Yesterday I read an essay by a woman who got divorced after only fifteen months of marriage and kept her husband’s name. I thought the essay might teach me something about life, or loss, or identity, but it turned out to be more like watching somebody pick their nose on a subway platform. Still, I kept reading, hungry for details– who was the affair with? Somebody he knew from childhood? What needy, clingy character traits of hers finally drove him away? By the end, I felt a little bit creepy, like a rubbernecker, slowing down to watch a car accident on the side of the road. I was embarrassed for the writer, who mistook self-revelation for art, and ashamed of myself for not looking away. I am left with this idea: I will read almost anything, because I’m voraciously curious about the human experience. But the best writing transcends that experience, and helps me become more humane.
This Ray Bradbury quote, which I like well enough to put on my wall— “Sit down and write, son. It will take care of all those moods you are having.”
Finished “On Writing.” Finally came to the conclusion that Stephen King is a congenial enough guy, but also a bit of a bully. Dispensing homey, kitchen wisdom that seduces with its lack of syllables and art— “cat got your tongue?” “wouldn’t shake a stick at–” The language is so friendly you might be tempted to think he’s your friend. But what he’s really doing, the subtext, is drawing a careful line in the sand, a circle around real writers, the ones who get it, or have it, and keeping everybody else outside.
What I have been doing: chewing compulsively through writer blogs— writers talking to each other, talking about writing, talking about their books, writers giving helpful advice. Most of them make me want to quit. Stephen King writes a nearly perfect book about writing and after reading it I’m ready to hang it up for good. Everything he says makes him seem so much smarter than I could ever hope to be, intimidatingly smart, his homey, small town dialect notwithstanding. And then he writes, if you aren’t enjoying yourself, don’t write.
My chest caves in with despair and lack of air. Some writers enjoy doing this. (Why? Because they were well-liked as children? Because they aren’t perfectionists? Because they have such huge egos they actually believe perfection can be attained, or has been attained, by them? Because they have practiced long enough? Because they have Aspberger’s?) However it happened, writing is so much fun for them that when they aren’t writing they share helpful tips, starting with, writing should be fun.
I am blessed to have a peaceful marriage, to a person that I really, truly, love. Steady, daily love, the good stuff, a person I am glad to see every morning after more than thirty years. I don’t have the same juju with writing, which turns out to be the great, unrequited love of my life. Every day has felt stolen, wrestled, cajoled, torn, cobbled. Every day I ask myself, should I have been a therapist? A teacher? A lawyer? I keep trying to change, but in the end, that’s the writer I turned out to be. Stephen King writes because he can’t not write, because he enjoys writing too much to stop. I fight to write, every day, against relentless doubts and fears. I write like somebody leaning into strong headwinds, trying to make it home without a coat or a compass. I write lost, and frostbitten, and terrified— when I am not hiding under my covers, taking a nap, planning alternate careers. I am not brimming with stories. I am a slow drip. I answer no to every “You are a writer if…” question on every internet quiz I have ever taken.
But still. There are all these years. I’m still here. Could we count those years for something?
I want to say, to myself, to all those other writers who might be out there, tormented and tongue-tied, not having fun, dreams buried under too many obligations and distractions and negative self talk: don’t give up. You’re still here.