This is hard.
I wanted to explain why I haven’t been blogging very often, and why I haven’t been talking about the effort to publish my book. Why I don’t write about writing. As a writer, I should — shouldn’t I? If I’m a writer? And even now, while I am trying to find the words for this, I immediately want to start apologizing for it. I want to say that I know this is a cliché, that everyone who writes, and everyone who makes art, we all have this same problem: that things have been said before, and why would I think that my way of saying them would be any better? I want to say that I know this isn’t interesting to anyone, but I felt a need to write it, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it: unapologetically apologizing. I feel like I’m lost in a fog, and I keep bumping into things, into people; I’m clumsy, and blind, and — sorry. Sorry! Oh, that was your foot. Sorry about that.
I want to apologize a lot. I’ve done a lot of things wrong, as a writer: I’ve made a lot of clumsy mistakes, often fallen on my face. I want to apologize for my first book being too long, which kept it from being published; I want to apologize for giving up on seeking an agent to represent me, and I want to apologize for taking so long to get into self-publishing. I want to apologize for being a teacher, and for being good enough at it, and believing in it enough, to take time away from my writing; clearly I should have taken a shit job so I could focus entirely on accomplishing my dreams. I want to apologize for wasting my years being happily married and not having kids; because even though I never wanted kids, the best reason that I can give anyone who asks me why not is that I wanted to focus on my career; and after all this time, I haven’t done enough to earn justification for that decision. I’m sorry. (Still not sorry I didn’t have kids. Absolutely not sorry about my marriage.) I want to apologize every time I write on this blog, because my book reviews aren’t good enough, because I don’t socialize with other bloggers enough, don’t follow enough, don’t comment and Like enough. I want to apologize for my essay/rant/blogs because I’m sure I’m offending someone, either because what I say is offensive or because it isn’t offensive enough. I want to apologize for not having enough expertise to really teach a general audience something they didn’t know before, and therefore wasting their time with my mediocre insights and tired, angry humor. I want to apologize for not writing short stories and poems, for not getting published in literary journals, for constantly shifting my blogging style and my intent with this blog.
Basically, I want to apologize for being me, at least the me that I think I am, though I’m probably wrong, probably indulging in some ridiculous fantasy so as not to face the truth of my mediocrity. I’m sorry. All I can say is, this is hard.
I’m pretty well lost in the dark out here; I don’t know where I am, or the right way to go, or what’s at the end of the path — or even what’s the path. I think I know what it takes to be a writer, but it’s hard to remember what I think I know, and it’s hard to believe, still, in what I think is true, no matter how many times people, including people I respect and admire, say the same things: never give up. Write every day. Write what you know, and write what you want; don’t try to chase the latest trend or the hottest thing: just don’t give up. I want to hold onto those touchstones, follow that map laid out for me by those I would be honored to follow, whose footsteps I dream of walking in.
But see, those are great writers who say that. People who have found success, who have published books, who have sold books. Not me. They have an audience: people want to read what they have to say. They have interesting and useful thoughts, crafted from the perfect words. They know what they’re doing, they can see the way to go; they can see it all so well that they notice the tiny details, they see little moments of beauty, or oddness, or even horror. I can’t even see the ground under my feet, can’t even see my feet, when I start writing: what makes me think that my thoughts, my words, are the right words? And if they’re not the right words, what the hell am I doing? I could be getting ahead on my school paperwork, and I could be playing video games and binge watching all the shows I haven’t seen. I’d be more comfortable at my day job, and I could participate in the conversations about pop culture. I’d know where I was, and I’d know what I was doing. I’d know what was right.
But when I decide to write, I step away from that comfortable, familiar assurance, that life like an easy walk through a mall. Air conditioning, clear lighting, You Are Here maps. And I step into confusion. Every time I write, I have to wonder: What is the right thing to write?
Who is the right me to be?
Figuring that out is hard. Not that actual figuring: I think that’s pretty simple. I mean, I think I am a writer. But I don’t really know why I think it. Every reason I can think of to support the assertion that I’m a writer, I can instantly, with no trouble at all, think of a counterclaim to disprove it. I’m good with words: but I don’t do enough drafts, don’t spend enough time on the work. And . . .
Oops. Turns out I can’t even think of a second reason to call myself a writer. I can keep going with reasons why I’m not a writer: I haven’t had any success, never sold a story, never got accepted for anything, been blogging for ten years and never broke 100 followers. I have never written a way out of the darkness where I go when I try to find the words. Never reached the light.
It is very hard to keep thinking that I should in fact keep writing at all, let alone finish this blog, let alone keep writing books that I don’t believe anyone will want to read. I mean, really, what’s special about these words? I didn’t create anything new with them. I didn’t describe anything that’s never been described before; in fact, I don’t think I described anything. They’re just words, and they’re just from me. Who cares?
I’m sorry for wasting all of our time.
I’m trying to come up with a final epiphany, an affirmation that can sustain me, keep me writing, make people understand why I do this, and why every other creative should continue to do it, too. (But then the voice in my head says, I’m not that creative. My book concepts are entirely derivative: a vampire story? Really? You wrote a book about a pirate? TWO books? Oh, good Lord. Let me guess: your blogs are about you being an angry progressive who doesn’t understand why our country is so stupid, right?
Have you ever considered that maybe it isn’t the country that’s stupid?)
Sorry. It’s hard to keep that voice silent. Hard to think that all of that isn’t the simple truth.
It’s hard to think.
I also get afraid, sometimes. I don’t deal with depression, myself, but so many artists and writers do. Today is Virginia Woolf’s birthday, and she’d think everything I’ve ever written is absolute shit. She was one of the best writers who ever lived. She killed herself. So that means either that I can’t be a good writer because I don’t have the same problems that the good writers have and had; or if I ever get to be a successful writer, I’ll hate every second of it, and want to get back to where life was simple. I’ll want to walk away from writing, from the place I worked so hard to get into. I’ll get there, and I’ll want to run away.
Why the hell do I do this, again?
I’m sorry. I shouldn’t keep repeating myself. It’s a bad habit. I think I’m looking for something familiar. Safe. Known. Which writing is not. Really, I shouldn’t be writing at all: I have way too many bad habits, and I don’t spend enough time taking extra classes, and studying exactly what my favorite writers do, and carefully scrutinizing every line of prose I’ve ever written to determine how it could be improved. That’s why I’m not a good writer, which is why I’m not a successful writer. Because writing is hard, and I’m too lazy, and too cowardly, to actually do it right. I’m also too old: all the great writers publish their first great books much younger than me. I’m 43: clearly time to get to work on finding some other hobby that would be better for me, that wouldn’t cause me as much consternation, that wouldn’t be so hard. I can’t keep doing this one. I can’t.
But I’m still writing. Doesn’t that show that I am, in fact, a writer? Maybe even a good one, because I don’t give up? Because I try to be honest? Share what I feel and what I see in the world?
Sure, if what I shared and felt wasn’t shit. But if it is, then people are just rolling their eyes and laughing at me. I mean, I guess I don’t care if people are laughing at me, but I also don’t see any reason to keep going if people aren’t appreciating and enjoying my work.
And yet I’m still writing. Still trying to find a way to finish this, to make a point. I think I may have written myself into a corner with this whole “I should stop doing this” thing. I think I already contradicted myself pretty badly, and I’ve probably confused the shit out of anyone who is reading this. I’m pretty lost, myself.
This is hard.
I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to need readers: I want to write for the sheer joy of writing. I feel that sometimes. I get excited about stories. There have been some moments when I’ve looked back over what I’ve written, and I’ve impressed myself. I want to feel that the thousands upon thousands of words that I have put together are an accomplishment, that they mean — I don’t know, something.
And in my best moments, I do think that. I do think that anyone who has written four books — Jesus, four books! And hundreds of blogs, book reviews, essays, along with two-thirds of two other books — I mean, that person has to be a writer. Right? I don’t know where the line is between writer and non-writer, but I’m pretty damned sure that nothing else I’ve done in my life compares to what I’ve accomplished as a writer. (Not counting the things that matter, but aren’t really accomplishments, like being happily married and taking good care of my pets and such. If those are accomplishments, I’m proud of myself for them. If those define me, I’m proud to be those things.)
Actually, that’s not an if. I am proud of the husband I am, of the marriage I have helped to build and keep. Toni and I have been together for 23 years, and she is still the one thing in the world that makes me happiest. She is my world. I have given a home to an iguana, a dog, and a bunny who have all passed on after long healthy happy years; I am currently taking care of a dog, a cockatiel, and a Sulcata tortoise who are also living happy, healthy lives. I am absolutely and unequivocally proud of that. I am happy to be defined as that man, that husband, that father of many pets. I have no doubt of that: knowing that is not hard. This is where I am comfortable, where I am — mostly — sure of myself, and of the ground on which I stand.
I wish writing was the same way. That art was the same way. Comfortable. Sure. Easy.
But the truth is, it isn’t. Art isn’t easy. Art is never sure. Art is never comfortable. We live on mostly solid ground, and we can see all around us; but art is off the edge of the map. It has to be, because it is created. It could be created out of familiar pieces, it may be shaped to resemble something that we’ve known, but — it’s not something we’ve known. It’s something new. To make something new, you have to go away from solid ground. Where everything floats, and nothing is clear. You can’t see where you are, can’t see where you’re going. That’s the only place you can make art: can make a new place to stand.
Art is too big, too impossible to define, too hard to understand. It’s larger than we are, you know; I mean, of course. Of course the English language, and every concept that can come from all the creative minds that have ever existed, of course that’s all larger than me. And when I compare myself to that, of course I am insignificant, a bug, a nothing. Nothing at all. Trying to find my way in that unending expanse, that eternally shifting and growing universe, that limitless world being created and re-created every day, by every artist? Of course that’s hard. It should be.
And I’m still writing. Goddamn it, I’m still writing. Not as well as some others do, maybe not even as well as I could, given the perfect circumstances: if I didn’t have to work, say, or if I had some perfect storm of idea, and passion, and time, and could burn through my own Fahrenheit 451, my own Bell Jar, my own God of Small Things. But given everything I carry with me when I go marching into this unknown, into this mysterious world where art exists, where I make art, where I am past the familiar, through the looking glass, where even the landmarks do not exist until I create them — I think I do as well as I can. I don’t know if it’s good enough. I don’t know what “good enough” means.
But I’m still writing. Maybe it’s even more impressive if it isn’t good enough, because if I can’t have enough talent to really be good, at least I can have enough courage to keep trying, to keep writing, to keep going out into that chaos of formless possibility, and deciding: choosing: determining: building; and then going back to where I was, to the real, solid, familiar world, and carrying with me the thing I made — which is never like the real world, and every time I compare it, I know that what I made is not as clear, not as solid, not as real as the real world. But still, I bring it back here with me, and I give what I write to other people, and I say, “Here, read this. Look at what I made. Tell me what you think.” That does take courage, to dive into the unknown, and try to build yourself a place to stand before you fall: and then to invite other people to stand there, too. That takes courage.
And I’m still doing it.
I’m still writing.