Why I Write

15 Jan

 

Chapter onePeople for some reason marvel at the fact that I wrote a book. Like it’s some great accomplishment that no one else in the history of mankind has ever done. Or at least no one else in the history of mankind that they know personally. Many of these people are themselves artists of some type: musicians, photographers, one ballet dancer, even a chef (yes, I consider cheffing an art). Whenever people congratulate me regarding my book I am thankful and humbled. Thankful because it is nice for people to say positive things about me to my face, as opposed to nasty things to me, also usually to my face. Humbled because it is awkward to have positive things said about me to my face.

The only people whose praise is different are other writers, none of whom have been published, all of whom are basically somewhere between the hopeful “Yeah, I really would like to write the Great American Novel/Next Harry Potter” and beat down “Nice job bro, but you know what – fuck this shit, I’m done with writing, I’m going to law school.” The responses I get from other writers are usually congratulatory with a hint of envy. I did it and they didn’t.

I can relate. Only one person from my film school class “made it,” meaning – he’s the only one I have actually seen use his talents to earn a living. We were never friends, though we did know each other. He was the one everyone thought would make it; I was the crazy guy. Following his career I’ve noticed a fluctuation in my emotions regarding him. At first I was unsurprised at his success: of course Pete would do this, good for him. Then his rocket soared and mine soured and I gritted my teeth with an envy that bordered on hatred: that fucking asshole Pete gets it, and I am stuck at this dead end job writing my crappy little stories that no one will ever read. Then, once I read some of Pete’s stuff I was doubly dismissive: Pete is not a good writer, and because of his success, it proves that people have bad taste, that is why I am unsuccessful, obviously. (None of this last statement is at all true.)

These last two stages of Good Grief were truly soul crushing. Think about it: all I was doing was obsessing about someone else’s career, someone else’s writing, someone else’s success. I was holding up a perverted mirror in which I could only see myself by way of someone else; I portrayed myself as a victim in a fight that didn’t even exist. I was angry at Pete’s success, or so I told myself. It was unfair for him to win, to be able to do what he wants to do, and blah and blah and blah.

I was angry at him. Not me. It was his success that pissed me off, not my own lack of success. For that’s what it really was: lack of success. It wasn’t failure. It wasn’t trying and flopping spectacularly. It was not even trying. Oh, true, I wrote. But I didn’t write write. I was living the life of an idealized future (“IF”). I assumed that all I had to do was write a few things and my star would rise and soon Pete and I would be equals, and not long after I would be his obvious superior in all matters creative.  

I do not doubt that most wannabe writers go through this dark nadir of existence sometime in their career. Writers, after all, exist in the realm of the imagination. The stuff one makes up for the page bleeds very easily to one’s daily life. We fantasize and idealize and pretend that things are better than they really are, or that they will become better through inaction coupled with magic and fate, that the world outside of ourselves will do the heavy lifting for us.

Working on my book, not to mention this blog, has helped me get over this crippling self-pitying existence. Not completely, of course. Even now I exist in an idealized world. I still think of all the things I will someday soon maybe kinda hopefully perchance you know write. I have so many ideas that the glut of them stymies me. I am morbidly impatient to the point that the act of actually sitting down to write (as opposed to the writing itself) oftentimes frustrates me.

I write, I guess, because I crave success. I want to write and be recognized for it. I want acclaim. I want to be interviewed by Charlie Rose. I want to be shortlisted for something. And I am not going to question the rightness or wrongness of these desires.

***

Let me tell you about Debbie in 3G. She’s just a cute girl I see in my building every couple of days when we meet in the elevator or the laundry room. Sometimes I see her on the subway and I give her a nod and a smile. She nods and smiles back. Her nods are wonderful, her smiles indescribable. I can’t tell if she likes me like I like her. Hell, I can’t tell if I like her or if I just think I like her because she smiles and nods at me, as opposed to what most women do – shake their heads and frown. One day she asked me what I did, and I didn’t say that I worked at a law office but that I was a writer. Her eyes lit up and her face got that glow that can mean either sexual excitement or damn! it suddenly got cold in here. Now all she does is ask me about my book. She says she will buy it, though she hasn’t yet, and I doubt that she will, and if she does I wonder if she will even read it. She doesn’t even read this blog, which is why I can write about her so openly.

Also, she doesn’t really exist.

There is always a woman I write for. Be that a girlfriend or a someday soon maybe kinda hopefully perchance you know girlfriend. Debbie in 3G is part idealized woman, part amalgam of women I know or have known in the past. She is the perfect woman (except for the not buying the book thing, the perfect woman always buys the book, and no, “buying the book” is not a euphemism for some kind of kinky sex position, though it really should be), the one that doesn’t exist but should, the idealization that a person of imagination like myself will tend to compare to real flesh and blood women.

I write, I guess, because I want to be loved. Not because the writing is separate from me as a person, but because the writing is integral to who I am.  I want to be liked and loved for my writing. And if this means that I am misinterpreting what love is, then please, dear reader, tell me, what is love, actually?

***

When I was in film school I had this image in my head. I would make a movie, some wonderful sci-fi/romantic/action/comedy, and then I would go to a theater where the movie was playing and sit anonymously in the back and watch the people love the movie. It wasn’t that I wanted them to love me like I want Debbie in 3G to love me. It’s that I wanted them to be happy. I wanted to create something that would give something to other people: joy, happiness, meaning in a seemingly meaningless world, something to talk about over coffee afterwards, just a scrap of hope.  I thought, if I could do to others what so many artists had done to me, then maybe I could change things. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to make the world a better place. I was young and naïve and stupid. But better that than a Young Republican.

I’ve mostly given up on the idea of ever actually making a movie. I don’t live in L.A., have few connections to the movie biz, and am not cutthroat enough for Hollywood.

Now, my imagination sees someone on the subway. I sit across from them. They don’t recognize me as the author of the book they are currently reading. And not just reading, but engrossed. Like they miss their stop engrossed in. Like they notice that they’ve missed their stop and don’t care that they are going to be late again and might get the ax this time engrossed. Like they end up in Queens instead of work engrossed.

I write, I guess, because I want to change hearts and minds. I want to give hope or solace to those in need. I want someone to read something I wrote and be a better person, if only slightly. I want someone to read something of mine and say, “I can do that,” and then they do. Is it wrong for me to think this way, is it hubris, rank egotism, pretension? Maybe, but I would probably be a lousy writer if I didn’t possess these traits, at least slightly.

***

Maybe I just write because I’m good at it. Maybe it’s just in my genes.

Maybe it’s not nature, but a nurture thing. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child and had too much time on my hands, and the only outlet I had was to make things up.

Maybe I write because I’m not really good at anything else. Can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t sell stuff, hates hospitals, not charismatic enough for politics, not deceitful enough for advertising (or do I have those last two backwards?).

Maybe it’s therapy. Maybe I say on the page what I cannot say in real life (“Oh, Debbie in 3G, your eyes are like, um, er, cute…”). Maybe I am Type B in life and Type A whilst typing. Like a Jekyll and Hyde, by night I unleash a creative monster that perfectly complements that shy, mild-mannered me of the daylight. Maybe I am perfectly okay opening up for the three people who read this blog because it is difficult for me to do so in real life.

Maybe writing makes me feel that I am worth something, that when I write one good sentence, one solid composition of nouns and verbs, only then can I truly be happy.

Maybe I do it because it’s fun.

No, that’s not it. Writing is many things, but fun it is not.

***

The question isn’t “why do I write?” It’s “why don’t I not write?”

I write because I’m a writer. If I didn’t write, I’d still be a writer, but one who has excised what makes me Me.

If I didn’t write I’d just be a guy who gets up in the morning, goes to work, sits a in cubicle, goes home, maybe says hi to Debbie in 3G, has some split pea, watches the tube, plays with his cat, goes to sleep, repeats as necessary and forever.

But during that commute I would see all the people on the subway and I would see their stories, the ones I imagine for them. I would sit at my desk in my cubicle and see all the stories that flit through the office, all the wonderful Tales of the Legal Profession. I would see Debbie in 3G and she would ask me not how my book was going, but how my job is going. I would eat my dinner and watch the shows that I know I could write better than the professionals. I would go to sleep with all the ideas of the day still percolating, and I would not sleep because the ideas are like the unfairly imprisoned who need a pardon so as to get the fuck out of my head. I would repeat and repeat and repeat, and no matter how my life may change, no matter if I won the lottery or won Debbie in 3G, there would always be something missing. 

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