My internal editor is a mean drunk. Catch her on a good day and she can be pretty helpful– a sharp mind, high standards. On a good day, she pushes my writing to a better place. But when she’s on a bender, she can destroy me, for no reason. Impatient with everything, incapable of hope. Punishing tiny missteps. Indifferent to signs of life. She hurls insults: why are you still writing? Why even bother to try? I’m thinking of bringing her to a twelve-step meeting. Teach her to take deep breaths, and be a little bit nicer to both of us.
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.