Can I call myself a writer, if I’m not writing?
Long-time readers of this blog will remember the days that I used to post virtually every day. That was, it seems, a very long time ago. That was before I got divorced and before I almost killed myself through self-neglect. It was also before I met and dated a dear, sweet woman who will always have a special place in my heart and before I bought my camera.
I couldn’t tell you why I used to write so much and why I don’t now. I only know that something changed. Some elusive thing changed, escaped me, slipped from my grasp. Maybe it was a lack of motivation. Maybe it was that everything seemed so hollow and pointless after spending a year doing the horizontal mambo with Death that any words I might spit on the page seemed like a waste of my time and yours, dear readers. Maybe it was a lack of what every “wanna’ be” writer thinks will get them off their lazy butts and in front of a keyboard; inspiration.
I honestly don’t know. But, I’ve felt the itch again. I’ve felt the urge to chew up a bit of whitespace on the Internet and spit out the stuff that makes me choke. I’ve also discovered Tumblr. Yes, another blogging platform. And, yes, I’m sure I won’t stay there long, because this is my blogging home, but until then, I have found my little slice of Tumblr oddly inspirational. I suppose it has to do with thinking differently about how I do what I do, but all that really matters is that it’s gotten me writing again.
The other thing, I think, that compels me is the fact that I’ll be 43 this year.
Something changes again when a man feels the fetid, stinking breath of middle-age on the back of his neck and realizes that he has achieved less than the lofty goals he set for himself at 18. Granted, many great artists of various kinds have come into their own only after having turned fifty, and, given my family’s record of longevity, I probably have another good 45 years or more of intelligent, intelligible output left in me, but, still, not having produced even a single work of long-form fiction nags at me. You see, as good as I have gotten at extemporaneous non-fiction, thanks in no small part to this blog, I seem to have almost completely lost the knack of producing fiction. And, trust me, as someone who worships the great storytellers of literature, I find that disappointing, to say the least.
It does not help, either, that many of my literary heroes are, in fact, dead. Most of them, unfortunately, died before they were 50. And, almost all of them, produced their greatest work before they were 40.
When I was younger, I tried to emulate those writers in many ways. Unfortunately for me, one of the writers who’s work I respected the most was Ernest Hemingway. Now, don’t think that means I purposely drank hard for years, because I didn’t. Oh, I drank pretty hard, but not in conscious imitation of Hemingway. And, certainly, I haven’t run through wives the way he did! What’s more, I’m pretty sure I haven’t achieved his level of misogyny. (In fact, I recently checked with several female friends on just that subject for reasons inappropriate to go into here and they all assured me that, whatever my character flaws may be, misogyny of any kind, much less at the level of “Papa” Hemingway, was not one of them.) Nor, I hope you will be pleased to learn, do I plan to commit suicide via shotgun at 50 the way he did. For one thing, I know pretty much everyone who might find the body and I like them, so I won’t subject them to that. For another, I neither plan to give my detractors the satisfaction of my untimely death nor do I own a shotgun.
Now, you may ask why, in a post about inspiration and motivation, I would dwell on Hemingway’s death. Good question.
You see, last night, I queued up a quote from Hemingway on that Tumblr I recently started. By the time you read this post, in fact, it should be up, so feel free to pause for a moment and go read it. It’s one of my favorites.
The thing is, though, this morning, I got my regular e-mail from the Writer’s Almanac, which lists today’s literary events of historic note. Today, as it turns out, in a weird bit of synchronicity, is the anniversary of the day when Hemingway, suffering from cancer, did himself in with his trusty, manly shotgun. Killing himself as he might have killed one of his heroically tragic characters.
What does that have to do with the price of tea in China, or anywhere else?
It’s a reminder. A reminder of how many times I have almost given up. A reminder of how many times I have, in true Hemingway hero fashion, faced death, or, worse, my own internal demons, and, rather than giving up or giving in, set my jaw, dug into the mud and just kept plowing forward.
You see, I forget, sometimes, who I am.
I forget that there is more to me than who I see reflected in the vision of others. In my own insecurity, I forget how strong I can be. I forget that love is the answer to all my problems. Not being hard and tough, like I think Hemingway thought men, especially himself, should be. I forget that it takes great strength of character to care, and I do care, about so many things and so many people. I forget that what I see as my weakness is, in fact, my strength. I forget that I have gotten up, as the saying goes, one more time than I have been knocked down.
And, so, as I imagine many of my dead heroes have done, I do my best to set aside doubt and fear and the perceived judgement of others and do what I was taught as a child; I simply am trying again. Trying to learn from the mistakes and failures of my past, not forgetting them, but not letting them get in my way, either.
And, as you can see, if you’ve stuck with me this far, I’m starting to write again.
Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"A man is known by the company his mind keeps."
--Thomas Bailey Aldrich