A brief post, but: My day started out really sucking. I accomplished almost nothing, and mostly lay around questioning all the things I had previously accomplished. Even things that ought to be unabashedly good–a publisher interested in seeing a revision of my novel, people writing to me about my book, seemed only to pile on the pressure until, if possible, I became even more of an inert blob than before. I decided that I hate writing and would probably never do it again except when absolutely necessary for my survival, e.g. replying to emails, the occasional book review, a Facebook status update or two.
Then I sighed and had a cup of tea and wrote a poem and a new first chapter for my old novel.
That’s the problem with being a writer…even if the net effect of your efforts is more stress than catharsis, you just can’t stop. It’s not surprising to me that many people who identify as writers also have some kind of mental illness or another. There’s a morbid, obsessive quality to the act itself; you’re compelled to shut yourself away from life for long intervals, you start to see life and people as things to be put in novels rather than as, well, things and people. I’m sure there are happy writers out there, but I haven’t met many of them. It seems to be the process by which neurotic people sublimate their introversion and hypersensitivity into something positive.
There are times when I thought I’d be happier if I stopped writing for creative purposes. In particular, when I started reading more about Buddhism. Meditation is supposedly the best thing ever for personal wellness, and it’s kind of the opposite of writing. It’s the process of emptying your mind of all thoughts, language, and associations. I’ve never been able to meditate well, despite a few (okay, not that many) earnest attempts, and I think the reason is because I’ve relied on language so much to filter my experience. Ever since I was a kid, whenever I’ve been frightened or overwhelmed by any strong emotion, I’ve always started up a running third-person commentary in my head…I remember doing it even before I could write.
In fact, one of my earliest memories is of me at dinner with my parents and I’m translating the whole experience into prose in my mind, e.g., “She waited impatiently for her drink, and was bitterly disappointed when the color-change bendy straw proved to be orange, rather than the blue that would complete her collection.” Okay, so I’m embellishing a little, but you get the picture. I’m not sure if it’s because I was read to so much as a kid or what, but I was always hyper-lexical, although I was fairly shy so most people didn’t it. Actually, I think it’s one of the reasons I was shy…try using the word ‘obsequious’ in a sentence when you’re six years old and see how many friends that makes you on the playground!
But in any case, I think the tendency to process an experience through descriptive language is a mixed blessing. When you’re always observing yourself, there’s a gap between you and any emotional reaction. This can be protective, but also isolating, because you later tend to use words instead of people as comfort, and even start to feel that you’ve lost some kind of authenticity. Growing up, I envied people who just reacted to things instead of deciding how they ought to react based on their observations of other people’s behavior or whatever. It’s really only in the past few years that I feel I’ve been more aware of genuine, unfiltered emotions, and I begin to see why people find them so overwhelming as to buffer them in the first place!
But as they say, it’s all a process, and in reflecting on this I realize how ridiculous it is for me to say that I’d stop writing or playing with words in my head; I’d just as soon stop breathing or eating. It might be cleansing for like a minute or a day, but as a long-term solution to my inner chaos? Not so much. Case in point: About five paragraphs ago, I said this would be a ‘brief’ post, and that’s honestly what I had intended…