Dick here, slowly clawing my way back to health from a nasty stretch of back spasms, the kind of mystery tweaks that appear without warning, where you’re standing at the kitchen counter chopping garlics and you reach for the bottle of olive oil and a stab like something from old Julius Caesar’s buddy Marcus Junius Brutus knifes through your lower back and you want to drop to your knees but you can’t because you know if you do you won’t be able to get up again. Then a dull throbbing ache takes up residence for a few hours until you bend over to pick up a cat toy and do it all over again.
There. Complaining about it has made me feel much better.
But in the middle of all this, I was interested to realize there was a benefit to feeling so crippled up that climbing the stairs was an adventure. In the spirit of finding a twist of peel from the desiccated lemon of my pain, I started to notice how much more conscious I was of each component of every movement I took and how that attention banished a lot of extraneous worry and thought. When you are so minutely focused on something like the mechanics of how to lift a foot, place pressure on it, push yourself up a step, and then repeat, all without aggravating the darts sticking out of your sacroiliac, the quality of your attention intensifies to where you are, as the Buddhists say, single-pointed. There is no room for loose thoughts, a sudden twist, a stumble. You are there.
Then, of course, I started wishing I could bring that kind of attention to every sentence I write, every story I want to tell, and decided that would mean a different kind of pain. But the notion—probably unattainable—of utter focus, of pure attention, is as seductive as [insert your specific weakness here]. Certainly worthy as a goal, though.
And because I was recently at Crime Bake and got to listen to Walter Mosley talk about this thing of ours, I started ruminating on a point he made several times over the course of the weekend that stuck with me.
To a great degree, crime fiction’s readers, especially readers who continue to draw that sharp line between “literary” and “genre” fiction, see us mainly as entertainers. Mosley’s point, which I applaud, was that as crime writers, we write much more than entertainment. We chronicle culture, write philosophy, psychology, history, social justice. (See Kaitlyn Dunnett’s recent post here on a similar topic.)
These were good words to hear and they included his story of how his latest novel John Woman was rejected seventeen times before it found a publisher. Mosley has published more than forty books, many of them bestsellers, but even he gets rejected sometimes. The book was, judged by different publishers as too political, too strange, and goodness knows too what else.
And finally this month, an etymological question from the flea-flicker section of my monkey brain. Could the word ort, meaning a small bit of something, descend (or ascend?) from the word ortolan, those tiny songbirds eaten whole by Francois Mitterrand and other gastronomes? Your (documented) answers, please. That is all.