Writers on Writing #40: L. E. Kimball
If you know me, you know I have a thing for comedians. They show up in my writing occasionally and my dreams more than occasionally. Years ago, almost twenty I’d say, I read a book by Tim Allen called Maybe I’m Not Really Here. I pulled it out to write this WoW piece because I remembered it was about synchronicity. Tim had “misplaced” a hood ornament, which came to represent his quest for the meaning of life. Of course, it was hilarious.
Synchronicity, as Tim reminds us, was coined by Carl Jung and means, essentially, “meaningful coincidence,” or something oxymoronish like “fateful chance,” situations that line up in some way and impart a sort of divine guidance to the experiencer. (I’ll get back to Tim in a minute).
Synchronicity is how my writing process works in general, all the time, which is hardly surprising since this is how, in my opinion, the process of all life works. When you have questions and you “tune in” to a greater whole, things line up. And what I’ve come to realize is that writing cannot be compartmentalized from the daily living; it’s part of the whole of my life experience, and if I’m not tuned in, then neither is my writing.
Synchronicity is how I do it.
Recently, I had been struggling with how I wanted to represent my character Jane’s gifts. (Jane is a woman in my current novel who gets glimpses of people’s lives usually moments before they die and who seems to coincidentally be present when people die.) At any rate, for a couple days I kept thinking I saw a movie called Serendipity in the cable guide, a John Cusack movie I’d seen before and connected to in a deeper way than the light romantic comedy it was intended to be: all about, of course, meaningful coincidence and whether or not the two lovers were meant to be. I kept thinking I saw this movie title at first glance every time I looked at the guide, and this went on for a couple days in a row. But it always turned out it was some other similar title and not the movie I was thinking of. After the movie had been nagging on my mind for those couple days, suddenly there it was on the third night. And, of course, I watched it. It was now 1:00 a.m., and as I was about to turn off the TV, strangely enough, I got sucked in to one of the science shows I’m partial to but one I hadn’t seen. Fabric of the Universe, it was called: a three-part feature, which explained Einstein’s expansion on his theory of relativity and his idea of Time: that the past, present and future all exist simultaneously. The next episode, as I watched long into the night, got into quantum mechanics and alternate universes as well as string theory and a sort of ordered connection between the very smallest particles of matter, something they called “spooky entanglements,” and the whole gist of the series amounted to something very Jungian and oxymoronish (again): an ordered sort of random chance that seems to drive the universe.
At any rate, Jane’s “gifts” were born.
Back to Tim. On rereading Tim’s book Maybe I’m Not Really Here (just so I could write this piece on synchronicity), I was shocked to find that most of the book was also about the marriage between spirituality and science, something that probably hadn’t registered to me—at least consciously—back all those years when I first read it, an idea which has become a major theme for me in my current novel project and really most of my projects. The book was full of physics and spirituality and synchronicity in ways in which I’d come to see them in my writing and in my life.
So Tim finally finds the hood ornament, which turns out to be not as he remembered it, but different, a decoration he no longer likes, even hates (but perhaps something else “synchonistically meant to be” has gone on in his life since he finds not what he was hoping for, but something else). A few passages from a letter to Tim by one of his weird hippy friends sums up the gist of the book better than I can. The hippie writes:
“According to [David] Bohm, both the wave aspect and particle aspect are always enfolded in a quantum ensemble, and it’s the way an observer interacts with the ensemble that determines which aspects they see unfolded… This does not mean that the universe is a giant undifferentiated blob, says Bohm. Things can be part of an undivided whole and still possess their own unique qualities – kind of like individual humans as part of the human race.”
The hippie goes on to say in his letter to Tim:
“I believe matter and mind [and essentially spirit] must be understood through dual, even multiple descriptions, each complementing the other. I agree with Peat when he says ‘qualified reductionism has its place, but when it pretends to offer an exhaustive account of nature, then misrepresentation and confusion result.’ This universe of Bohr and Heisenberg in which we participate in the creation of our world by the very act of observing it, this fundamental interconnectedness of things suggested by quantum theory and proven by the experiment of Bell’s nonlocal reality, this Einsteinian relativity of time and space—all point to a very different world view than that of the simple cause and effect, clockwork model of Newtonian mechanics. It points through the Looking Glass.”
So the long and short of how this works for me is that when I’m sitting in a workshop, the process (both writing process and life process) can’t be reduced to its individual parts. When I’m listening to various wayward group members writing about, say, God’s creation in the form of a paper mache talking figure; or heroines reconceptualizing roles in warring kingdoms; bar fights involving masquerading Indians; zombies traipsing through Wisconsin heading toward Northern Michigan University; drug-dealing killers brought up short by a simple thank you; rape counselors experiencing generational war dreams; a cheated-on women absurdly blowing up her spouse’s car; stroke victims bussed back to fractured lives; angst and conflict over the simple act of doing the dishes; violent yet seductive trysts between lovers in greenhouses with hoses gone wild; stories in Oklahoma that accumulate sadness like so many layers of dust; divorced and lost men cradling dying rodents like dying fragments of their lives; ice-skating betrayed lovers or surviving sisters that rip out the reader’s heart; substitute teachers in search (much as Tim is in search of that hood ornament) for the meaning of life, that scratch, thump sound, that arrow that points the way; and all of this a sort of harmony orchestrated by the conductor of our weekly workshop symphony—it’s part of my tuning in.
This is how I do it.
None of the fragments of workshop interaction (or my life) can be deconstructed or compartmentalized, even though they stand out individually. Instead the experiences I have had here in this group are all part of the fabric of my universe, part of my whole, part of that interconnectedness, that marriage of all that there is, and therefore will, of course, inform the next thing I write, and the next--
L. E. Kimball’s work has appeared in fine places like Alaska Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, Orchid, Washington Square, and Gray’s Sporting Journal. Her novel, A Good High Place, was published 2010 by Northern Illinois University. She lives near Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan, where she lives off-grid on a trout stream.