I was driving back to my quiet little seaside hometown the other day, and I caught myself thinking, “phew, that was a crazy six weeks,” as if they were a period in my life that had ended and I was heading back to a quiet little seaside life.
But no, those crazy six weeks are my life now.
Two things about this:
One – it’s not that crazy.
Two – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To qualify Two: sure, if I could have book contracts instead of an 8-5 and a place in Malibu and a pied-à-terre in NYC and another in Milan with toilets made out of solid gold instead of a two-bedroom apartment in the San Fernando Valley, I’d probably go ahead and have it that way, but let’s be reasonable.
And as far as One goes, I don’t really want to complain because I’m not working multiple jobs, I’m not broke, I’m not a single mom, I’m not at all lonely, I’m not unhealthy-and-uninsured, I’m not disenfranchised or powerless or oppressed or any of those those legitimately difficult things so many people deal with everyday – most of whom do so with much more equanimity and grace than I muster in the face of, say, two long workdays back-to-back.
That being said, this is my life and these things are my parameters and within that and those, I’m feeling a little stressed out.
I’m a (secular) Buddhist and someone who’s trying to live a quieter and more conscious life, both of which counsel gratitude and perspective, so I work on those things when and how I can – and believe me, I know how much I have to be glad about and grateful for – and I try to reverse or at least slow the entropic tendency of my life and mind and universe.
But I’m also a writer, and at the risk of sounding trite, I think writers thrive on neurosis and chaos and, as my friend Laura Bassett put it, “strife and uneasiness.”
This also needs a qualification – writers’ characters thrive on neurosis. And that’s a distinction many authors fail to make and/or maintain.
About a decade ago, I was talking with Stephen Railton about American authors’ propensity for debauchery, dissipation and just general bad behavior – in particular, we were talking about Faulkner’s tenure at UVa and how rumor had it that any night of the week, you could find the man drunk somewhere in Albermarle County – and Prof. Railton said, “it makes you wonder, do you have to be that fucked up to make good literature?”
He didn’t mean intoxicated-fucked-up – which they got, plenty, but with how hard those dissolute men worked and the quality of what they produced, you hardly call them lushes – so much as maladjusted-fucked-up. But I certainly equated one with the other while kind of just hoping (okay okay assuming, arrogant bastard that I was) that the quality work would come without the hard work.
But it turns out I’m not interested in staying intoxicated for forty fifty sixty years while I try to write, and now that I’m, let’s say, less concerned with intoxication than I used to be, two things have happened: I’m less interested in maladjustment, and the work is getting better.
One last qualification, this one on “less interested.” I’m less interested in being maladjusted, but more interested in investigating maladjustment and using maladjustment. Which is what brings me to the crux of this post/thought:
How do you stand close to the (ring of?) chaos fire without getting burned?
It’s like that Modest Mouse song, “Bukowski,” where Isaac Brock is saying that “…every night turns out to be a little bit more like Bukowski and yeah, I know, he’s a pretty good read, but God, who’d wanna be…such an asshole?”
The simple answer is
Put it to good use.
See it, watch it, breathe it in, but stay on that jetty while the storm is surging.
And yeah, sure, that’s what I try to do, but how that actually works, how you take the stress of moving to a new town and commuting longer and finding new friends and maintaining old friendships and starting a blog and navigating the crazystupid world of social networking and finishing a novel and trying to sell stories and working out and reading and cooking and foodshopping and doing my taxes (jesus I need to do my taxes!) and meditating and doing the other things I do on top of generally freaking out about the state of the state nation world not to even mention my place in the fucking COSmos at large – how you take that stuff, and instead of letting it bowl you over, jiu-jistu that shit into a character and let that character do something decently productive with it, is what I’m interested in.
Which I guess is what the process is all about. Which is why it takes forever, I guess, and why there’s no guarantee it’ll work well or at all.
Which is why Faulkner said The Sound and the Fury was a failure.*
Zulfikar Ghose was talking about this the other night when I went and saw him at the Fowles Center.** Not about Faulkner, but that the main motivation to write is – HAS TO BE – the simple desire to create something that didn’t exist before, to convey some sense about the world as precisely as we can. “We simply create, and we see what happens.” All method or whatever else people read into creative work after the fact is secondary.
Like with everything, just do the work. Don’t worry about how you’re going to do it, just do it. Worry about how you did it and what it means later. If you worry about that at all.
But the question remains:
How do you separate layer upon layer of life’s crazy-ass chaff from that sweet, sweet wheat?
Yeah, I mean you.
Whether you’re creative or not, it doesn’t matter – we all de-stress and refocus somehow.
So tell me – how do you keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs?
*Saideth Faulkner: “[The Sound and the Fury] began with the picture of the little girl’s muddy drawers, climbing that tree to look in the parlor window with her brothers that didn’t have the courage to climb the tree waiting to see what she saw. And I tried first to tell it with one brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section One. I tried with another brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section Two. I tried the third brother, because Caddy was still to me too beautiful and too moving to reduce her to telling what was going on, that it would be more passionate to see her through somebody else’s eyes, I thought. And that failed, and I tried myself, the fourth section, to tell what happened, and I still failed.” – from the UVA Faulkner treasure trove
Hat tip to the badass HuffPoQuill-wielding
Laura Bassett for giving me the advice, title, and general notion for this post.