Too recently a person about whom I care too much, during an existential-angsty conversation about my own sense of worth(lessness), told me she couldn’t think of one thing at which I am definitively good. This would’ve hurt coming from anyone, of course, but from her it felt like an admission of dishonesty. It broke my heart, and I told her so. But as I lay later that night in bed, unable to fall into a deep enough sleep so as to sooth my wanting, screaming soul, I thought about why it had hurt me so. Was it because she was so callously insensitive to my nature—the very same nature she claimed to love? Or was I bothered because she was right? Maybe I don’t have a defining, “true” talent. Maybe I’ve gotten by for so long on charisma and instinct that I’ve let the practical, technical know-how and ability completely allude me. Maybe I’m not as good at life as I thought I was. Maybe I’m just full of shit.
Sometime during my teenage years I started a semi-regular baseball column which I gave the title “Fearless Baseball Ramblings.” This column, which I emailed to assorted family and fellow baseball enthusiasts (eventually I put it on a website), was usually long and sectioned. The first part covered something or other I felt warranted attention. This was the feature and usually took up most of the column. The rest of the column had assorted one- or two-line thoughts or quips or rumors (which I probably stole from some other column), and I always segued the two sections with “Ramble On!” (this is when Zeppelin was a regular sound in my headphones). At the start of the baseball season I wrote a special “Fearless Baseball Predictions” column, the contents of which I’m sure you can figure out. It was fun.
The column had no regular schedule. I simply wrote whenever I wrote. Overall, it lasted a few years, and people usually enjoyed it. One day, during one of my semi-regular teenage temper tantrums, I wrote to everyone that I would be discontinuing the column because I was smothered beneath massive writer’s block and I would never write again. It was a big boo-hoo moment and I wish I could see again what I wrote so I can grimace pitifully at how little has changed. Nevertheless, after my throwing in of the keyboard, I received an email from one of my uncles who not so surprisingly told me, in so many words, to cut the crap and just write the damn thing. One line from his email that I to this day remember (and incorporate) explicitly: A writer only gets better by writing. So just write. And write. And write.
In the almost decade or so since that email I haven’t quite followed his to-the-point advice. I write a lot, of course, in various mediums (and my profession, after all, does require it). I’ve maintained several blogs (including this one for longer than I care to remember at this point), filled countless notebooks and sheets of paper. In this interstice I’ve also written two books of poetry and various columns and articles, so I can’t say I’ve followed through on my I-quit-writing declaration either. I write, I think, I write some more, I think too much, I write less. Thing is, as much as I write I probably don’t write enough.
When someone asks me what I do I tell them I’m a writer and a teacher, and this is only partially correct depending on who’s analyzing it. I am a teacher, so that’s not at all incorrect. But am I a writer? What are the qualifying characteristics of such a label? I often maintain that being a poet and being someone who writes poetry are two completely separate things. Does this apply for writing in general? Is it a profession? Is it a state of mind? Must writing be read in order for it to be writing at all? Must a writer write well? What is “well”?
None of these questions I can answer here, and so I won’t even attempt. It doesn’t even matter; I’m not trying to define what is a writer. Or am I? Who knows. Maybe the writer does. Anyway, my point (must writers have points?): I have always thought myself, despite whatever other personal zeitgeist I was in, to be a writer. This is not simply because I have always written “well” (there’s that damned word again…whatever it means) but because it’s always been my mindset. There, maybe I just answered my own question from before. But my (apparently outdated) line of phenomenological thinking tells me that all things metaphysical (ie, having the “mindset,” however nebulous that is, of a writer) must actually be dualistically attached to the physical of which it is meta. Or something. So, at what point must I actually write and craft and publish consistently in order to in fact be a writer? At what point must my mindset become manifest? At what point am I just playing pretend?
My problem, dare I say it, is not necessarily talent but consistency. I ebb and flow. I start projects but don’t finish them. I come up with great things; I come up with crap, or something that’s been said already. I write a lot; I don’t write at all. There is nothing in this list that separates me from any other writer (or any artist, for that matter), but I like to think myself distinct. What, perhaps, may distinguish me from others is that I like to chalk things up to flow and fate. It’ll happen when it happens, I say. But this, as I see it, is too passive. It ignores a certain level of reality that says in order to distinguish oneself (the goal of any artist) one must actually do the distinguishing, or the work that goes into the distinguishing. Talent alone is seldom enough. What my passivity ignores are those very words my uncle wrote to me those years ago. I need to shut up and do it. If I want to be great, if I want to overcome the piercing daggers of inferiority which have stabbed me all my life, I must do it. The longer one sits on something, the more opportunity he gives to another. I’m sick of watching other people be me.
If you have spoken to me sometime in the last year, or if you’ve paid attention to things I’ve written here, then you know well at my attempts towards wholeness. From August 2008 until roughly two months ago I thought, naively, that I had attained it. It is only in these last two months that I’ve been torn open, completely exposed, and I’ve come to realize just how much more I need to do. The thing with seeing yourself so nakedly in the mirror is that you’re often startled into non-movement, which eventually becomes regression because we try to seek comfort so as to ignore what we’ve just seen. Falling in love is easy; it’s in making love work where the trouble lies. The same applies to life and the self. I’m the process of making the self work so that I can make love work and then make life work. I’ve taken several measures in this, many of which I plan on sharing with you. And so here is the next: from here on out I will be posting to this blog on a semi-regular basis. My goal is a minimum of five posts per week on various subjects. This is not all, of course, but merely a space for open exercise. As this semester whittles down, I will also be picking up several projects I’ve let become buried under dust as well as explore some ideas for new movement. I will try to maintain some level of openness about my intents and my progress and just my doings, but I can’t promise immediately complete transparency. The focus of my coming work, I will say, is more creative and less academic. The techniques I’ve explored in order to do this all will not be easy, and the results will not always be pretty. One thing I’m fairly confident of, however, is that it will be me. Purely. Wholly. (Though not Holy…)
When we want someone to see something in ourselves, but that person simply doesn’t see it, the disillusionment and the sadness which comes can be paralyzing. For me, this time, it is galvanizing. In all my sadness and glory, here I come.