Friday, February 10, 2012

Coming Out

Awhile back—several years ago, actually—I proclaimed in this space that I was not the least bit interested in writing a novel. Nor in penning fiction of any kind. “The Novel” seems to be the be all and end all of published writing. Everybody loves a good story, well told. Everybody but me, apparently.

I thought at the time that this was just me, going against the grain, as I always do, of the “accepted” standards of whatever I find myself involved in. That is my way. I can’t, I won’t do or be the expected. What everyone else does. Conform to the norm. It goes against everything I have ever stood for all my born days.

But I think the issue is, I’m just not that kind of writer. I write about the now. About what’s happening right in front of me. Little wonder that, when I was in high school, my interest lay in journalism. ( I wrote poetry, too; doesn’t every teen-ager with a pen and a spiral notebook and the will to use it?) But “stories” just kind of eluded me. I wasn’t that interested in them, and I didn’t do them well. Perhaps because the purpose behind a “story”—be it short or “War and Peace”-ish—is to put forth opinions and points of view…but in a sneaky, introspective, passive-aggressive sort of way. I have never been any good at that kind of pretense. What I think, what I believe, is right under the surface and bubbles forth way too quickly for me to weave it in and out of the context of a story.

So I think this may be the answer to the herculean case of “writer’s block” I’ve been experiencing lately. If my writing is about what I’m doing and seeing NOW, it’s no wonder I can’t write anything. If I only seem to be able to produce this whiney, self-analytical crap, it’s because that is the sum total of what I am seeing and doing right now. I guess I’ll keep writing about it—if only to keep my hand in the process of stringing words together to form a coherent idea. But it’s certain no one really wants to read this garbage. And I don’t blame them. I don’t even want to read it.

Deep down inside, to the foundations of my very being, I know that I am a writer. It is essentially who I am, what I was born to be. In the manner of Michelangelo liberating The Pieta from a block of marble, if you knock away all my superfluous surface rubble you will uncover a figure at a desk with a pen and a tablet and a fire in her eye. I have become so adept at hiding this person. At burying her under layer after layer of stuff that, ultimately, doesn’t matter. Because I’ve so cherished her, this person I really was, that I couldn’t bring myself to put her out there. Couldn’t open her to the criticism or rejection of other people. I thought it would kill her if I did.

But it is my misfortune that what I was born to do involves other people by definition. Writing is essentially communication, which necessitates that it issue forth from the writer and be received by others. This is not a part of the equation that one can leave out and still call oneself A Writer. Seems like a no-brainer, really. But it’s taken me half my life to figure that out.

And now that I know this, I have to figure out how to make it happen. How to BECOME the writer I was meant to be. Which is probably why I have spent my last six months of recuperation time doing and thinking about everything but writing.

I mean, I always think about writing. But I still can’t look at it as what I am supposed to be DOING. For the past month I’ve been engaged in the process of making plans for how to proceed with the rest of my life. Initially, I went with the default—I decided I needed to get a job. When that plan proved doomed to certain failure, I thought the Universe must be telling me to channel my energy into a more creative endeavor. So I began considering other options: jewelry making, weaving, culinary school, opening a gift shop, interior design, photography… All wonderful, laudable and creative time consumers…but thinking about them is as far as the process progressed. It’s as if a cement wall has been constructed between me and these things. Because they are not what I am supposed to be doing. And the Universe appears to be prepared to continue to snatch things out of my hands until the only thing left is The One Thing.

Which is all very nice, but I also see that I need to be doing something ELSE if I’m going to write. I need something to write about. So perhaps if I couch my involvement in some other endeavor in the guise of needing the experience as inspiration, the Universe will cut me a break and let me get up off my ass. I think we can come to some sort of arrangement, the Universe and I. But I also think that I am going to be held accountable. If I stray very far from the plan, the Almighty seems poised to reel me in. Abruptly and rather rudely, if need be. And the need may very well be, given my history…


  1. And there are novelists who create characters, turn them loose and see where they go. Love them. Want to have them in for tea and find out the rest of the story.

    Then there are the other kind. the characters serve an agenda, I don't have them over for tea.

    I'm not that kind of writer either and I wish I was sometimes.

  2. Y'know, I am and always have been, a devoted reader of fiction. I feel that the purpose of fiction is simply to tell a good story, to grab me by the short hairs, hold me firmly, and not let me go until the story is satisfyingly and definitively told. And so, mostly I read fiction. But lately I've been reading a lot of nonfiction, things I've happened upon, and been grabbed by. Currently I'm reading a book of essays by a writer named John Jeremiah Sullivan, called Pulphead. This guy is a writer and editor for many publications, and these are presenting me with the most fascinating essay reading I have done since the days of Hunter S. Thompson. I'll bet you might be a pretty kickass essayist your own bad self. The world is so full of interesting stuff to write about, or so I think.

  3. I have to agree with Mary Ellen. A collection of your essays could be amazing. You're smart, you do your research and you write with fire and conviction. Just something to think about....