Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why I Write

Despite my general skepticism of online psychological personality tests, I recently took one after seeing a reference to it on Facebook. The results were anything but surprising. Shock of all shocks: I am an individualist who defines myself in terms of how I am different from everyone else. That this is a category is a little disturbing but that’s beside the point. Because I like to think about myself (being self-absorbed is another characteristic trait) I read most of what the site had to say about my categorization. In reference to how people like me tend to fixate on our own thought patterns, particularly negative ones, the following advice was given: people with this type of personality are heavily dependent on their feelings; they think that if they can understand their feelings, if they can gain some sort of radical self-revelation, they will be able to overcome their circumstances. This is not the case, the most that they will gain is an understanding of why they are feeling those feelings right then, the knowledge or expression of what they are feeling will not actually help the situation.
The authority of the website I visited is irrelevant - it could have been written by the Argentinean Nazi Party, the International Union of Jungian Transvestites, or the Bank of America. The point is not that I have gained some deep psychological insight. I find the notion that self-expression may not be helpful disturbing not because I read it on the internet but because I have been suspecting the same thing for a few weeks now.
When I am feeling something particularly intensely I write it down. How intensely I am feeling said sentiment relates to the medium in which it is written (the hierarchy is something like: typed – pencil and paper – ink and paper [repetitive] – sharpie or pen on skin – knife in skin). What I am trying to do is get the thought out of my head; but when I really reflect on the progression of my writing over the last few years, why I am trying to get the thought out of my head has changed drastically. Two years ago, when I was working at Washington Graphics, I wrote my first short story. The words came to me as I was manning the rear end of a screen-print UV drier and I scribbled down the first few pages during my three-o-clock break. Over the next week or so I would actually carry my notebook with me around the production floor and whenever I was doing something with natural breaks I would write during the dead time (of which, as any screen-printer will tell you, there is often quite a bit). Several times on my return commute I had to pull over and write a few particularly pressing sentences before I even got home. For the first time, it felt like in years (the last two years of high school sucked rather magnificently), I genuinely felt that what I was doing was important and valuable and I didn’t want to miss a word. I didn’t want to loose the flow of prose that came so easily after reading most of Cormac McCarthy’s work over the span of a few months.
Although I tend to put it in similar terms, what I experience now is far different. When a thought is torturing me I don’t want it immortalized. I’m not worried about forgetting it before I can write it down. I want it out of my head. I think that somehow if I put the right words to my pain and misery it will go away. Or at least I’ll be able to stand back, get some perspective, and deal with it; and this is generally what happened even up until this year. Last winter particularly I was able to bind my feeling into poems to the point where they lost their burning immediacy (this was the I Hold Four Hydras series). In the last of that cycle I gained some measure of resolution and things generally did improve.
I’m not sure what has changed but writing no longer has this effect on me. In the last few months, the more I have written about my feelings the worse they have become. Instead of binding the ideas into prose or verse so that I can more easily deal with them, the writing has only caused me to fixate – to focus on my feeling so exclusively that everything else becomes dream-like. My writing has caused me to enter into foul fantasy-laden moods where I am unable to communicate, empathize, or care about anything except the object of my fixation and my own expressions of it.
So the question I must now ask myself is whether the entire ordeal is worthwhile. I feel that it is important for my ambitions as a writer for me to express myself in literary form. Writing is like any discipline - if I stop I tend to loose my edge and when I come back I find the practice awkward and imitative. But if I am honest with myself I have serious doubts about my originality, proficiency and potential as a creative writer. I do not seriously believe that my poetry or short-fiction, let alone the fantasy epics or alternate histories, will attract popular or critical attention. I write therefore, for myself: to entertain, amuse, or console, at the very least to give myself something to do. But if my writing no longer functions to these purposes, I wonder whether I can justify it. I wonder whether I can really claim that it is worthwhile to write bad love poems when the concentration caused by the writing of those poems is only exacerbating my distress.
I don’t really have a conclusion to this except to explain one idea of where I might go as a writer. What I need in my writing is to have something to occupy my mind, to keep me so wrapped up in an obtuse and irrelevant topic that the real and pressing concerns of my life become less real and pressing. I can write a dozen poems trying to deal with the threat of being alone all my life but when they are done and posted I won’t feel any less terrified. Conversely, if I spend that time writing about Tolkien or mountain climbing or dialogues between long-dead philosophers I may forget all about the fact that I have no real, tangible friends outside of my classes and be able to fall into bed exhausted, thinking about nothing but the implications of Ungoliant’s threatening of Melkor or the ethics of roped travel or just giggling at my own stupidity.

- On an unrelated note -

How this works: I write things, and then I edit them, and then I post them, and then you read them. And I know that you exist – blogspot has a statistics function, I’ve had more page views over the last few weeks than at any point since I was in Europe. This pleases me; I don’t post my writing in case my computer crashes, I post it so that other people can read it, so that I won’t be working in a vacuum. Yet I find it disturbing how little response my writing elicits. Is my work really so ineffective that it causes no reaction at all? Does it really leave you feeling blank and unaffected? Because that is what one comment in the last dozen posts says to me (and regarding that one comment: thanks, it really made my day). As I said before, I don’t think my writing is all that good, I don’t think I’m enriching the literary landscape by posting my miserable little pieces. I’m doing this in the hopes that people will respond in constructive ways, that people will tell me what works and what doesn’t, what they found interesting and what didn’t make any sense at all. It’s all pretty selfish but then it is a blog – that’s sort of the point.
The gist of what I’m saying is that I feel like I’m speaking into thin air, and I don’t like it; I talk to myself enough as it is, I don’t need a special way of doing it such that I can hope, but never know, that someone is listening.


  1. Mwaahahahaaa!

    Best regards,
    The Vacuum

  2. Sometimes I write just to get things out of me. I don't write stories; they're more like journal articles or the fodder for an autobiography. They take me deeper into myself, and things in my head get worse, but I know that I have to go in deeper to get at the root of things or else the things on the surface will never go away. Maybe this process is taking longer for you, and you're still in the getting worse phase. Or maybe it will just take a while for you to work out the balance. Or maybe it's like Inception and you have to get used to going between layers (just don't get too used to it) so you can be particular about how and when you use your ability to fall into a different mental space.