Monday, June 6, 2011

Stop lying about wanting to be a writer

Seriously, stop telling me you want to be a writer.

Stop telling me, “I’m going to publish a book!” before you’ve written a word.

Stop telling me you read a crappy book and thought, “I could do better than that! And I’m going to! As soon as my kids are grown/I have a week off/I finish reading Anna Karenina/I kick this heroin habit.”

Stop telling me, “I wish I could live my dreams and be a writer.”

You may wish you could live your dreams, but your dreams do not include being a writer. How do I know this? If you wanted to be a writer, you would already be doing it. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, writing is a fairly easy (and nearly free) endeavor. I (and you) can still make certain claims about where I want my writing to go: I can say, in all honesty, “I wish my writing didn’t suck” or “I would like to get paid occasionally to write” or “I would like my blog to have better than a 75% bounce rate.” BUT, I’ve never made some fool statement like, “God, if only I could write!” Because I just do it.

I rarely make up shit about what I wish I could do. For instance, I don't say:

“I wish I could play for the Yankees.”
“I wish I could be a doctor.”
“I wish I could be President.”
“I wish I could be a steam locomotive driver.”
“I wish I could be an astronaut.”

Because if I said any of those things, I’d be lying.

But, even supposing the above statements were true, there would be real impediments to me fulfilling those dreams. For instance, they don’t let women play professional baseball (and if someone threw a ball at me, I’d duck instead of trying to catch it). I might get arrested if I tried to practice amateur medicine; I’m not yet 35, and God hasn't yet told me he wants me to run for president; steam locomotives aren’t really around anymore; and they don’t allow people who are afraid of roller coasters to fly into outer space.

But there are a great many achievable ambitions in this world. If it’s your dream to man the Potato Ole fry station at Taco John’s, for instance, that is achievable. So is being a cashier or head of the IMF. And, even more fortuitously, but at a slightly lower income level than a Taco John’s employee: writer. See, you can do it alongside your paying job. You come home from your shit job, you feed the kids, put them to bed, spend a few minutes wondering what your purpose for living is, then remember: oh, yeah, I’m a fucking writer. And then you spend the next few hours writing, and you go to sleep feeling fulfilled.* You might even feel like you can make it through another day. It’s an achievable goal. You don’t even have to write every day; you can wait until your days off.

So why the fuck are you lying about wanting to be a writer?

There are 4 possible things you mean when you say “I want to be a writer.” Let’s examine them.

1. “I want to be a writer as my paid profession.”

Sure, I would like to be a professional writer too. Other things I would like: a 3-bedroom house with central air; a meal at El Bulli in Spain; permanent elimination of my stretch marks; immortality; a make-out session with Jon Hamm.** I mean, sure, we all want things, but some things you just have to file in the Highly Unlikely Category. 

But, you, when you say you want to make money from writing, it’s kind of silly, because, seeing as you never write, you must not actually like writing. So, you could have another job that you like as much or as little as writing, and it would probably pay you more.

2. “I want to be important/loved/happy.”

It’s okay to admit it. We all want to be important in our own way. I would love to be important. I try to separate my narcissism from my need to write, even though it's probably futile to do so.

There are many ways to be important. There are small ways to be important. A parent is quite important to his or her kids; Charlie Sheen is of fleeting importance to a great number of people. I think I'd prefer to be very important to a few rather than A Charlie Sheen (I'm assuming his own kids don't like him). Importance is all relative anyway. Natalie Goldberg wrote: “We think writing gives us an excuse for being alive. We forget that being alive is unconditional and that life and writing are two separate entities. Often we use writing a way to receive notice, attention, love….We are good people before we ever write a word.” I’m a tad more pessimistic than Ms. Goldberg, so I’ll allow that maybe you’re a bad person before you write a word; but writing won’t change your inherent qualities.

I think, though, that writers, due to the solitary nature of their work, are especially prone to try to use writing to gain love or friends. Or maybe I'm the only writer who feels this way. I sometimes have this idea that writing will help me compensate for my social deficiencies. No. Hasn’t happened. Whether or not I’m a writer is irrelevant, perhaps even detrimental, to my social life. Writing will not bring you friends, though it may bring you fans, which, I’m guessing, are an unsettling thing to have. Think about it.

As for being happy...good God, man, there are a million better ways to be happy. Try heroin first; if that doesn't work, take up fiction.

3. “I wish I were creative.”

It’s nice, I suppose, to have a visible reminder of the results of your labor, but I don’t know that it’s essential for general well-being or contentedness or whatever it is you seek. I don’t think so-called creative people are any better off than other types of people. I guess I don’t even know what creative means. Let’s use the word talented. Are talented people better off? No, in some cases they’re miserable, addicted, broke, and unable to maintain relationships as a direct result of their genius.

4. “I wish I enjoyed writing.”

You, of course, will accuse me of straw man assembly, but I really think this is what IW2BAW amounts to sometimes. I think you assume that since so many people write simply out of love for the activity itself, with no hope of reward or earnings, that writing is an inherently enjoyable activity. Yes; for some people, it is. But if it’s not something you enjoy, then doing it all the time won’t fill you with joy.

Hey, we all feel this way from time to time. I've thought things like, "Why can't I just get an urge to do something straightforward, like farming? Then I'd be happy!" I wouldn't really, of course. It's not a rational thought, but it's necessary; without striving comes stasis. Woody Allen acknowledged something like this when he said, “What I really like to do best is whatever I’m not doing at the moment.”

But upon examination, the oddity of this sentiment becomes apparent. I like what I like, and there's no point in wishing I derived pleasure from something else. 

* * * 

I’m a writer because I have to be; I don’t know how to do anything else. And I love writing. It’s a compulsion, but a healthy one.

If you want to be a writer, I encourage you to write, right now.

Otherwise, stop fucking lying about it.

*Sort of, although the realization that you wrote something stupid will probably jolt you awake during the night. 
**I would do things with Jon Hamm in addition to making out with him, but I didn’t want to say so because I didn’t want to come across as creepy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

What I Don't Eat: A compilation of customer demands

Here are my dietary requirements (these are nonnegotiable): I am allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, potatoes, strawberries, white cheese (yellow cheese is fine), and sorghum. I am squeamish about anything with tentacles. And certainly no raw seafood. Meat must be well-done, but not charred. I will not eat birds smaller than chickens or mammals larger than cows.

I do not eat anything I don’t know how to pronounce, which rules out quinoa, flageolets, and Wagyu beef. “Wagyu” just looks like the Japanese word for some sort of esoteric fetish. I do not eat anything I’ve never heard of, like yuzu. Spare me your descriptions. I do not want to learn.

I am gluten-free two days per week and this is one of those days. I’m not certain how I feel about Jerusalem artichokes or kimchi, and until I have an opinion on them, they are out. I do not understand why the same root is referred to variously as cassava, yucca, and manioc; I therefore deem this vegetable suspicious and will not eat it. I do not like seaweed, fruit salsa, kale, raw onions (including green onions), any strongly-flavored or salty cheese (gorgonzola, taleggio, and feta, among others), truffle oil, cold soups, varieties of pears I am unfamiliar with, freshwater fish, offal, nontraditional or European cuts of meat, bivalves, deep-fried foods, unexpected flavor combinations such as sweet/spicy and lavender/pomelo, any food in a semi-solid state (such as ketchup, gelatin, or yogurt), or any dish that contains chilis with more than 30,000 Scoville heat units.

I say all this because it seems that you do not have a single menu item that satisfies all of these requirements. This is unacceptable. Now ordinarily, I have quite an imperturbable personality, but I find myself on the verge of indignation and even, dare I say, outrage. I have never been to this dining establishment before (and I likely will never return), but I am your customer, and you are being flagrantly unaccommodating to my needs. All I really want is a plate of fettuccine. Gluten-free fettuccine. I would prefer fettuccine with lemon and peas, but I would even accept fettuccine Alfredo at this point. I see on the menu here that the chef's surname is Martinelli; I would think that a man of his lineage could handle this reasonable request.

This was to be a very special meal: I am here for a pre-Shrove Tuesday luncheon with my second-favorite coworker. It was supposed to be a time to relax and celebrate, but now it’s ruined. I certainly hope the modern art gallery we plan to visit after our meal does not display the same wanton disregard for the needs of its customers.

Well, I guess I’ll just take the short rib purée with pickled celeriac. Hold the hijiki.