When I first made the firm decision to become a fiction writer, I promised myself that I’d begin, keep going, and never quit.
That was all a few years back. Until that time I had been a painter, people liked my work, and I sold my work. I lived the life, enjoyed the passion fueled nights in my studio working on the latest piece; then at about 5 am, I’d sit and look at my work, red wine in hand, Spanish night still hot, and while I sat and studied the people in my paintings, I would always want to know something about the figures I’d painted. They stood together in a bar, chatting, laughing, enjoying life.
Yet, it bothered me, always, that they were in motion but “stuck” in time.
They stood in colorful silence.
One day I began to write stories about them. After a few short stories I realized that they were people from my life, my past experiences. People I’d seen and met in bars from long ago. Wild nights and wild people.
I used to visit late night bars. Places where all sorts of wild characters would hang out. Villains, blaggards, and those who had tired of life. Criminals, mostly.
I always knew that I wasn’t just drinking and chatting, I was observing.
The artist in me would breath it all in, keep it and hold it. What I saw and heard was for another time when I’d sit at my desk.
I listened to the crazy stories of antics that these people got up to, observed the drinkers in the corner who were only there to drink themselves into a stupor, and chat with a good looking young woman who was taking a break from the street.
Every artist, writer, observer of life, should never fear going where mum and dad warned them not to go — that’s where the buzz of life is to be found.
The fountain head of stories is a place full of the sadness, loves — lost and won, heartbreak, fear, and broken spirits being erased by the cheer of chinking glasses. Even though when morning came nothing had changed, it was as if just for one night, all the sadness and heartbreak of a hard life could be lifted and forgotten for a few hours. And that seemed to be enough for people who were resigned to a life of crime and hustle to get by.
Maybe I was just looking, but deep down I was wondering whether I belonged there too, among the thieves and prostitutes, the criminals and robbers of the night, who stood at the bar with a beer in hand, grinning and joking but never missing the flash of a blue light that slowly passed outside this well known bar. Those shifting eyes reminded me of a tom cat on the prowl.
I loved their ways, their carefree attitude, and the jaunts in this bar. I could watch and listen. I was learning about the roughest, rawest human behavior in sitio.
I liked what I saw, but I didn’t judge. I watched and wondered which one I might be, which criminal I could most identify with. I wasn’t going to judge myself , either.
To truly understand what you are looking at, you must have clear eyes. No judgments and no morals — that’s how raw art is, it will present itself with a fierceness of life that is not yours to change or moralize about.
If you moralize and weigh things up, you miss the point of being there. It just is, it exists because the people in the bar are just humans doing what they can do to get by, with whatever street-wise savvy they may possess.
There’s nothing wrong with being an observer, so long as you are really there. A writer who is among the people she or he is interested in, whatever they may be, should be with them in heart too. To understand is to see and feel what they are and why they do the things they do.
You don’t get that insight by standing completely outside and gawping into their den. You must go in and join them at the bar, chink glasses with them and discover that they have a heart, just like you do.
Their real wishes and dreams are for good things in life, the same as you and me. But they made choices just like we all must do, and maybe their choices weren’t so smart. Especially when the price to pay is a cold cell and gruel for years of your life. A criminal won’t think of these things, he’ll think of the prize and feel sure that it’s going to work out well this time round.
These people robbed at night, I didn’t. They got themselves into jams where a beating put things back in order. They disappeared off the radar for six months, or for good: they went to the big cold house of sin after they let their guard down and got nabbed by a passing blue-light.
I was there, drinking and laughing with them, just making good friends with people. What they did when outside the bar was little as much my business as was the business of any other private person.
As a writer I wanted to know their hearts. What they felt and thought, which music they liked and which bikes they rode. I didn’t ask about bad times unless it was offered, and then I’d listen with empathy and try and understand how bad luck for a criminal is the same as bad luck for law abiding citizen. It can be fucking painful.
Of all the creatures on this earth, human beings are probably the worst, weirdest, and most mixed up ones.
Always trying to be something other than a simple human being. Animals don’t try to change their character, or be something else, only humans do that. It leads to error, to mistakes that we have to pay for in one way or another.