Sixty Seconds to What?

“Writing is a mug’s game”

I’m not sure who said it, but someone must have.

One of the great pains of writing- and I mean really writing, actively writing, not just contemplating writing- is other writers. Actually, I imagine they are a pain in the ass for non-active writer’s as well.

Sometimes we need other writers. I know I do. I need my writerly friends for support, for commiseration, and for feedback- without those three things, I’d just be that guy at the bar/party/bus stop who complains about how he’s writing but no one cares and anyhow publishing is just a mug’s game… (hmm).

We all need support sometimes. The knowledge that someone, somewhere, is rooting for us to strive, to push, to overcome and to just spill all those ideas onto the page.

Everyone loves to commiserate. Oh c’mon, everyone loves to talk about how crappy their day was or how hard they worked or how much pain they are in. Despite the common knowledge that we ALL have days where we can’t hit for shit, it’s hard to listen to a friend or peer bitch about their bad experience and not feel like gushing about ours as well- even if it’s been a while since we had it. That is human nature. The better human’s among us, the better friends and peers, manage to choke that urge down and not make something that is about US about THEM. And do we repay the favor? Probably not.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely need feedback. I’ve had friends who wrote that really seemed to be writing solely for themselves. One in particular comes to mind, a very, very talented screenwriter who wrote with Speed and Wit and Panache. And then wouldn’t take notes. He couldn’t take notes- I think he was mentally incapable of it. He’d ask for feedback, and when you gave it he would nitpick and argue each point you made, until finally my Wife (beautiful and wise, remember her?) threw up her hands and said to him: “Fine! Your work is perfect, it should be instantly purchased and fast-tracked for at least 7 figures. Happy now?”

“Yes,” he whined sadly; see, he knew he had this crippling disease. He isn’t a stupid guy, just hardwired a certain way. Well, somewhere out there I think he is still writing screenplays and teleplays- and man, I really hope he’s gotten over that.

I love feedback. Sure, I bridle at some notes- but I try to keep the ego in check and the notebook open. Even bad notes can be helpful sometime- and don’t think that some people don’t hand them out! Even your friends can mislead you. But the thing is, you HAVE to listen. You asked for it, after all. I mean, how many people get unsolicited advice on their manuscript/screenplay/poem? If you showed it to someone, it really isn’t unsolicited. Partially because everyone thinks they are a writer…

Oh NOES! There I goes again.

Everyone Thinks They Are A Writer.

Especially now. Especially in this age of the computer, of the internet, of the blog, of the twitter and the facebook and the whatnot.

Writing has become so much more public, it used to be something done in private. Now every writer (or person who doesn’t write but Thinks They Should/Could/Will) has a blog or a tweet or a livejournal (or all of the above, like me) and they- wait for it- they WRITE ABOUT WRITING. Can anything be more pedantic and navel-gazingly inane than to write about writing?

Yet we love it- I love it- and love to read it. I love to see what another writer’s creative process is, how they percolate or accumulate or dispense ideas and quips and phrases. I love the fact that of my closest friends (and I mean both on-line, long distance, and local) the majority of them are Writers- or at least struggling with it.

Sometimes it’s annoying- I mean look, we’re writers. Writers are historically known for being sodden, bitter, twisted old fruits. And some sober and twisted young vegetables as well. The bitterness seems to be mandatory though. If not bitter, than a certain world-weary malaise. Now, the important question: How much of that is Affected?

I’m actually a pretty good natured, optimistic guy- when you get past the weird Rage Episodes or the raving drunken vitriol spewing sessions… but I know that sometimes I come off as, and in fact am, a mean, bitter, resentful man who takes pleasure only in his own creativity. Well, and my son, he’s pretty damn awesome- except when he doesn’t let me write, like this morning.

Dear Son: daddy gets up extra early to get writing done. I know you have taken the computer over as your personal Home Entertainment System, but daddy needs to borrow it for an hour or so every morning. Okay?

Anyway, I’m trying to be less bitter. Less resentful. Less impatient. In general, as a person, a worker and a father and husband at any rate. As a writer too. I’m supportive! Mostly. Shit, I’m working on it.

What was I… oh yes, EVERYONE thinks they can write. This used to bother me (still does- Damnit, shutup, I’m working on it!). Any jackass with a computer is a “Writer” if they are trying to be creative.

But why should this threaten me? I’ve just talked about how happy I am to have dear friends who write? Why should I care if some bartender/dock worker/pencil pusher thinks he/she/it can/should write?

Shit, I WAS a bartender and a pencil pusher, and I work on a dock. What is my problem?

I know other writers who bridle in the same way against this… but really, we aren’t up in some fucking ivory tower strewn with ivy, driven slowly mad in our garrets by the serpentine writing of our muses… well, ok, some of us are, but really…

Everyone can play. It’s writing. All you need is the drive and the imagination. The words show up. That is the magic of it.

Am I writing for myself? Yes. But I’m also writing because these stories need to go someplace. If someone else is spilling over and feels like they are about to burst- I can’t begrudge them writing.

I’m cured!

Well, that one jackass who asked me once: “So, screenwriting, huh? I could do that. A lot of money in that,” he said nodding his head wisely. “Maybe I should get into that,” he said, stroking his chin. Guys like that? Yeah, Fuck You, chongo.

Okay, not cured. Sigh. Progress, not Perfection.

The Midnight Alphabet – A

A is for Arsenic, to be used for preserving wood. It has had other uses, at times.

A is also for Arkham, a township in Northeastern Massachusettes that has not been seen since the 1920s.

A stands for Azazello, as in “Azazello’s cream” from which women learned the sinful art of painting their faces.

A is for Alchemy, and Appalachia. For Avalon. For Abremalin oil and Athame and Absinthe and Arisoph. And for Academic Fencing.

Ascension.

But most memorable, perhaps, is Absalom.
Absalom, was one of King David’s sons.
Absalom slew his own brother for the rape of their half-sister.
Absalom had conquered a nation by the age of 20. It is probably true that he proclaimed Death without power in his lands or over his people..
Absalom did not, as some legends say, become an island adrift off a continent.
Absalom, found vainglorious about his own hair, was hanged by it.
Absalom’s end was less than pleasant and involved the winnowing and rendering of his flesh and genitalia.
Absalom was buried near the sea on the island of Saint-Domingue. Some say this is why sea-salt can cure those cursed by a Bokor.

A Cell of One’s Own

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately. I guess by “lately” I probably mean “non-stop for about 3 years, pretty consistently in an off-and-on way for seventeen or so years before that”.

My wife, who is very wise and beautiful, recently posted on her blog a link to a lecture that touched on a lot of subjects Writerly folk dwell upon often. Or so I would imagine. I’d imagine that other people who write and/or self-identify as writers dwell upon these subjects, I’m quite sure that my wife recently linked to said lecture.

Oh, and my wife (who is very wise and beautiful) was turned onto the lecture by Courtney, who is very funny and Canadian. So: shout out! (S’up, Courtney?)

If you didn’t watch the lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert, I can sum up the parts that were important to me (other than the Tom Waits stuff which is Always Important) thusly: Sometimes an idea flutters down, unbidden, onto a writer and the writer is flustered or frustrated because they are driving, or grocery shopping, or sleeping, or doing one of the million things that writers (like everyone else) needs to do in order to- you know- get by in life- let alone write.

She mentions, I think, the old “notebook by the bedside” for those midnight visitations from the muses. I know some people who keep notebooks in their cars which seems a bit dangerous to me, but I drive a Vespa. Plus, my chicken scratch is illegible even to me, so it’s moot. If I had been born in a pre-typewriter/computer age, I would doubtless have been very, very disappointed in my ability to tap into my skull and drain out the ideas, because the only way I can keep up with my creative thought process is by speed-typing. Fortunately, I type really fast. Spelling and punctuation and grammar, eh, not so much. But that is why I think of myself as a Storyteller, not a Writer. (Semantics, pah!)

That ability- to tap into my skull and drain out the ideas- is pretty much vital for my mental health. “Creative Trepanning” as Yojo (whom I have always loved) calls it. Knowing her, she might mean ways to creatively conduct trepanation, but I prefer to assume that it is a metaphor. I said something to my Wife (wise & beautiful) today about writing and paused, as I sometimes to, do muse on the time when I didn’t write.

“Oh, you did write- you just had no direction or focus, but you were constantly writing. Some of it was pretty good,” I paraphrase her response so.

and she’s right- about that I always am writing, even if it has no direction. For the past 3 years I’ve had direction. Prior to that, especially during my tenure as a D-Boy, I did write but it was unfocused. Some of it, in retrospect, isn’t half bad. Some of it can be salvaged. Some of it is best forgotten- but I definitely feel that if an idea doesn’t bear fruit or pan out as expected, it goes back into the stockpot. Did I just mix those metaphors? Was that a catachresis? Well, you could use fruit in a stock, and gold-panning by definition did require a pan…

GAH. Enough!

If the muses are like butterflies (and Gilbert called them Genius, and that is her thang, but I call them muses because they are all willowy floating androgynous things in diaphanous gowns to me) and they sometimes come and go before we have a chance to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard- this bothers me not a bit. For me, every idea that flutters down and brushes across me leaves some trace of itself, some pixie dust… the way a butterfly leaves microscopic traces of the powder from it’s wings.

“It isn’t powder, its feathers,” says the wise and beautiful Missus.

“I said I’m a storyteller, nuthin about being a fucking lepidopterist!” I snarl.

But those ideas, powder, feathers, and pixie dust- some portion remains. I won’t remember the well-formed and beautiful phrase I found while riding my Vespa down Pico. I won’t remember the crystal-clear observation that drifted into my mind like a perfectly designed insect- one of those creatures with the miniscule life span but the perfect amount of time to carry our it’s built-in organic directive. But they do leave a trace. And many muses flutter in and out and sometimes leave before I can fully capture what they are whispering to me- that is ok! Because the more that come (and go), the more traces they leave.

The little tidbits, the glimmers of ideas the scraps and shards of creation- those are what simmer in that ole stockpot, creating the vicious gumbo that has become my own personal mythology. I think a lot about that personal mythology, this post-modern sludge filtered through constant reading and watching and listening and imagining. Sometimes I can just use it in its raw form. Sometimes I have to pull out an ingredient and isolate it and reduce it and strip it of all the cling-on flavors from the personal mythology and…

And oy.

Our friend, Chia, who is beautiful and awesome and married to an awesome fella, recently linked to an article that likens Writing to a Disease- it’s wonderfully written and quite funny, and very true in many ways.

It got me to thinking about my own process, or what passes for it, and my not-so-secret wish to have a cinderblock room with no windows and a single door (with a lock) containing a computer and a chair. I mean, and a small desk for the computer and keyboard/mouse and speakers (I need music when I’m writing much of the time) but it’s the Chair that is important. It needs to be comfortable- but not too comfortable. I don’t have a lot of padding on my ass and a hard chair can create serious discomfort. I also sometimes write in the nude.

There. Go ahead and get THAT out of your head.

Now here is the thing, Brad Listi writes (in the “Writing as Disease article”) that many writers really dislike writing. Or at least they dislike the creative process that leads to writing. He quotes Gloria Steinem’s infamous “I do not like to write, I like to have written”.

I dunno, but here is a secret y’all: I love writing. It’s the best and cleanest high I’ve ever attained. Writing is my favorite thing in the world and if I could get away with spending a good chunk of every day locked in that cinderblock cell, nekkid and typing and singing along with whatever I was grooving on- Goddamn, Y’all. What a wonderful world that would be.

I no longer worry about running out of ideas, you see, because they just don’t go away. Not entirely. The muses are merciful and leave something every time they visit. It’s enough to fuel the machine.

Maybe if I ever attain any level of success (including failure) I will worry about that. Is it commercial enough, what if this doesn’t sell as projected, will the critics be kind…? Feh.

But the actual writing? Pure fuckin’ joy.