Saturday, August 23, 2014

Good vs. Great

Why am I paralyzed when it comes to writing?

I know it's my gift. It comes fluidly. I don't mind revising and rewriting. I don't mind trashing huge chunks and starting over.

I suppose that the problem is two-fold. First, I don't want to be mediocre. Second, I don't know where to begin.

The problem with mediocrity is probably the lesser of the two evils I face. I understand that writing is an apprenticeship. I have paid my dues; I am more than willing to work hard. I am capable of looking critically and deeply within myself. For fuck's sake, I do that on a daily basis. I see so much writing out there that's worse than mediocre. I read widely: reviews and journals and newspapers and novels and memoirs. I recognize talented writing. I get paid to fix other people's writing. I have been complimented on my writing since I was five years old. I see people with far less talent falling all over themselves, proclaiming their talent from rooftops: I read what they write and it's like riding a bicycle over a road with deep potholes. Not that there sometimes aren't good ideas; it's stumbling in the execution.

What is it that holds me back? Is it my lack of identity? Is it fear of putting myself out there, laying myself bare? Calling myself an artist? Knowing that it's impossible to please everyone? Knowing that I will be subject to the inevitable criticism and not being sure that I can weather it? My skin is quite onion-thin.

Why is it that I don't let anyone intimidate me when it comes to my intelligence, but I cannot avoid this soft spot when it comes to prodding? Not that I fear people when it comes to the actual writing. I am quite all right with my mechanics. It's the content, which leads neatly into problem number two.

What is it that I am meant to explore?

Sometimes I believe that I should write a memoir. My story is certainly seamy and lurid enough without embellishment. Full of heartache and success and heartache again. I have thought of beginning at least a hundred times. Then again, I feel too young. I am not sure what the ending should be. I also feel so desperately disappointed by my life, and the market prefers upbeat stories. An essay, perhaps, on finding my brother? I do love the short telling of that phone call, the description of my brother's voice. The anticipation. The relief, the plans to meet my first blood relative.

Or as I just said to Linda, a consideration of how people treat us as a result of our non-human status. What is it that allows people to think of us as unicorns and fairies, and thus dismiss us/ignore us so roundly, perfectly, completely?

Should I write a novel? I had been thinking abstractly about a scenario in which I awakened in the mid-1990's, studying for my oral exams, to find an iPhone next to my bed. On the phone was a picture of a man who looked achingly, shockingly like my father. Only then I hadn't truly begun to search, I wouldn't have known what an iPhone was, etc. How would this device have helped me/hurt me? Would it have allowed me to contemplate things, or would it have shattered me even more profoundly? Driving back from Reno, I imagined a paragraph that involved waking up on a hot, Saturday morning in summer (maybe 1995), the sun streaming through my window. Books were piled next to my bed, photocopies strewn on the floor. Dates from the Raj were dancing around my head, notebooks filled on my desk, flowers in water, reflecting the light on my bedside table. The warm sun illuminated Will's frecked shoulders; I noticed his even breathing, the red stubble on his cheeks. I remember that, so achingly. I remember waking up to read Northanger Abbey. What if I woke up to find that iPhone?

I have only ever written academic work at length, though.

I don't know if I have a novel in me.

I think about Anne Lamott's father and his prescription, "bird by bird." I don't know.

I have to mull this over.