emptiness and writing

I think there is a type of emptiness to writing that I have yet to confront.

The process itself is an emptying. I am allowing thoughts and ideas to leave my mind and move onto the page. In some ways, I think that I am giving them permanence. They are no longer etherial, no longer bandied about in my brain. They are on the page. In some ways, they become an absolute. A concrete example of my thinking.

But they are also changeable, erasable. If I lose a document or a note, do I lose the idea? Not fully. No. But in part the idea or the thought or the notion could never be the same as it was when I originally wrote it. If it is replication then it is, of course, a replication. It is no longer original.

By writing and putting the thoughts onto the page I am creating something wholly original to myself. However, I am also removing a part of myself. When I peel away loose skin, it grows back. But the replacement is not the original. It is the replication.

When you think of it that way, writing is a removal of the interior self. The removed portion is made exterior and is no longer apart of the original source.

This is the fear that comes to me most often in writing. What if I were to remove an idea and nothing ever came to replace it? Essentially, what if I eventually say everything that I have to say? What if I have written something that was the best that I could have done and everything else is a dim replication of the only good idea that I had?

I think about this often. Largely because when I finish something I don’t always have an idea waiting for me. I sometimes have false starts and begin to get nervous that there are no more stories in me. Would that be tenable? Could I handle that type of silence?

I can say that I have been writing steadily for nearly two years. About 500 words a night for most nights. Many stories have been finished in that time. Even one novella. Will there always be things to write? Will I run out?

I’m not sure. I can say that I will always have a fear of emptiness. I don’t want to be a dried husk with nothing more to say.

I do, however, have a quote that I look back on often. John Langan once said (I’m paraphrasing) that the imagination was like a dog. If the dog brings you a toy and you refuse to play with it, it will come back again. If you continue to refuse it for long enough, the dog will stop trying. If you refuse new ideas for long enough they will stop coming.

I’ve always thought that was a smart comparison. The imagination and the ability to think of new and interesting ideas is a nudge. Not always a push or pull, but a subtle motion that you have to train your brain to recognize. I feel like I run with most ideas. Even if they are bad or I’m not ready to handle them yet.

But I also often think of emptiness.

ER

vaccine numero uno

It’s in the arm! I am microchipped by Bill Gates.

I am tracked and tagged. I am the sheeple. 

But it’s cool. I’m glad to have been able to be vaccinated. It’s a privilege and I’m really excited. I am the last one in my family to get the shot. Not because I am resistant or scared or against the vaccine. I’m just too young to qualify for the high risk pool. But the higher risk people have been gotten their shots and it is finally my turn.

And my arm hurts. But it feels good.

It means that I can see my family and travel. It means that life can get closer to normal again. We all need that normal. Even me. 

So, I’m excited. I have a laundry list of things that need to get done. The first is seeing my parents. And then I have a wedding to assist in planning. From there, vacations and friends and travel and life. For the first time in a very long time, it feels like all of that is finally possible.

It’s like a deep breath of fresh air. It’s amazing.

So, here we are.

I’m glad to be moving forward with a vaccine in my arm and some optimism on my mind. Like I’ve written before, I feel like the last part of the pandemic really got to me. I had it easy early on. I felt like I was actually thriving in the beginning of the lock down. But it got to me.

The shot, for me, is a new beginning. It’s a new opportunity to move forward with more gusto and vigor and determination. I want to be writing more regularly and submitting much more often and taking more chances. 

It all starts with a vaccine and a willingness to find normal again.

ER

human interaction

As an introvert, I often forget how much I need to re-fuel my tank with experience. My first go-to is to want to stay home. I often find myself content with the safety of a routine. 

That instinct, though, has been very tested this year. I’m sure 2020 put a lot of stress on a lot of people in a lot of ways. For me, it really brought to light the significance of those random moments that you can’t plan for, that exist only when things don’t follow routine.

Here’s what I mean.

This weekend, my fiancé and I went into the city. Our goal was simple: have brunch. But we left early and walked around. No aim, no purpose. The sun was out and it was warm and we’d not been in Boston in months. 

We found our way to the waterfront. As we approached an open area of the harbor, we came upon a two-piece band playing a pop-up show. People crowded on a grassy clearing, enjoying the sun and listening to the music. We sat with them and swayed and sang along. We watching people seem to stop to pay attention to two people playing some well-known songs.

I looked out on the water and felt the sun on my face and felt human for the first time in a long time. 

Finding that band and that park and those people at that time was needed. I needed to be reminded that there are other things out there. It’s easy to forget the significance of these small moments when you find yourself locked into a home for a year.

And that’s not all. I got to see couples walking hand-in-hand. I saw people happy, sad, struggling, and thriving. I saw a young woman lay her head on her friend’s shoulder and close her eyes as the subway train barreled through dark tunnels. I looked up at impossibly tall buildings and watched airplanes reflected in their mirror-like windows. I smelled cigarettes and weed. We packed into a bakery and watched people line up for something homemade and delicious. I drank and tasted wonderful food. We meandered through stacks of ancient books. You could feel their age on the covers. You could smell their moldering pages. 

I don’t mean to be over poetic, but it has been so long since I have stood among the cacophony of life that I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed being a part of a larger community. 

It’s something that I love about Boston and about the city. There are always people moving among you. They are on trains, buses, walking on sidewalks, and driving down streets. They all have goals and wants and needs. You can feel them like you feel your own heartbeat. They are there and they matter.

Walking along streets with the sun on my face and the sounds of Boston around me, I fell in love with where I live again. It energized me. A battery so close to dead, now filled again. 

ER

the coming spring

Things are looking up. It’s been a hard winter for everyone, but I think that I’m feeling optimistic.

Most of the people in my life have been or are in the process of being vaccinated. That’s the best news. Being far from my parents, it’s important to know that they are in a safer stage of this process. My fiancé is about the get her second vaccine, which only really leaves me.

I’m not against the vaccine, but I’m also not in a rush to get it. I am mostly anti-social and my job doesn’t require me to be in contact anyone. I’m also tested once a week.

I’ll certainly be signing up to get stuck, but I was my last priority. The fact that I am only a matter of days away from the possibility of the shot is a good thing, though.

Beyond the vaccine is the overwhelming feeling that things can be normal again. “Normal,” I think, will be a different standard now. But I’m looking forward to the little things. I want to eat outside at a restaurant and walk around the city. There’s a distinct possibility of going to a baseball game and, finally, going home to see my parents. The sun is out for longer, the days are warmer.

It’s all good things.

I’m ready to be back in the world. I’m certainly more reclusive than most, but even I am feeling the prolonged effects of the lock-down. A certain level of my creativity has fled me in this winter. I felt slower, lazier. I’ve had down spells before. I think I might have a shade of manic-depression in me, but this winter felt like one long, mild down spell. Things were fine. They were the equivalent of a shoulder shrug. Just fine, nothing else.

And that level of “fine” is much better than what others had to deal with. I’m sure my overall malaise would be a cake-walk for people who faced serious challenges. But my mental health was definitely not at it’s height. That hurt my productivity, my want to create things.

I think I often put in the work and went through the motions to appease myself. I produced some good stories, but nothing had the vigor of what I was writing last year.

That’s starting to change now. I feel more in touch with my writing and reading.

I feel more excited about the ideas that I have and I’m hopeful that something good will come from them. I’m a cynic at heart. But I think I need optimism. I need to feel that things can get better and, sometimes, I need to see good things happen.

I guess that’s human. You can be a cynic, but it’s nice to be proven wrong.

So, we’ll see.

For now, I think things are looking up.

ER

on cormac

I found myself thinking about Cormac McCarthy the other night. It’s strange to think of him out there in the world, having survived 2020. What does he think of what happened? What ink dropped to the page while the world was locked into a continuous monotony?

If you don’t know, Cormac McCarthy is considered one of the more important “literary” writers of our time. He’s a recluse, has done few interviews, and consistency rejects the type of publicity that most writer’s would die for. He’s a modern J.D. Salinger. But I would argue that he is a better writer and a more important voice.

But his status doesn’t matter. I’m not here to make a case for his significance to arts and letters. That’s not my job. 

Regardless of his standing or importance in literature, Cormac McCarthy is hugely important to me. Or, at least, he was. Maybe he still is.

I think every wannabe writer, at some point, finds an author that feels like they are on the same wavelength. In a sea of books and genres, that writer become a voice of clarity in the noise. A pure moment for any reader, when it feels like the writer has written this material so that you would read it. It’s a strange connection. The author will never really know it happened. The reader will obsess over it.

That’s how I felt with McCarthy. Now, I’m not comparing myself to McCarthy. I don’t write like him, nor do I really want to. But when I, as an early 20’s kid, found McCarthy it was like I found fresh air for the first time. 

I can’t explain that connection to you. It’s the same feeling that comes when the right song comes on at the exact right time. Serendipity. 

There were a few years in my life where I tried to write like McCarthy. I mimicked his voice and tried to feel what he felt when he wrote. I wanted, as we all do with idols, to be like him. More than anything else, I wanted to feel what it would be to write something that felt important. Perhaps that was the magic ingredient to McCarthy’s writing. It always felt important.

I’m reminded of the story of Hunter S. Thompson. It’s been said, by Thompson or otherwise, that we would sit at a typewriter and write out Hemingway’s novels word for word. He wanted to know what it was to write something great. He needed to know what the rhythm felt like, how it would feel when your fingers hit the keys and the juice was flowing unhindered.

For better or worse, I found that type of rhythm, that practice with McCarthy. And, for that practice, I owe McCarthy a lot of credit for any strange success that I have achieved in writing. 

But I often forget about my old idol. 

I’ve changed a lot since when I was reading McCarthy. I grew up, went to work, went back to school, and then made a conscious decision to pursue writing as a dedicated practice. 

Sometimes, though, I remember how important McCarthy was/is to me. I thought of him yesterday and wondered where he was. I wondered if his pen had hit paper. Will he ever write another book? Is there anything left in his tank? I don’t know. 

For me, it doesn’t matter. I would love more McCarthy. But I think I will be left wanting. 

It occurs to me now, though, that the writer’s we love, the ones that we believe see us in some way never really leave us. McCarthy will always be important to me. He’s a north star, a lodestar for me and my journey. And I miss him and his writing quite a bit. 

Perhaps he appeared in my thoughts as a reminder of the things that I miss. 

ER