Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why I Write, or 100 Blogs of Solitude

This is my 100th blog post, a number that is not a big deal for some but certainly a highlight in the snoozefest known as my life.

So I thought I would do something "special." I contemplated a "Greatest Hits" blog, but I couldn't think of any hits or special favorites, not that I would gratuitously insert links to old entries or tried-and-true chestnuts, so instead I will address a Major Big Subject With Capital Letters That Illuminates Our World.

In the grand tradition of lame anniversary pieces, such a post should be hackneyed, dead serious, and use words in French (Latin is also acceptable). Such a piece should be weighty. It should tell you something.

Thus, I will tell you Why I Write, which is not only a subject that someone who blogs about "the writing life" should address, but is also a subject that can completely flummox me, as when I am near a breakdown after 17 straight hours of writing crap and I cry, "Why do I fucking write? Why? Why? Why?"

George Orwell penned a famous essay entitled "Why I Write," published in 1946. In 1976, Joan Didion wrote an essay of the same title, and now, I do the same in 2006. No more such essays until 2036.

Orwell fully admits there is more than a bit of the unknown in the question he sets out to answer: "All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness."

Amen to all that, but for me, there's much less mystery. I have loved fiction forever, and since I was young, thought that I might be adept at expressing myself through the written word.

Though I am plagued with the desire to create or perform, I'm too withdrawn to act, have too much dignity to try standup, and I sing like American Idol castaways. I am far too uncoordinated to paint, dance, play an instrument, or hold a glass object in each hand without the serious threat of dropping one or both of them.

Fortunately, I could always hold a pen without letting go. Starting back in my college days, I carried around a notebook of ideas that popped into my head. These ideas were brilliance beyond brilliance (or so I thought at the time) and it was obvious that the best manner to give them life would be the printed page.

For instance, I once envisioned a production of "West Side Story" in which one gang wears New York Jet uniforms (full gear, with shoulder pads and helmets), and the other gang wears giant prosthetic shark heads. I probably would have a little trouble reinterpreting "West Side Story" in this manner, though "Maria" might be a little more bearable if Tony sang while wearing a helmet and mouthgard.

Shark heads

I could not bring my bold vision to stage, but I couldn't forget about it, either. Could I paint it? Write a song about it? Chisel a giant marble statue of Bernardo that resembled the famous "Land Shark" of old Saturday Night Live days?

No, the only way to include my costumed version of "West Side Story," I ruefully concluded, was to write a fictional account of this production. (Which I did, in my terrifically bad, unpublished first novel).

As all these ideas sprang forth out of my sophomoric mind, I spent my waking hours writing for the college newspaper. Among other duties, I wrote a sports column festooned with my photo, an image that is so seriously cringe-worthy today that I might pucker up into a dried apricot if I were to look at it again.

One of my columns, a well-reasoned thesis about the negative I.Q. scores of New York Mets fans, created a mini-tempest on campus. A lot of pissed off New Yorkers called my house all day and night and said some not-so-nice things about my mother, and some seriously angry folks wrote letters to the editor.

Suddenly, I was the subject of campus discussion, and, sadly, I loved it. Every damn second of it, and, in retrospect, it was probably the worst thing that could have ever happened to me. I've been trying to recreate that moment ever since, with my fiction, to no avail.

My talent with words, my need to express ideas and stories, and fatal ambition have thus delivered me into the realm of fiction writer, however unrealized those ambitions became. Also, by nature I am shy, withdrawn, and self-reflective (i.e., nerdy, anti-social, and neurotic), perfect personal traits for a writer.

I probably could have pursued career in non-fiction with more success, except for the fact I have all these damn stories in my head, trying to escape.

They still suck

Wife thinks I should write more first-person essays, and I have considered penning a book involving a certain addiction (not having to do with money, sex, or any type of intake).

As those of you who wandered over to Storyfraud can figure out, short stories are not my strength (maybe I'll put up novel excerpts instead), but the idea of abandoning fiction rips a major hole in the gut. To come this close to publishing a novel gives one hope and energy, and also healthy doses of insanity.

In this vein, I got a rejection notice the other day for a short story, on which the editor (I presume) wrote, "Thanks, [Bookfraud]!"

Of course, I interpret this not as a word of encouragement, but that she had read my blog (whose address I foolishly included in the cover letter), seen my animus towards literary magazines, and decided to write a thank you note following my complaint that editors ever bothered to write them. It couldn't have been that she might have liked the story.

Such is the life I've chosen.

So, as I have urged dozens of others in person or online, I keep plugging away, never abandoning hope, hoping for that novel to sell, hoping that I can get a few iotas of recognition in this lifetime, and hoping that one day very soon, Wife will bring home Uma Thurman to live with us.