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(Despite what I said previously, I'm going to go ahead and post my most recent long-form piece. I haven't decided if I'm fully going back on using other sites for this or not.)
It's a weird sort of serendipity that I wrote about wondering what "great enough" meant, only for Freddie deBoer to come along and do the same thing much better. In his most recent essay, he bemoans the ironic distance that contemporary educated people effect, especially those who hold themselves out as writers. It's a longing for unironic passion for the craft, for wanting to say something and thinking you have something worth saying.
Referring at one point to the specific person he uses as his framing device, he says,
> She could unleash her prior ambition on the public and she could reap the glory or take her lumps or both…
I think about this a lot. There's a large part of contemporary culture that has doubled-down on the ironic disdain for much of anything, certainly anything about which someone is excited or earnest. We simply, pathologically, cannot allow that. But then we get ironic about the irony, and it spirals off into infinity.
Meanwhile, those of us who put down words have to find some kind of "aw shucks" attitude towards the whole thing. How do we say that we have something worth saying when we're just some random person? Nevermind that humans are innate storytellers to the point that I wonder if it isn't genetic. At the same time, I've devoted multiple of my own pieces to dancing around the topic of "good enough," hoping I'll find some clue that I've been missing about how I can do something that I feel is good enough.
For the longest time, I never understood the idea of "not knowing how not to be [something]." I remember seeing it referred to on a cop TV show (Southland, specifically), where one character tells another that he's a cop because he doesn't know how not to be one. At the time I just thought it was drivel, a feeling since increased by my decidedly mixed feelings about Modern American Law Enforcement. But that kind of unironic passion isn't something you see much of anymore; it's virtually a sin.
Then one day I started thinking about my relationship to writing, to putting words on a page (digital or otherwise). Somehow then it clicked - I'm a writer because I don't know how not to be one. For as long as I can remember, I've journaled, blogged, essay'd, you name it. My day job with the Bureaucracy means writing virtually non-stop, yet I come home, sit down at the computer, and start writing. The vast majority of it never goes anywhere; I have drafts aplenty of essays, short stories, you name it that just never germinated.
I would like to say, in response to Freddie's essay, that at least I'm trying. But am I? The whole reason I use a pseudonym is out of fear of what the response to my writing will be, and I'm not sure whether positive or negative is more frightening. There's a great deal of vulnerability to writing - to putting down what Cervantes calls "children of the mind." (As an aside, I need to post my translation of the prologue to Don Quixote one of these days; it's one of the best things on the process of writing that's ever been written.) And it does feel vulnerable in the same way I worry about what happens to my child. It's an immensely personal act, taking what is inside one's head and putting it out for all to see, dissect, and judge. Freddie talks about a generational divide
> in a sense of the inherent nobility of the work of being a writer, between those who wrote before it was considered good form for writers to be embarrassed about being writers and those working after.
The struggle is real.
In Issue #130 of the Red Hand Files, Nick Cave is asked how he knows when he's written something worthwhile. He describes it as a process of waiting, of standing vigil (likening it to Mary Magdalene's vigil before the tomb of Christ). He goes on:
> One day, you will write a line that feels wrong, but at the same time provides you with a jolt of dissonance, a quickening of the nervous system. You will shake your head and write on, only to find that you come back to it, shake your head again, and carry on writing - yet back you come, again and again. This is the idea to pay attention to, the difficult idea, the disturbing idea, shimmering softly among all the deficient, dead ideas, gently but persistently tugging at your sleeve - the Jesus idea.
I don't know if I've quite had this experience, although maybe I have and just wasn't aware of it at the time. But I *have* had the experience of an idea coming with a quickening of the nervous system, almost gasping for air through me. Hot on its heels, of course, is the self-doubt.
> Who am I to presume to tell something to the world?
> Why should I assume I've come up with something a million other people haven't already thought of?
As much as I wish I could write something "great," maybe I'm instead called upon to write something small. As much as I wish for the life of a writer, to be able to write when I want to write whether that's 3pm or 3am, to be paid for what I have to say and all the recognition that comes with it, maybe that's not my purpose. That's not something I'm quite ready to give up on, though.
What would "small" mean here? I don't feel like I have any big insights about how the world should be run, just the small ones - be better to each other. I don't understand people and their motivations very well, so I have a great deal of misgivings about my abilities as a fiction writer. But is this fear founded or not? Maybe my perspective would be valuable to someone or more than one. It's a scary thought, though.
I've taken some shots at fiction, and even written a couple vignettes of which I'm genuinely proud. I still haven't figured out how to move from there to an actual story, though, and I'm often afraid of even reading what I've written for fear that it won't be as good in reality as it is in my memory. Meanwhile, I have broad ideas for stories I'd like to tell, but haven't figured out the nitty-gritty. Some people say to just write and let it come, and maybe that's the answer. But it's oh so easy to just allow this complication, that I haven't figured out the "how," to make it so that I don't have to try. It's another defense - I'm less afraid of telling some things than others, but I can use this lack of method to avoid the risk inherent to writing something for others' consumption.
We're back to the question of what "good enough" actually means. But maybe the answer is that there is no answer, that what's good enough for one person may not be good enough for another. I do remember feeling better about this whole writing thing when I realized that no matter what I did or how well, someone wouldn't like it. It's freeing in a way - you don't have to worry about pleasing everyone, so there's no reason to try. And maybe it's enough to write a blog that a few people read (hello!) plus the odd short story on Wattpad. I don't think it is, though, or at least that sure doesn't sound like enough. Yet I have to keep reminding myself that, in more ways than one, perfect is the enemy of good. If I never write until I have the perfect story completely mapped out in my mind, I'll never write. If I never write until I have a take on something that I believe is completely unique and brilliant, I'll never write. I can hide behind a pseudonym if it helps, and I can focus on myself since that's the only subject about which I feel any confidence, but at least I'm writing. Maybe that's enough.
I agree with what you say about passion vs. irony. It's weird how, in a society that allegedly prides itself on "acceptance" and letting people "be who they are", publicly showing passion about almost anything but politics or money is considered a really bad faux pas. Maybe it's insecurity. After all, caring about something usually means being vulnerable about that thing as well. I'm not convinced that's all it is, but one of the purposes of irony does seem to be serving as a shield (at least in my experience, I used to shield myself in bitter irony a lot).
> (Despite what I said previously, I'm going to go ahead and post my most recent long-form piece. I haven't decided if I'm fully going back on using other sites for this or not.)
Friend, I thoroughly enjoy hearing from you. You may grab a drink at another bar on occasion - and that's fine, we all do - but know that you've always got an audience here.
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