Ah, smell that freshly roasted coffee in the morning. A new red Moleskin notebook and a Montblanc pen, ready for work. Just enough background noise to set the mood. All sorts of brilliant, gorgeous people milling in and out with joe. What stories they could tell! Camille Saint-Saens is ready on the iPhone. What a perfect day to write!
Dreams appear often in my work. Well, ditto here. Much like its correlate in love, great writing’s often brought off on the run. After the day job, during lunchtime – when your mind’s grating against boredom, mindless chatter, spreadsheet work – that is the time. The place can be the park, a bench – hell, just a chair away from others. You carry paper with you and a Bic. Your goal is paragraphs – you’ll take the one or two at lunchtime, then another page at six.
Survival, bills – Fuck Student Debt, responsibilities, The Works. You’re lucky that you have a mind to dream, to wander off at moment’s notice from inertial misery. You’ll take that sunlight between buildings, lovely silhouette, a robust gesture, clever formulation overheard. The key is all in fixing up your vessel for The Pour.
Charged by caffeine, familiar chords, your pregnant gaze bores holes no more. The tap is on. Out of the gates, the flow consumes. Details arise with dazzling clarity. Your phrases turn precisely through the winding scene. Your bullshit meter’s quiet. You are on and hooked. After a half an hour of controlling ADD, All Pistons Go!
Oh no! Your sorry hour’s gone, kaput. Well, damn it, why, just as the moment had arrived… Run to the subway, then back home. Your fingers twitch for ink. Your mind aches for the heightened state. World citizen, reduced to diaper duty. FML.
Well, that’s the rub. The contrast of two lives at once – three? four? how many characters you got? – it doesn’t kill you, it just saps your strength. Or is that Evil Inclination speaking, driving you away from duty? The answer, my friend…
The truth is always in the middle – you admit it now. Between the poles of madness and civility, frustration, triumph, focus and distraction, there is Essence. Epiphanies of youth ring hollow, now ill-fitting rags. The Hand of Providence has dealt you womps and wallops with the caviar.
Didn’t they suffer, all of them, you ask. Kafka and Proust and Hesse and Mann, all of the greats? We never hear of “petty” life with family, except for “nagging wife” and “muse.” Plain Livin’ just ain’t sexy for the headlines. But “Existence” is. Alas. The maxim – happy wife, to life! – holds true for writing, just as well.
After the years of failing improv with your time, you’ve found the cure. Scarcity, friend, does wonders. Yes – there, I’ve said it, Bless The Deadline. A stricter, harsher frenemy, you’ve never met. It trails you like a bloodhound through procrastination, angst, disgust with self, and finally the small successes, then big breakthroughs – even the weird calm long before you’re done. It sucks your life and pisses off your loved ones, but it works. An ultimatum sharpens swords and pens, no less one’s thoughts and formulations. The magic happens, only thus.
What makes you write, some ask. Read: what the F***’s the matter with you, brilliant weirdo? What is the secret juice or drug – elixir? LSD? – that feeds such thoughts and stories? Spill the beans! Not many of us writers would admit it willingly… STRAIGHT, UNADULTERATED FAILURE! That’s the stuff!
How else does one deal with frustration in this biz? Rejection is a right of passage! Don’t expect much dough! Survive by hook or crook! Please keep that day job, loser. Yeah… Lottery odds of getting published, hitting big. A shrinking industry and readership, dilution by the printing masses, then assholes with no talent, prized. And here you are, fresh-faced greenhorn, alone to hack it in the shark tank. Prepare for blows, young man or woman. They come fast and hard.
Now throw that in with struggling to survive, “finding” yourself, finding and keeping that elusive mate and job, working and paying bills, saving – your soul first – and the rest. Perfectionists, stay calm. There’s no perfection underneath the sun.
Writers are misfits, failures, ne’er-do-wells, grumps, drunks and dreamers. That’s why we write, quite frankly – ‘cuz we just can’t deal. Some days, it’s shit our parents yoked us with – the complexes; on others, it’s just getting out the door. On good days, when we make it to the pedestal, we freeze. Distractions, hunger, anger, sloth (or ADD) will never – always – slow us down. Alternative realities ferment inside, giving intoxicating powers to one’s words.
The day job? Banking, lawyering, neurotic science, business. Done them all. Have all the scars to prove it, with the wisdom. And how ‘bout getting fired on your last day? Priceless. Working at Goldman? Check (two months). Driving without a license for 5 years? Complete. Decapitating rats for research? Even that.
Hell, life’s a trip… and it’s a wreck. Had the near-death in Spain, bought our first car at nine, a house – fifteen. Gee whiz, kid, how’d ya deal? Necessity, the mother (f**ker), made me do it. The single parent trap and Coming to America, being found by Moses, selling door-to-door. A thousand crazy schemes to make a buck. Impressing girls with art and stories, cooking desert feasts. Exploring every block and neighborhood by foot and eye. From Proust to learning how to hustle, even loving it. Quitting the Academe, returning, then “real life.” If only brain case walls could talk… they’d crush your notions, scattered to the sea.
Thankfully, age is a relaxant – if you’re not a Jewish mother. The ferment, you can bottle. Anger – well, you can transform. The endless contemplation gets convicted, finally, and forms a crust. You drain the swamps of indecision, put down roots. You zone your life, triage the problems, set up shop and sell. And ever after, count your blessings, fool.
Fret not, my friend, from need or want – or fear of death. There’s diamonds always in the shit of life, so learn to dive. And that’s just how I learned to live and love the bomb.