I’ve got at least a dozen things I want to write. Presently, I am writing none of them. Unless you count this. But this isn’t so much a “thing I want to write” as a “thing I am writing.” The thing I am writing is almost never the thing I want to write.
You say you like the rough ones. Well this one is a rough one. I may have written this before. I may have written all of this before. I will certainly write it again.
There are always things I feel I should be cutting out. There are always things I am successfully cutting. There are other things I am successfully not cutting. There are things I wish I weren’t cutting, but which are being cut for me. Those are the worst things. Those are the distracting things.
I might be talking about writing here. Or I might be talking about happiness. Or despair. I might be talking about hope, or addiction, or sex. I really don’t know anymore.
The thing about a funk is: it has a way of perpetuating itself. Part of being in a funk is learning to identify said funk and calling that fucker what it is. Giving it a ridiculous name robs it of some of its funk power: Flooey Clown Funk. Fizzy Farm Funk. Ticklish Tiny Funk. Diaper Rash Funk. Brown Bag Boring Ass Funk.
Of all the dire situations going on in the world right now (the violence and strife in the Ukraine, the violence and strife in Gaza, the violence and strife inside and outside our very own doors, right here in towns and cities across America, the UK, Legoland) my non-writing condition is not one of them. It is not one of the dire situations. It is barely even “a situation.” Even on a small scale, even on the scale of my own personal life: of all the various conditions that have happened there-in, the situations that I might, in passing, refer to as “dire,” this current non-writing one is extremely low on the list.
This current condition is a commodity. All of our current conditions are commodities. And the going rate for each of them keeps dropping. Content is cheap. The world does not need writing. The world does not need my writing. And yet, I believe, most emphatically, that the world needs writing. And, by All Holy God, I believe it needs my writing. I have to. I have no choice but to believe that.
This twofold premise is what is simultaneously freeing and distressing about writing stuff and putting it in front of people. One: What I am endeavoring to do is not needed. It is not requested of me. In this way, it is entirely unimportant. Two: And yet I need it. And I desire for it to be needed. And in this way, it is entirely important (to me). It is perhaps the most important thing.
Here’s a hypothesis: You are not reading this sentence right now. For one thing, I hid it in the middle of many other sentences. I prefaced the entire group of sentences with a fairly benign photo of a plane leaving a gate. So I feel fairly comfortable saying that you aren’t reading it. I say this, because I probably wouldn’t be. I might not be, if it weren’t my own sentence. Which is why I feel fairly comfortable writing the words “cunt, ass, shit” and not worrying too much about offending you. But let me tell you: if I write the words “cunt, ass, shit” then I really intended to write those words. And if I’m being honest, then I also intended for you to read them. It’s just easier to think you aren’t.
But not you, of course.
I am always writing to a you.
The times when I am not writing are times when I don’t know who the you is.
I started writing this thing, whatever this thing is (a very long caption? a prescription medicine side-effect disclaimer?) because I got hung up trying to write another thing: an introduction to a dog-photo book. I got hung up trying to express what my dog photos “mean” to me. Why dogs? Why photos? Why captions, giving them a voice?
What I wanted to get on paper, what I wanted to say about dog photos, is that the meaning in it for me is in simply doing and recording the living and not worrying about the meaning too much. Because that’s what dogs do. They just live and they love things and they hate other things. And they don’t question it and they are unapologetic about it. And it seems so simple, but it’s so hard for humans to do.
(Yes, I knew it: I have written about this before. I have written about all of this before. I will certainly write about it again. You can find the thing I have written before, but I hope you don’t. I hope you never read it.)
So I started writing down this idea, this idea about “daily living,” as the introduction to a book of dog photos and then I just kept thinking: It really doesn’t matter. Whatever I’m saying here, it’s unimportant. The meaning I hope to find. In dogs. In my own life. The meaning I try to spell out in words. It truly does not matter. The dogs know it. I know it. There is no reason for it, except me. And maybe there is only meaning in that.
But look, for all I know, dogs do look for meaning in things. All the time. Maybe they are always doing that. And so that’s kind of what the dog photos are about, too. About the meaning they could be finding. In me. In my relationship to them. It’s why I call the photos Hound Heuristics.
Shit. You see what happens?
The only way you can arrive at something that matters is to first admit that it really does not matter, except maybe to yourself. There is freedom in that. Liberation. (The same way it’s freeing to think nobody is reading the things you write.)
But admitting that things do not matter is not the landscape we live in, where so much matters to so many. And those people to whom the things matter greatly band together to try and make the things matter to all of us in the same way. And this is why there is so much shit out there, and stuff that does not actually matter. So much commentary. So much taking offense. So much personal outrage. So much anger. It’s the product of too many people starting with the premise that, by God, THIS. THIS MATTERS.
(I’m sorry, but it really doesn’t.)
There is plenty of stuff to blame for my current funk. The last two months have, at the same time, been filled with the most hope and happiness and the most despair and sadness I’ve ever felt. That sounds like hyperbole, doesn’t it? That sounds like a writer being overly dramatic, right? That sounds like a writer starting with the goddamned premise that: THIS. THIS MATTERS.
(Maybe it is. Maybe it can’t ever be helped. I am not a dog and therefore I am indeed sorry about this, actually. That can’t be helped, either. I am apologetic by nature.)
One of the things I wish I were writing (aside from an introduction to a dog-photo book) is exactly about the swerve that has happened in my life recently and what it means. I’m used to talking out loud in public about this sort of stuff. But I can’t bring myself to do it for this. For one thing, there are issues of privacy. (It doesn’t have to do with the move to/from England.) But the other thing is this: I am so sick of writing emotional essays and think pieces. Perhaps I am so sick of writing them because I’m so sick of reading them. I’m just burned on that entire mode. I am so sick of all the self-important, well-this-really-is-the-most-gut-kicking-hardcore-raw-truthy-sad, Tank-and-Frumpus bullshit out there. The mostest. The very goddamned mostest that you will ever find…today.
But not to worry! Tomorrow there will be a new one locked and loaded and spit-fired at you from one of the several authorities we have come to trust for this sort of thing. It makes me embarrassed. It makes me embarrassed to be doing this thing.
We have a supply and demand problem. And the problem is that there are too many writers writing. And not enough people reading. Writers aren’t just competing with each other for eyeballs. They are competing with better TV shows (and more of them). They are competing with the Internet’s many cat videos. They are competing with social media and the very platforms that are also (theoretically) helping them.
There are so many voices. We gather around a few of them, the ones who get amplified inside our Twitter and Facebook chambers. We gather around them for … for what? Camaraderie? Literary Community? Fellowship? To feel as though we belong to each other? We do this the same way we used to gather around Big Paper. And we shout to anybody who will listen, who is everybody and nobody at once: I belong to this! I am accepted! But it’s din. My voice, too. My voice is din.
I used to think there was nothing more noble than just contributing to that din. But that isn’t the reason to do it. It can’t be. Because it never really belongs there. We are none of us a part of anything, really. We are none of us standing with or among. We are all of us standing alone and apart.
We are all of us standing around, watching departures.
One of the things that hits us (I think) when we hear about somebody like Robin Williams or Philip Seymour Hoffman or so many others is how much we admired them. For their voices. For their presence. For their talents. And surely (we think, don’t we?) they must find meaning in that. Surely they must find comfort in knowing how loved and admired they are. Surely this must light the dark. But there is always the next thing for them, just as there is always the next thing for us.
There is always the big alone.
And maybe their final gift to us is reminding us of that.
The only reason to do anything is entirely for yourself. The only meaning of a creative act is that you wanted it to exist. When a piece I write isn’t accepted somewhere, I don’t really feel a sense of “rejection” so much as a sense of: Well, yeah… I guess that makes sense, doesn’t it? Because look: my writing? It doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t belong anywhere except on its own page or screen. My writing doesn’t belong next to anything. None of our writing does. When that becomes the goal, to put it next to other things and say “I belong to this!” or “This defines my success!” then the thing we’re doing becomes din.
And then we open ourselves up to the dark. Because the din is never-ending.
But look: I am sure I will feel differently tomorrow.
I am jet-lagged. I am sleeping when I shouldn’t and I am not sleeping when I should. More than that, I am in a funk. These are my current conditions. And all of my current conditions are commodities. All of my current conditions are cheap sluts. They’ll leave me as soon as they’re bored with hitting me. Which is why I love them.
…I really hope you don’t read this.
…I really hope you don’t fucking read this.
TAGS: Lit Culture | Lit Mags | RIPRobinWilliams | Writing