In a recent Harper’s interview, Ben Marcus (whose new book, The Flame Alphabet , is due out in January) mentions an idea that I’ve recently become obsessed with. The idea is that every writer has one essential story (also known as the "object") to tell—one fixation that must be explored again and again, revised and retold endlessly but never resolved.
For Marcus, the story is this: “A man is in a hole where bad things are happening to him.”
He explains that he has “to work to mask this basic fact,” work that I assume consists of the changes Marcus mentions earlier to style, tone, story or storylessness. I love this idea. If I could, without embarrassment, I would ask Marcus when he knew this story was the one. And yes, I would ask it with the same high-pitched giddiness a school girl asks about true love.
I’m familiar with the notion that all writers have their particular ticks—distinguishing characteristics that are separate from their particular style or voice. For me, it's hands. Hands show up all over the place in my fiction, touching things as a way of knowing, as reassurance. Why? Because hands are trustworthy, obviously. But the idea that they're part of my one story? Rather than feeling limited, I find the idea absolutely exhilarating. I’m not sure if I can entirely explain why, it feels both reassuring and stimulating. And I don't care at all if this idea is actually true or not; I’m still throwing myself in.
I understand that finding your story/object is a lot like asking the question, What’s wrong with you? Hours of psychoanalysis might actually be helpful in this pursuit. But could it be dangerous to know your story? As much as I’m fascinated by the idea, I’m also a little superstitious about answering the question. To miraculously behold my object? Then I’ll know what to do! Fuck. It’s almost like playing the field before getting married. I obviously date the same person again and again, but if I found the one I’d have to acknowledge this limitation in myself.
A part of me wants to know so I can just attack and attack and attack, but another part of me wants to keep my obsession to my subconscious, at least for a little while longer.