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On Not Writing

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I’m not writing. And now I am writing about not writing. An author/filmmaker once told me that not writing is part of writing. So, it’s all writing?

I’m pissing like it’s a hobby, like an amateur. It’s all over the toilet seat and running down to the floor.

All this thinking but not writing makes Jack not know the shit from the Shinola.

I tell people I’m writing a memoir but I spend more time thinking of the book title instead of typing words. Full of Fuck. Stories Not My Own. Lesser Deaths. As if this will conjure elevators where there are only stairs. I want the finish without starting.

FACT: I am not irony deficient.

Is this how my art manifests? I mean, are acts of contradiction and internal struggle just my nature? This is when I walk the hot coals of self-help platitudes.

Just do this, be this, think this.

I divorced to do this. I sold a house to do this. I quit a 24 year career to do this. I did these things so I could live a true life. Didn’t I? What the fuck am I doing?

I remember driving my great-aunt to my house for Thanksgiving the first time writing and I would be associated. We weren’t close, such had been the Irish side. Yet this legacy of disconnection seemed downright warm and welcoming compared to the nonexistence of the Italian side, thanks to a father who was too busy playing a trumpet for Stan Kenton. That, and the kind of familial shame only the Catholic Church could create with the birth of an illegitimate child.

Auntie Vee was a shrunken, eggshell-frail woman that had been taller once, much taller. Such was the Irish side, but osteoporosis had taken her spine and turned it into a permanent question mark. It looked like she was bearing a crushing but invisible burden. This too was a characteristic of the Irish side.

She lived alone, never married and no children. Alone is how the Irish side finish their lives. She wore polyester pantsuits. Never dresses, not even in the few photos we had of her before my birth. My mother suspected her aunt was secretly gay. But mom’s gay paranoia extended to anyone, possibly everyone, even her only son.

As we fussed with a special pillow-wedge to support her back I could see worry growing in her eyes. I’d almost died in a motorcycle accident two years prior at the ripe age of 17…driving and I was something to worry about. Her fear looked like it could turn deadly so I stuck to the surface streets and drove slow. Who wants Thanksgiving turned into an awkward holiday tragedy? Turkey. Football. Some bullshit about Pilgrims and Indians. That time I killed my great-aunt.

We only saw each other occasionally during the holidays so I filled the familial void with a lot of talking about nothing. I talk a lot when I’m nervous. She broke my blathering with a blunt question.

“What do you want to do?”

“As in a job?”

“Yes.”

“I think I want to be a writer.”

“Well, you are awfully young to be a writer. You have to live a while before you can write,” she replied. Her tone sounded like a subtle put-down, a family tradition my mother had warned me about.

And so it went when conversations drifted — people would enquire what I’d like to do beyond the grocery job that I hated. I would inevitably answer, “I think I want to be a writer.” It got to a point where I’d snicker inside after saying those words. A self-loather’s repertoire is nothing without denial of the heart.

Predictably, the follow-up would be, “Have you written anything?”

With shame lumping in my throat I’d have to answer that I hadn’t, that it was more of a dream than anything else. Faces would get all screwed up in confusion. It was a lovely contradiction and part of me would hurt when I would admit that — the part of me that wanted to write. Needed to write. But I kept that part caged and gagged with a gimp ball.

It didn’t matter if my great-aunt’s opinion was right or wrong, whether or not it was a conscious clip of my self-esteem. A childhood of feeling unworthy leads down a path of self-betrayals. Among those betrayals, some near lethal, writing remained a calling that I would refuse.

I read about Michael Heizer recently, an artist that has spent his life building a monolithic magnum opus in the remote Nevada desert. It’s art of a scale and purpose that runs straight into the arms of insanity. The stuff of pyramids and great walls. It is not dedication, not discipline. It’s compulsion.

I’m jealous.

His madness makes me wonder about flow. Attempting to fish with bare hands or comprehend the subatomic is probably easier. Words coalesce and then wink out. Others appear, morph, build upon themselves. It’s strongest when I am driving, something to do with objects in motion. A silent part of me tries to break through into consciousness. The world fades. Did I just blow a red light? Shit, I missed my exit. Where am I going again? It’s dangerous.

When I stop so do the words.

Maybe I should ride trains, that’d be safer. My homeless uncle did. Mom said he went all the way to South America. She also thought he was the headless body my child-eyes watched being loaded into a corner’s van.

I mean, was it her brother? Did he want to die near his sister, if only to have a final semblance of connection to the family that shattered in his youth? By eerie coincidence, by being at my friend’s house that early morning, by us looking over her backyard fence, a fence that just happened to face the train tracks right where the body lay, did I, his family, bear witness? When I told my mother what I saw was I his unwitting herald?

She never saw or heard from him again.

I thought once I sincerely chose to write sparkly inspiration would shoot out of my fingertips. The momentum would carry me like the smell of failing brakes down a steep grade. All-consuming flames of want would possess my motivation. Words would involuntarily gush out all my holes make a mess on the floor, just like the staggering compulsion of Michael Heizer’s acts of art.

My journey is almost never that. When it is it’s fleeting. Mostly it’s The Narrator and Tyler Durden. It’s Morpheus and the bad actor hero. It’s making love to words while cage fighting them. It’s awkward pubescent foreplay. It’s fuck it, then continuing. It’s rabbit turds.

Then there’s the rationalizations, the acts of avoidance, the self-hate. Bits of bullshit wrapped in bent logic and worn as hats:

Writing will never sustain me, put food on the table.Writing won’t take care of my son’s chronic illness. What do I know of writing? No one will take me seriously without a college education. Better to take what skills I have, fluff them up, and peacock my soul to someone else. Better to find a lover’s story to lose myself in, to sail upon a romantic boat of distraction and attempt to compute incomprehensible people math. I’m failing. I’m lazy. I’m a petulant child. I’m a fraud. 

I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be a writer. I don’t know what I want.

Intention, planning, strategy…these things have foiled me consistently in life. The Do = Be = Have equation doesn’t work. It’s focus is external. It’s methodology requires a sense of incompleteness, an everlasting yearning for attainment.

A few days ago I woke with a strong sense of direction that comes from somewhere beyond intention. It is an occurrence that is so rare it feels alien. All I know is that big changes come when I experience this. I don’t want this feeling to be fleeting, dissolving undefined.

Now I want to delve deeper, to listen intently. I tried a visualization technique I learned recently that helps with clarity. It seems like woo-woo shit I’m always suspicious of but there is science to back it.

I’m standing on a beach, facing the ocean. The waves come and go. I concentrate on what’s troubling me, how it feels, where that feeling resides in my body. It’s a deep ache, a heaviness that smothers my heart. I reach into my chest and it pull out. In my hands an oozing tarry black substance hangs with an uncanny heaviness. I throw it in the sand and wait to see what happens, letting whatever comes next to unfold without influence.

A wave crashes, swirls around the blackness and drags it out to the sea. Another wave crashes, it’s foam-laced edge sliding up the beach to my feet. As it retreats a sword lies in the sand, sliver blade and gold pommel catching the sunlight.

A friend said that in Buddhism swords represent decisiveness. I don’t believe in Buddhism.

Photo credit: Edna Winti/Flickr
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