporal, temporary gift of my sobriety means I’m spending a lot of time, in the time I have left, working on this vocation. I don’t want to have to face God and say I didn’t get it done.

In the meantime, five new chapters in three weeks, and I’m scared of it, in the same way I suppose that sobriety is scary, changing old habits is. I feel like a fledgling again. I can fly a little but it sure feels good going back to the nest of my old thoughts.

Peter, Leonardo and Bob are not responsible for what I’m going through; I guess I just need somebody to blame for my panic.

I’m really enjoying being sober, by the way; flying is fun. I don’t obsess about alcohol; I know I’ve done the forgiving I needed to do, to let go of my self-destructive impulse as a mental concentration camp survivor. Alcohol seems really boring these days, and I’ve gotten into cooking (and eating) again. Tomorrow I’m going to a symphony concert with my friends.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years about spirituality, Gay and otherwise, is that we really have to pay attention to where we are now. It’s not enough to be “on a path” if we don’t watch our own steps every day. Our path, which the earliest ones called The Way, may take us through some rough terrain; it will surely be scary at least as often as it’s joyful and easy. We may want to frolic in the meadow all the time, but even that can get tiresome whether we’re guzzling vodka or not. Sooner rather than later it’s time to hit the rocks and start climbing again. And of course it helps not to be alone, but all hikers get separated every now and then before meeting up again. Robert, Lenny and Peter are probably waiting for me just around the bend, and no, they’re not responsible for my little detour. I took that on my own.

I feel good about what I’ve written, even if they don’t say much. I’m not always there for them when they get scared either.

Meanwhile it’s important to me to finish up this book. First draft or twentieth, I want, when the time comes, to hand the Admissions Office a bound volume and say, “This was my vision of what it can be like when guys love each other in Jesus’ name.”

I know this much, my Admissions Committee will not be staffed by literary critics, but by angels who ask, “Is it authentic? Is it real? Is it Joshua? Is it faithful? Could it help someone?”—not “did it,” but “could it.” And “Is it the best he could do at that time?”

As long as you don’t get your foot stuck, like I did for the past seven months, climbing rocks can be fun, even when you’re all by yourself. What if my friends aren’t ahead of me but behind me, watching where I’m going, making their own decisions about the best way forward, and Ready to Catch Me Should I Fall?++

I've never read Neil Bartlett's novel, but I've never forgotten that wonderful title.