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Archive for April, 2012

A further attempt to articulate thoughts on creating vs. sharing / writing vs. publishing.

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In the Hammer Conversations, Henry Rollins talked about being driven from one project to the next by a sense of desperation. He said, most notably, “I’m desperate to survive America.”

Maybe I’m looking over the railyard on my drive to work or writing a story, and suddenly Henry’s in my head, reminding me to stay desperate — because there’s so much to survive, for everyone, but certainly for artists.

Pounding a blender against the counter to dislodge some kid’s sugar-ice drink – I’m desperate to survive!

Filling up my humidifier before bed – desperate!

Even writing this blog feels like another desperate attempt to explain myself to myself.

At the end of my FAVORITE ANIMATED MOVIE EVER, The Plague Dogs, Rowf and Snitter, driven into the sea by an extermination squad, paddle into the fog toward an island that doesn’t exist, where they can finally rest, and eat, and be free after being treated terribly by all humans ever.

What really moves me is not their desperation, but the care they show one another, and that, as they’re being hunted down, they’re searching for a home – that they’ve given up on finding one in the world of people, but still hope for one elsewhere. They insist they’re good dogs, but the world has changed and there is no Reason.

My bedroom has glass doors with long blinds so that the light in the mornings comes through them in stripes. The stripes lay on the wall, quivering, broken by the angle of the ceiling, by pigeons flying past the window or the branches of trees moving in the courtyard of the apartment building. I’ve watched the stripes for hours after waking up. This morning I realized that desperation requires a sense of urgency that I don’t have much use for.

When I’m writing, stripes of light that move and darken little by little over the space of hours, and then move and lighten again. There is no desperation in this. It’s possible there’s something unhealthy about dwelling in infinite space and silence, but if explained in terms of spirituality, writing doesn’t seem so strange.

If I’m going to survive as a writer, it will be in finding these spaces as often as I can — in spending the first few hours of the day wide awake in bed.

If I’m going to survive as a person who sells books, I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes.

I make a distinction because I think, for me (maybe not for everyone), there is one.

I admire people who are driven to share their work or make money from it because I know they’re working very hard and suffering rejection on a moderate-to-massive scale. However, while on some levels I understand their motivations, I mostly don’t. Not really. Not beyond money, and what money is there, really, for most of us? I’d be thrilled to break even with my writing “career.”

Alina Simone, a musician I like, shares her nightmarish search for a producer in Chapter 2 of her book, You Must Go and Win. The entire chapter’s available to listen to for free:

What isn’t explained to my satisfaction is the question Alina asks herself – why is she doing this? Why is she forcing herself through these doomed performances?

Again, I think being a musician and making money being a musician (or being recognized for being a musician) are different goals; they’re not mutually-exclusive, but their motivations seem separate.

A lot of writers started writing and started sending things out, and they never really explain why they began sending things out, which suggests that for them, submitting their stories is as natural as writing them — that the two processes share the same space or are the same thing. Or that it’s taken for granted that what they’re writing is meant to be read, and it had been crafted from the beginning for an audience. Or that submitting stories is “part of the job,” suggesting there’s one job we’re all trying to do. And how vague is that?

I’m always hunting for reasons artists make the leap from creating to sharing, because I want to borrow the reasons for myself. I don’t need to connect with the reasons to appropriate them. There’s a certain amount of pretending in my day-to-day life, anyway; there are things I need to care about that I don’t. Blended drinks to be made with three squirts of this and three scoops of that. Also, I have a vague sense that needing to know why might be getting in my way, and I don’t want to be needlessly stubborn; then again, I really do need to know why, and I don’t think I am.

Here’s something odd:

Sometimes people ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a writer, and they ask, “What have you published?” and I say, “Not much,” and they say, “Don’t worry,” and I say, “I don’t,” and we’re both embarrassed and we find a way to not talk to each other anymore. Even now, my heart sinks thinking about it – endless conversations like these stretching into my future. When I do send stories out, or think about publishing my book, it’s mainly to avoid conversations like these. And I think that’s silly. Isn’t that silly? It is. I could just tell people I’m a part-time barista (which I am). But I never do.

Because I’m a writer.

Because I write.

There has never been a time in my life when I’ve had more freedom, and I want to protect it, or a time when I’ve truly liked what I’m doing, and I want to keep liking it. I only have a sense that if I keep doing as I’ve been doing, these endless days will continue to unwind, revealing things I can’t imagine now – revealing themselves, and all the days —  dogs and hunger, another summer in a car with no shoes, cool and noiseless, sharp and beating.

I said earlier that I have difficulty understanding why people share their work. I didn’t really mean that. Murder By Death recently performed in town, and after their concert, I gave them some stories that responded to their music in ways that might be hard to identify by anyone other than me. It meant something to give them the stories, whether they read them or not. I suppose it’s possible that strangers might connect with my stories in the same way I connect with other writing or music or art, and that this potential connection would be meaningful for both of us, or at for least that person. But I’m not driven to share with a wide audience in the same way I like passing around stories with my friends or with strangers whose work I admire or who I really like.

When I remember to, I send stories out with little feeling or urgency, except the urgency to get it over with. I do things that are interesting to me. Recently, I’ve been walking around my neighborhood, filming dogs. Dogs running back and forth along a fence, dogs watching me from bushes, dog toys on the ground. I’m not sure where any of this is going, but I like filming things. I’ve been making sketches from books about ancient mammals and mongooses. I’m thinking about making small, saddle-stitched books of children’s stories I wrote in response to people saying I should write children’s stories (I think they may change their minds). I’ve been walking around places nobody goes – patches of state land with old structures on them – where hawks hunt prairie dogs until it’s dark. I’ve also been filming the hawks and prairie dogs.

All of these things might be diversions. Maybe I’m not taking my fiction career seriously enough. But I like doing these things. Maybe if I keep preserving space for them, I can at least keep doing them, and at least keep writing. At worst, I’ll have worked a lot, with no restrictions, spending many hours making things or thinking about how to make them.

Maybe there’s an island, maybe not. Maybe I’m there. I don’t see the difference.


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