Friday, August 23, 2013

A perfect art

When it comes to writing – creative writing, not work-related writing – lately I feel as if I’m suspended in a tank of water, just floating in place, my dress ballooning outward and my hair streaming all around me, my closed eyes giving me an almost fetal aspect. I imagine it as being in a sensory-deprivation chamber; I don’t take anything in, not with my eyes or my ears or even, really, much with my mind. Nothing touches me except the water.
I’m having the kind of bush-league doubts that I once felt I was beyond; I’m questioning the point of even writing fiction in the first place, wondering about the value of “making stuff up,” things that might or might not be authentic, factually or emotionally. I recently remembered a story I wrote years ago, whose premise I still like – a gay Christian guy is about to get married to a girl he met through his church, after undergoing “conversion” therapy; the girl had been a supportive friend throughout his painful ordeal, and now it was the eve of his wedding to her. Only he can’t sleep, so he drives downtown and, for the first time in his life, he goes into a gay bar. I don’t tell you what does or doesn’t happen in there, but he marries the girl.
Remembering that story, I got excited at first and wanted to go home tonight and “re-tool” it, polish it and publish it – but then I thought, “Who am I to write about what it feels like to be gay and about to get married to someone of the opposite gender?” Sure, I could do research – Googling around to find people’s similar real-life stories would at least be a start – but I can never really know. And I worry about some poor word choice, some unconvincing bit of dialogue, giving me away as a voyeuristic fraud.

I’m thinking all of the thoughts that I once considered death knells for writers – I’m wondering what to write about in terms of, “What does humanity most need to read right now?” I have long thought that the second you start thinking like that, you’re done – that writers must feel urgently, passionately compelled to write about the things they write about; that the mere fact of that urgency’s existing is justification enough for writing the story or the non-fiction piece. 

* * * 
I think one mark of adulthood might be a certain degree of compromise – and a certain degree of vaunting this compromise, of regarding it as a grim virtue, even if through teeth gritted in resignation. 
Just now I found myself trying to think of how I can make the shape of my days, my weeks (every week of the year except for my allotted two weeks of paid vacation time), a little bit better, a little less “same." 

I thought of waking at 5 a.m. to go for a sunrise jog by the lake. I thought of mixing up what I do during my lunch hour each day of the week. Like, one day I could bring my home laptop across the street to use the free WiFi at Au Bon Pain and get some writing done, another day I could walk for half an hour (then half an hour back) in a new-to-me direction spoking off from Union Station, one day I could try out a new food truck from the ever-changing line-up that forms in front of The Dubliner each workday around noon, one day I could go to the on-site gym. I thought of seeing how many different combinations of clothing items and jewelry pieces and make-up colors I can assemble each day before I run out and have to start repeating. 

Basically, of doing anything except what I do now, which is get up at the same time, at “the last possible minute,” and go to the same place during lunch, and wear whatever is on top of the pile or handy in the closet, a sleepwalker getting dressed in the dark.
And then I start to think that all of that is so paltry, like just barely staving off death, poking a hole with a straw through a coffin, through a grave plot, but staying down there in the dirt.
I think another mark of adulthood – specifically, the point in life at which you’re past adolescent questions of whether you fit in or how you fit in, past worrying about things such as what makes you unique or special and are you brainwashed or not – is fretting over how you should live. “Am I happy enough? Am I fulfilled? Am I on my way toward accomplishing what I want to be remembered for after I die?” We’re now past questions of context – “Where do I fit into this scene? Am I higher or lower than this person, am I special, am I just some sheep?” – and on to the deeper, more solitary and yet more universal question of what are we actually doing here in this life? Is this it? Is this good? Should I be better? (If you’re me: Why aren’t I better?)

* * * 
I obsess over questions of self-importance. What do I have to do in order to lead a life that others will perceive as selfless enough? And why should I even care about that, or are these both exactly the kind of questions that a consummately selfish person would ask?
Why do I self-chastise and self-flagellate every time I think I’m being selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, self-important? I mean, I get it from a crude evolutionary-biology standpoint – you have to be aware of others or you die, or those in your care (a baby in a papoose, say) die. But why are people so repulsed by it in other, minor, modern ways that run no risk of causing anyone else any harm? (If you post one too many self-aggrandizing self-portraits or self-referential short stories or blog posts, say?)  
Sometimes I fear that there’s no getting around it. I’m the only lens I’ve got; the only filters I have are my own or those I’ve chosen to slide into place. I can’t ever be somebody else; I can’t ever not be me. All I can do is write things as me, even if I’m pretending to speak for somebody else. (The writer John Gregory Dunne, longtime husband of my favorite writer/essayist Joan Didion, said that a novelist has only one character – himself.) But why write anything when the whole enterprise seems destined at the outset to fail? I can only ever tell you what the view is like from where I stand.
Maybe it’s an interesting view. Maybe it’s not all that different from your view, so you can relate to it, but it’s different enough to be of some value to you, to show or tell you about something that you’re unable, or that you weren’t in the right place, to see from where you are. Maybe it has some value and I should stop expecting it to be a perfect art.

No comments:

Post a Comment