To my inner critic: on being a writer

05/14/2012 § Leave a comment

I have one foot lodged in adolescence still. It didn’t seem to bother you these last few years, while I was mucking about in my early twenties (I am twenty-five now). You assumed I’d grow out of it eventually; that I’d drag both my feet into the pool of adulthood and become a contestant in the lifelong game of thrash-or-drown. A late-bloomer, that’s what you called me then. “You’ll figure it out, it’s never too late.” Little did you know that my adolescent foot was bolted and nailed to the floor.

Now, though, you are different. You call me immature, tell me to grow the fuck up. You say: “Why can’t you hold down a regular job?” “Why can’t you just get on, like normal people?” My relentlessly hopeless optimism gets on your nerves, like a bad case of termites. “If you haven’t made it by now, you’ll never make it as a writer.” “You’ll have to eat your goddamned words in a month.” “I know it sounds harsh, but this for your own good.”

And your bitterness never fails to surprise me. You seem to think that my very existence is mocking yours somehow; that I am purposely driving myself into a life of poverty and wasted promises while you continue to show me the better, more productive way. You’re afraid I’ll end up as a suicidal skunk in your mind’s backyard.

It’s not that I don’t grow tired of it all sometimes, you know: the monthly scampering for rent, the growing pile of “you’re-not-right-for-us-but-don’t-give-up-on-writing!” letters, yet another stint in a cubicle that ends in a face-to-face with a grim-faced HR coordinator, friends and lovers finally seeing me for what I am (a loser, a child, a deadbeat) before slowly walking away.

So maybe there is something to all your howling and scowling after all. Perhaps the world has enough trapeze artists. Art too is a zero-sum game, more often than not—someone’s got to take the fall, bite the dust. So why not me? I’m nothing special; the smidgen of talent I have with words isn’t worth a pretty penny. And as you like to remind me daily, it’s never too late to give up. I can still go to grad school, find a decent career, and move into that middling North American life that’s expected of one such as me: a wife, a two-story house in the suburbs, and couple of kids watching Nickelodian in the back of a SUV. Perhaps there might even be a big, furry dog that knows how to keep a silent company.

So why do I persist?

It’s like this. My happiness—my capacity to feel well and sane in this entropic universe—depends on my ability to write. Let’s face it: we’re all going to die. You, me, and everyone we know. Over time (time—what spurious concept!), even our sun will decay and shrivel into a cold white sheerness in the black of space. It will be so, however unimaginable it might be now. I look up in the sky, and I feel infinitely insignificant. Laying down my thoughts on a blank white space is the only way I know to sustain myself, affirm my existence (sex has similar effect, but is much more difficult to attain and can sometimes backfire). I write so I know I am here. It’s not a means to a comfortable life (in all honesty, I cannot perceive such a thing). Nor is it means to some deeper existential truth. It’s a matter of survival, an end in and of itself. It just so happens that any such expression is often perceived as art.

It’s grandiose, and I know you don’t buy it. Nor should you. We’re different people, you and I. To you, everything is palpable and real. To me, even my own body sometimes feels like a mirage. So you can hardly blame me for the way I am when there are no alternatives. “Growing the fuck up” the way you want me to would require nothing less than a lobotomy. (Did it ever work for the gays?) I don’t want to live a deadened life. I want to keep looking up. I want to thrive in my small, insignificant words with all the hurt and beauty they entail.

Consider this, if you will, a break-up letter. I’m grateful for your concerns but they’re not for me.

All the best,

M.B

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