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.”