So now nearing my thirties, recently laid off, driving takeout into me on the daily, I find myself really, actually, truly, showing up at the keyboard. Hooray.
I wasn’t always the cheery and avid babbler that you soon know better than you bargained for. (I’m still chomping my fingernails like they’re kale chips, folks.) I’m also finally putting together a site of works, a way of reaching out to say “hello, it’s been too long” and “frig off” at the same time, a way to compose a flaccid indie song called “One Small Step for Man.” I should probably tread more cautiously cause, fuck, I’m late already, and the loose narrative thread is always begging to be tugged at. Instead, I’d like to share a few words about that silly little thing we call good writing and why it’s still my pif.
I could produce a wearying list of reasons for my lateness, starting with Magic: The Gathering, moving on through Netflix, and ending with wiki black holes, but really it was just good, old-fashioned, putting off any kind of creative work at all. In other words, the worst thing you can do as a writer. I know too well, having watched my friends and peers — talented poets and short story writers — construct stories, verses, and adaptations, which were often impeccably styled, but which also, in my eyes and to my mind’s ear, did not evoke the oh-so-elusive suspension of disbelief; that special little something that gets us to flick away at those backlit pages. This total disconnect from the world we crave is both manna and yoke for the creative. Just as I feared in my own work, their words did not strike me with that final distinction, excellent though they were. I think our collective body of pieces probably suffered more so as under-read, rather than underwritten or on the nose (though all were present). And so I can say for my writing, at least, things were slow to coalesce.
It can poison the well, thinking about art in this way. How could analyzing and critiquing myself and my peers, some my close friends, help to revitalize feelings of mystery and innocence? It felt to me that the opposite was occurring and accelerating. And that way of thinking brought me right back to the world of loan bill summaries and untreated, over-priced wounds; the world of dog shit in your boot tread and lighting cigarettes butt-end out. Even those have at least some few sallow points of beauty, but again, the world of minds stunted by glowing screens that never turn off, and open disregard for human rights, is still par for the course. I forgot how to write about anything but extremist caricature, it felt, and that really bummed me out. I felt like my personal creativity was becoming this oily reflection of my greater worldview. I’d only later realize that my worldview had become negative because of my inability to find that sense of orbital wonder with how we explain ourselves. I think we read to find my way out of one dimensional worlds, even if it means wandering through the shit swamp for a while to map our way out. This is encouraging. After all, we’re here to write, to get our hands dirty, to truss up phrases like wafer snags of rusty metal that dully shine just enough to look once-cared, yet toothy and like to infect upon contact. It’s supposed to get a bit weird, so it makes sense the experience of understanding writing in a metacritical is only doubly whacked.
The escape route of suspended disbelief can never be taken away from us. I revere it, as so, I imagine, the millions of others who have felt that particular joy of a drinking caffeine at night just to finish fantasy novel, or the rush of a journalistic piece that reshapes the very terrain of the earth with its insight. Don’t even get me started on Cosmos. Realizing that what I had been wanting all along was for my writing to not feel like my writing (and that this would be impossible) for once I broke my habit of shying away from the keys with the foreclosure grounds of not being smart enough and started writing furiously, without thinking about anything but the suspension and keeping it straightforward. I also gave up my “voice guilt.” Over criticizing your own voice is brutal because you are bound to it intimately — and I don’t know about you, but I can be mean to myself about writing in general and the assessed worth of any work. Over time, this type of self-berating ideation can leak out into behavior, and I knew that was not the person I wanted to be. So that needed to stop. I now recommend this unilaterally. Here’s an analogy that seems fitting to me: when writing every line feels like being suddenly naked in a dream, resolve to stay in the dream and not wake from shame because you are only naked to yourself. Unless you sleep naked.
I’ve written since I could hold a pencil. It’s always just made sense to me. And by that, I mean it still makes no sense to me whatsoever. I just sort of open, and things come out. I was ridiculed and complimented in turns for verbal acumen in elementary school, fell silent and rather forgetful through my “classic rock” phase in middle and (how) high school, and notably — you’d think — got all college educated in creative, technical, metacritical, pedagogical and nauseaquatical writings.
You could say I’ve done my homework, at least ostensibly. I’ve drilled sonnets and slapdashed a thesis on Derrida. I’ve written hyper-sexualized drug poems for shock value, I’ve written self-memeing comedy because I can’t help myself, I’ve written thoughtful meta critiques for a university tutorial seminar because I was graded on it, and I’ve written somber memoir because it’s the frigging right thing to do.
I’ve done these things. Fine. I’ve done readings, including a paid one which involved travel and turned into a greasy horror show (that’s a story for another time). It was a learning experience and a great out channel for my work. When working at Umass Boston, I led discussion groups about writing. Great. The fact remains that I haven’t submitted to a respectable journal in years, I haven’t touched heaps of notes prepared for longer fiction pieces that were slated to be done years ago, and my fingers barely even brushed a keyboard for several months leading up to a cold razor of a recent past. I haven’t even held friendly correspondence about writing since my last grad class.
So with this all in mind, and when people — who only exist for the sake of syntax — would ask me if I felt like I’m an accomplished writer, my response was, with little variation, “hell no” and I really believed it. For years, my self regard as an author began and ended with that phrase: “hell no.” It wasn’t that I felt I wasn’t good at writing at all, it was that I automatically placed myself out of depth and built a ceiling for how worthwhile my ideas could be. This more intensely withheld me from getting anywhere. That the fly fell in shared ointment only redoubled my concern: I wanted to feel nothing but pride and awe for my peers, but the suspension outshines all. It just wasn’t there. What I’d finally identified as the glint of beatific arrogance (somehow suffuse with modesty) couldn’t be found among us. We hadn’t found our “calling” you could say (vom). So, hell no — I don’t feel like an accomplished writer. But, finally, I feel like I am a writer.
And I do love to write. That much is easily true. I’ll get into what I mean about being easily true later on, because it’s complicated and worth explaining, but not now. I will recount a hop-faded undergraduate who fell into a highly dysfunctional, long-term relationship with poetry, all the while openly drooling over short fiction and novelists, as if cheating through that volatile courtship. It matched my behavior as a person too. More on that later, maybe. Feeling out of my depth, I, like a rookie fencer, took only the occasional, flimsy stab at getting complex stories down on the page. I guess that’s not true. I had to write for school, and through that time created some pieces I felt were, again, passable, if not where I wanted them to be. That all aside, we had to write consistently and it forced me to produce a certain volume of cogent prose. So in fairness I made some flashy swishing noises and looked cool, but we’re talking about landing foil here and yet, still, nothing I created during that time felt good enough.
While periods of my generativity were focused and productive, they were dotted notes along a sprawling empty measure, it feels looking back, and no matter how numerous or refined my pieces of verse became (I think some of them are passable as literary work) the empty space that I’ve apparently been filling with session IPAs and double battered fries remained quite gaping and unsightly.
Between this self defeating mentality, having managed little to no publicly available work I feared becoming siloed within my own creeping paranoia, diligently building a latticework of misjudgments for the world, steadily over time. The more I realized that writing alone is toxic, the more I wandered away from the antidote. I’ve wallowed and hid for long enough. Now I’m here. Late, but here.
Let’s all be free, let’s all be only humanly good at what we do alone, and godly in what we do collaboratively. Let’s find the suspension for ourselves, stuff it greedily in our cheeks because it’s freaking delicious, and, because it’s the frigging right thing to do and no less than compulsory for people who are writers (I’m looking at you), we’ll do our damndest to give the gift of true suspension a few friends along the way.
And, at long last, I achieve the basic need this foreword set out to sate some 800 words ago:
This site is meant as a celebration and condemnation of the written word, all of its crazy-ex baggage, at least a touch of actual blood, plenty of sweat (if you’re doing it right), and tears for days.
Here’s to the weird tinglies it gives us when we finally speak up.