Monday, May 29, 2006

Writing

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a writer. I was an extremely advanced reader for my age. By 5 I was reading abridged versions of classics like The Hound of the Baskervilles and Treasure Island. Yeah, it was a little freakish. Once, at the same age, I decided to write a novel of my own. I understood that, to be taken seriously as a real novel, it needed to be at least 200 pages. Of course, exactly 200 pages would reveal that the author was just trying to reach a specific page limit. So I settled on 220 pages. 220 pages would make people realize that I wasn't just trying to stretch it out to 200 so it would be taken seriously. They'd take me seriously.

Thus, I gathered a bunch of pages together and began the first step in any novel - numbering the pages. Next step, the Table of Contents. I titled the chapters appropriately - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. Finally, I had to decide what to write about. Having just read the Hound of the Baskervilles and loving its creepy mystery, I decided to also make my book about a murder and a detective and some hounds on a moor. I wrote something like 2 pages before quitting in frustration at the daunting task of coming up with new ideas.

While all of that is cute, it's one of the most important stories I can tell about my life. I distinctly remember feeling extremely disappointed in myself for not being able to do it. I'd wanted to be outstanding, and it turned out I was nothing special. I'd truly believed I could become the youngest real author, set some kind of unbreakable record, earn incredible amounts of praise and love for being so brilliant.

And when it didn't happen, I remember feeling terrible guilt. Because I "knew," inside, that I was capable of doing it, and my performance didn't measure up. Hence, flawed. I'm self-aware enough to know that this dynamic has haunted my entire life. I generate gigantic, oversized self-expectation, the performance of which will earn me love. By contrast, the failure to measure up to the internally determined standard will trigger a massive backlash of internal judgment. And rather than face this dynamic or the frustration and rage it generates, I use distraction and avoidance. It's a self protective mechanism because if the alternative is confronting the suffering of an unchangeable reality, avoidance seems a hell of a lot more pleasant. Television, movies, books, sports, food, drink, long conversations, it's all about not facing the question "what do I really want?" Because that question is the single scariest thing there is. I truly have no idea and never have. Every possible set of actions seems like a means to some other end. Work? To get money. To pay for necessities and have freedom. So that you can get back too the original question of what you want. What a bunch of wasted effort. And the elements of the answer to which I have an inkling (a deeply loving relationship, perhaps) have proven embitteringly unattainable.

Like I said, I'm self-aware enough to understand how it works, though not self-aware enough to interdict the cycle. Maybe not courageous enough to implement the interdiction. Either one is a problem. Some things, when they somehow get into you that deep, that young... there's no cure, only coping. Sometimes I cope well but much of the time I cope badly. And some of the bad coping behaviors dig holes so deep sometimes that I just feel despairing, hopeless.

This post is about writing because I've been thinking again recently about trying to write a novel. I have no fucking clue what it would be about. I don't know if I want to write drama, mystery, crime thrillers, science fiction... no clue. Sometimes I have flashes of parts of ideas, but the act of forming the idea, settling on one specific direction, creating an outline, and actually doing the task that would be satisfying to my standards feels like it might as well be like asking myself to jump up to the moon.

And other times it feels like it could be easy. There are times when perspective kicks in. If I were toiling in a field for 15 hours a day picking beans or something, and in the middle of that period I were offered the option of ending the grueling labor if I only wrote, say, 5,000 words, I'd be able to instantly sit down and go into a zone and write. The problem is that if you need to set up a dynamic that forces you to perform only when the alternatives are extremely unpleasant, you find yourself in a lot of jams and unpleasantnesses and crises simply created as a jar to get yourself moving. It's not exactly what we call balance.

So, manufacturing perspective through repeated crisis is one way to force eventual movement. But there are occasions when it just slips through naturally. Last night, I wrote my longest blog post to date on Munich and it just happened. No planning, no opportunity to feel like there's something I have to do or feel guilty for not doing. It took 4 hours to write that post. I had no awareness of time - I finished, looked up, and only then became aware of the passage of time. It didn't feel hard. It didn't feel forced. I felt no pressure of completion. It was pure doing.

Of course, the trick - was that writing period just part of avoiding something else? Let's just say I know what I want the answer to be and I know what I strongly suspect is true.

I write a lot. It is my primary way of communication. Many times I've finished an email or some other writing and been very satisfied with my expression. Occasionally I go back and read what I wrote and I see things I want to edit, but even that process feels satisfying because I can see so clearly how to improve the expression - it doesn't feel like work or anything un-doable. It's natural.

One standout motivation to write is that it seems like the logical application of a talent for literalism and expression. Of course - chuckle - as soon as I start picturing it I immediately and inescapably start putting requirements on the act. If I wrote a book, it has to be very high quality work. And it has to be successful in a commercial sense, providing me a way to make a living. And it has to be critically well received. And meaningful. And interesting. And so forth. And all of a sudden, all this pressure has jumped up before I've written a word. Self-imposed pressure, yes. Pressure I could simply tell myself not to impose - HA! Might as well hope gravity stops working.

Still, at times in my life, I have felt in the zone. Occasionally because I was actually meeting the oversized challenges I set out for myself (high school scholasticism, training for the walk, walking across the United States). Those times are to be distinguished from being in the zone for simply doing nothing (the first 2-3 months in Newburyport).

The first type of in-the-zone-ness is reached through goals and the self-esteem that follows from striving. It requires a buildup of tremendous personal momentum, and when that momentum is rolling, it feels soooo good. The way your brain gets a rush from an endorphin release. You set up the guidelines for feeling good about yourself and then when you meet those guidelines, the momentum keeps rolling. The problem comes when the freight train is stopped, because it takes a hell of a lot of energy to get it rolling again.

It's the second type of being in the zone that is truly blissful. It's a different place, a place of gratitude and real connection. Everything is slowed down in that place. All the judgment, pressures, goals, external structures of how love can be gained are all washed away, and all that is left is gratitude, and a full feeling of life force. The trick is you can't just snap your fingers and get to that place. You can't desire it. Wanting it pushes it away. It can be maddening. Even when you have it, you can't desire that it stay. Fortunately, when you're really there the zone contains its own internal wisdom.

So, how to conclude? Not sure. I wanted to write a short post about how nice and pure an experience it is for me to just write sometimes, and last night's 3400 word post (3% of a 100,000 word novel!) on Munich was one of those times. It turned into something else because if I want to be honest about how it works, I need to really be honest. I genuinely do sense I have writing talent, that if I could somehow harness the ability and focus the energy I could somewhere in the process, somewhere down the line produce a work of real meaning - something that would impact people deeply.

But I'm realistic. I have some real personal shit - lifelong shit - standing in the way. No obvious solution.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice! Where you get this guestbook? I want the same script.. Awesome content. thankyou.
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8:30 PM  

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