10 April 2012

On Writing

I suppose a little is better than none.  I can't believe how long it's been since I've blogged, or written anything, for that matter.  About the middle of last year, I started blocking time for writing each week.  I've written about a page.

It used to be different, I think.  Writing is like any art--talent helps, but practise makes the product.  And for me, the experience of writing--of filling these blank pages with my thoughts--it's just too painful.  Well, almost too painful, since I'm drawn back each time.

I have a copy of Julie Cameron's "The Artist's Way" next to me as I type.  I haven't read it yet.  I wonder what it will say.  I wonder if it will inspire.  I wonder if it can hold a tiny candle against the monsters in my mind, that twist and rage and croak their indignation at my writing.

"You're awful, Sable." they say. "You're a shitty writer when you write, and a shitty writer when you don't.  Stay focused on other things.  Your career, your life.  On filling your closet, or your home.  You're better when you're buying, not creating.  YOU HAVE NOTHING TO SAY."

Those voices are, of course, coming from within.  They're related, I think, to a part of me that never recovered from being gay in this awful world.  I learned at such an early age to hide the most important parts of me, to keep them safe, to protect them, that I struggle now, as a grown and 'empowered' adult, to let them go a little.  To give myself space to write, to be, to love.

Writing and love, it turns out, are one and the same.  They take the same determination.  They require the same sacrifice.  They a leap both into and out of ourselves.  They are both terrifying. 

Even as I write this, the defenses come up.  "Don't put this online, Sable.  Someone might read it, and what will they think?  It's embarassing, showing this kind of vulnerability.  No one is interested.  Stop being so narcissistic...so selfish."

These voices have no idea that I've started to catch on to their game.  I'm learning where they come from--the secret places.  I'm hunting them down.  Not to kill them, oh no, for our shadows cannot be killed--they're part of us just a surely as a breath or a heartbeat.  I'm hunting them down to understand, and to integrate them, and to hold their hands as I bring them into the light.

This blog is one manifestation of that light.  And in the time I've been away--a time of relationships, of buying real estate and gut-renovating it into a thing of beauty, of trips to Mexico where I fantasize about writing and come home with blank notebooks, of taking a writing course (lo!) and of having my professor die just weeks after the class ended (you must write, she said to me), of nights alone with a dull ache in my chest like a kind of disappointment or grief, of nights with friends where I hide my true self and play the good game--in this time I've been growing, like all of us.  And I've gotten stronger as I've grown, more empowered, more perceptive.  Perhaps, just perhaps, even more receptive (wouldn't THAT be nice?!).   And all along my shadows have been watching warily, fearfully.

"What will he do?" they ask each other.  "I like it when he focuses on work," says a tall, thin one with a gold pocket watch and a monocle.  "I like it when he buy things," says a smiling one, grinning through three rows of sharp little teeth.  "I don't care what he does, I can't stand this!" says yet another, a sad, hunched thing with bleary eyes and ink-stained fingers.  "Madness," says a deeper shadow, steepling its long, thin fingers, "This is merely madness; there is no profit here."

To them I say, perhaps I am doing all those things.  And perhaps I will show you to the world, and give you out--air you like a dirty shirt, smelling of cigarettes, beer, and sticky sweat.  Perhaps I will begin to acknowledge you for my own, my little secrets, my precious.  I'm not sure I can expend all the energy needed to keep you silent, and contained, and still have any creativity left for me.  So I will take you with me, shadows.  We are one.

And then, it occurs to me, Dear Reader.  You and I are one, as well.  As I write, it's me I imagine reading when I think of you.  It's my imagination that has to stand in for you, since you are not actually here to see me writing in the dark, in my underwear, with a belly full of eggs and cheesy tuna casserole.  And you are fearsome to me, Reader--most fearsome of all my shadows.  When I turn the final page, I imagine my Reader looking up, and saying: "Is that all?"

So mostly, I hide, imagining that in hiding I can avoid the question.  "What do you mean, 'Is that all?'," I ask with mock innocence.  "I'm not a writer.  I'm a banker.  I'm an activist.  I'm a psychological adventurer.  I'm no writer.  So how can you judge me?"

But it's not you judging, is it?

It's me.

And there we get to the finest pickle of them all.  I am artist, arbiter, audience, and executioner.  The white page is my death, but to stare is down is scarier still.  To hold my ground, when the shadows close in, taken courage.

"You've done enough damage for one night," they say, even now.  "Imagine who will use this against you.  Imagine who will judge you for what you've said, for how you've felt, for how you feel even now with your fingers flying across the clicking keys.  You cannot do the task you've set before yourself.  You will fail."

And I listen, and I do not start the journey.  And even now, I'm lost a little, Reader. I don't know where I've taken you.  I'm worried that I've failed you in the promise any writer makes--to show a little truth about the world.  For I'm scared that there isn't much truth inside, and I have to resist the urge to erase the last paragraph.  Or this entry.  Or my feelings about what it means to me--what it FEELS like to me--to be a writer.

I tell you this, Reader:  It's scary.

I have an outline for a novel.  The shadows I described are busy tearing it apart, telling me that it will fail, that it's silly, trivial, meaningless drivel.  They do this before a single word is written.  Like assassins, they suffocate my characters as they sleep, they paint whole cities black, they unravel plots as quickly as I weave.  And most of all, most sinister of all, they push the hands of the clock forward just a bit each passing moment.  Like an indecisive coach running out a clock while the players grow anxious on the field, time passes unfazed and unfeeling while I dawdle.

This is a lonely journey, Reader.  It's my own Inferno, my own journey inward and within.  Dante knew the right of it.  He had the shape of it.

I wonder, then.  I wonder if I could use this blog to document my FEELINGS about writing as I begin this journey--as I struggle to get out my first novel.  I wonder if it would help me, to let my shadows have some air-time as well.  It has not worked to try to keep them in check, for they have only grown in that time.  More than a decade.  I promised myself that making money was only a way to have the freedom I'd need to write, but it hasn't worked that way.  Making money requires a blood sacrifice--it doesn't give it's fruit willingly.  It requires just enough to keep you weak enough to resist it.  But I cannot blame money or it's making.  Comfort also is my siren.  "Don't write," it sings, "relax.  Take an evening off, or a month, or a year, or a decade.  You've earned it."

I've earned something, you devil.  I've earned the sense of fear I have now.  I've earned the whisperings of characters I've never met, but whom I've glanced in a darkened mirror, or between the pages of books, or just beneath the varnish of centuries-old paintings.  That is not comfortable, but it is magical.

I'm afraid, but most afraid of failing.  Ironically, that's what's kept me from writing all this time.  It's what keeps me here, writing about writing, rather than one application over, writing a story that wants to tell itself through me.  See?  See what a tricky bastard I can be?

I hear singing.  Don't despair, Reader.  It's iTunes, not some dark fantasy.  I hear the words of the Bard put to music.  I hear Prospero's speech--the ultimate appeal by a writer, dreamer, and poet, to his audience.  But also, I think, to himself.  It is as much a guide to one's own Reader as it is to one's Audience.  One is a worse critic than the other...or so I understand.


Da Fashionista said...

So many thoughts about this thing of beauty...these letters strung together into delicious words and then magical sentences and then glorious MUSIC...

PLEASE for the sake of my eyes who want to read your writing, let go of the fear. Integrate. You know I say this from experience. Allow for all the sides of you to coexist. They already do, btw. The struggle to keep them separate is an illusion...and so damn tiring.

You can't just write. You ARE a writer. You ARE an artist. The torturous journey getting to that realization just proves it. People who aren't writers, write all the live long day, never questioning their ability or the process. Blech.

Bringing the shadows into the light and unmasking them is the first step. They are losing their power as your words pop up in my blog feed.

Let go. The beauty and true power of your spirit resides in the vulnerability.

I love you.

Jennifer Hast said...

You've always been a writer. It's something you can't escape. You can't help it. Either you will write or it will devour you.
And there are fantastic and rare jewels hidden among those shadows. Only you can shine the light to find them.
Trust me, flaying your soul for the internet turns out a lot less scary than you think. There are real souls out there yearning to hear it. Yearning to relate.