Dermis.

June 7, 2013 § 8 Comments

Ray's brother Dave, in flight.Beneath the epidermis, the very visible, dead, outside layer of the skin, is the dermis, cloaked and hidden—and alive.

This human arrangement is a more subtle version of an insect’s chitinous exoskeleton. No question an insect keeps its soft parts hidden, the living quick protected.

And so do we.

How do I write about that living quick we work so hard to hide? I don’t know. And that is why I am so often confined to writing about the epidermis.

It feels presumptuous to try to reveal the dermal layer of a character’s emotions.

So I drop a bread crumb trail of clues and leave the reader to extrapolate: Carpenter rests his elbows on his knees and stares out the rest home window. That’s what I have to say about how he feels.

Pearl stands on her icy stoop, the string handles of the paper bags that carry the stuff she needs to get through her work day cut into her hands.

Have I told you enough?

If not, I would add that her feet hurt and she needs a cigarette.

The human heart with its yearnings, affections and fears is a private place, free of language. When I label a feeling: sorrow, anger, joy, the word falls with a dull thunk, more lead than gold.

I hope the way I portray a characters’ inner life, always from a respectful distance, does enough to hint at all that is hidden and held most dear.

Otherwise, like an impressionist painter, I am confining myself to recording the random play of light on surface.

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