Things that change

Dear 16 year old headcheese:

You know things will change as you get older, and you know they will be better.  That’s good.  You should keep that.

But you don’t know what will change.  You think that you will achieve your goals, have your career, and travel.  You think you’ve found someone with whom you’ll spend your life; you don’t love that idea, because you don’t love him, but at least you’ve found someone who wants you.  You think he will hold the center while the changes swirl and coagulate.  You are wrong.

It’s not the changes that will swirl around him, or you, or anything you hold dear.  You will be what changes.  Someone will achieve some of your goals.  Someone will fail miserably at others.  And someone will have different goals that they may or may not achieve.  But that person will not be you.  There is no center.  The person you know as yourself today will be gone.

I know that right now, when you board a flight, you wonder who will sit next to you.  You hope it will be someone really special, some marvelously brilliant, entrancing man or woman who will be the One for You, and you are just scooting down the taxiway of your life as it takes off before your eyes.  (Yes, you do think in those terms, and you do mix your metaphors.  I know.)  In ten years, you will hope that no one sits beside you, and that if someone does, they won’t smell bad and won’t try to talk to you.

You’ll stop staring out the window trying to make out landmarks.  You’ll do a sudoku instead.  Really.

I know you think that if you aren’t with Him, you’ll be Alone, which is the very worst thing to be.  You’ll find out that it’s not that bad.  One day you’ll look at his face and be glad you don’t have to see it in bed beside you, whether there is another face there or not.  You’ll be truly glad that he presses himself against someone else at night, and not you. 

I know that you think being the best is the golden ticket that will grant you a lifetime of free… everything, including unlimited self-respect.  It’s not, and even if it were, you will never be the best.  The chances are statistically ridiculous.  You’re building your life around the equivalent of winning the lottery.

Someday, the person you become will tell the magical little child you help create that being smart isn’t everything, that hard work and patience and social skills pay off.  It will take you much longer to convince yourself, and when you do, it will take everything you have to sort through the shards and piece yourself back together.  You will never be the same.

You will eventually confess to yourself that you would rather watch Star Trek again than go to a modern art museum.

The colors of the world will change.  They will fade and blur.  Where you once saw vivid tones that inspired and excited and frightened you, you will be left with shades muted by their transient coexistence.  Where you once saw silhouettes you will see shadows, and it will be not the world that transformed, but your eyes.

Words, interrupted

Lately I’ve been emphatically posting only about rhetoric and criticism, not about personal or autobiographical topics, because I don’t really think the internet needs any more maudlin self-indulgence.

But circumstances have caused me lately to resume my sporadic creative writing efforts, and I feel the need to briefly share my frustration and indecision.

I confess that despite any other ambitions have arisen in my life, the earliest and most consistent drive I’ve had is to play with words.  At all times I can’t help but notice their beauty and power, whether it’s in an Old English text, a 20th-century confessional poet, or daily conversation.  Some part of me always returns to the idea that I could say fuck it to prosaic ambitions and dedicate myself to wordplay as a way of life, as grandiose as that sounds.  I like to think of this part as akin to Bilbo Baggins’ “Tookish” tendencies.

But the greater part of me, which seems to grow in influence with every year of aging– the cynical part, or the realist part, depending on your perspective– says that only a rare handful of people ever feed and house their children on the fruits of their creative endeavors.

I’m lucky enough to have a father who sets a worthy example, as a children’s author of some renown.  I suppose that example is part of what fostered my early fixation– from the time I learned to read and write at three years old– on creative writing.  But I compare myself to him, and the way that he climbed his way into the small circle of respectable artists, not through manic inspiration, but through daily labor.  Even when he was working day jobs and helping to take care of me and my two brothers, he wrote and submitted until he succeeded.

I take as another example role models like Ludwig Wittgenstein, logical positivist philosopher, who at eight years old would suddenly stop, dumbfounded, in a doorway while contemplating questions about the workings of the universe– and never lost that insatiable drive to understand and explain.

I can’t believe that I am like either of those examples.  Once or twice a year, I seize on a rabid bout of creative obsession, and scrawl out poems and songs and fiction that, by others’ accounts (though I don’t really accept it) are pretty all right and have some artistic merit.  Then my mood swings and I tear up half of what I wrote and go back to accepting that I’m a destitute bum who contributes nothing of value to the world.

My drive isn’t enough, you see.  I don’t have the stability and dedication to sit down and write like a job every day– like Terry Pratchett, who early in his career, while still working day jobs, would force himself to write eight hundred words on his old manual typewriter every single evening, whether he felt like it or not.  (If he finished a book and was under his daily word limit, he promptly started another book, according to Neil Gaiman.)  And I’m not the kind of genius that Wittgenstein was, obsessed enough with a single mission that all other aspects of life can fall by the wayside while I pursue it single-mindedly.

My creativity can’t help but be all tangled up in my moods, my tumultuous relationships, and my own oddities and failings.  That’s the curse of manic depression.  Making superhuman starts, and then trashing or abandoning them.  That’s why my six-word biography is:  “Many projects started, none finished yet.”  It sounds amusing, and it really is– I can chuckle at it plenty.  But it’s also a fucking disaster.

My petulant inner demon also points out to me, usually at 3 AM, that I’ve had plenty of rejection in my life on all fronts, and I don’t really need to hear from an editor that my style “isn’t what their looking for,” or some other inane, patronizing let-down.  Because I tell myself that all the time already.

So there’s my pity-party, my tiny violin and my pathetic song, my bog-wallowing for today.  Have a good one, and I wish you more gumption and stick-to-it-iveness that I can muster up.

NB:  I do realize that ridiculing myself for self-pity doesn’t actually make it any less self-indulgent.  It’s basically my way of saying, “I know what I’m doing and I’m embarrassed about it but I’m doing it anyhow.”