Another of these opportunities, to frame the writing self, to create it, put it out there for others to see.
What will I do this time? Will I write a piece about process, or will I write a piece about shame?
I will write a piece about shame.
Writing – not so much the act itself, but the act of getting to the page – is an immense struggle for me, and I am ashamed of this. I am ashamed that I haven’t written enough, that I haven’t made myself write enough, that I haven’t allowed myself to write enough – I don’t know which one it is, or it may be a combination of all three and then some other things thrown in. When I’m being interviewed for book publicity, or writing things like this, about my writing habits, which is often part of what writers have to do as part of book publicity – when I’m doing these things, I sometimes lie, and talk about a routine, a discipline, and a philosophy of practice and of creativity honed over years. I’ll talk about writing first thing in the morning, turning off the internet, trying to get down a few thousand words a day, keeping a notebook, keeping a journal.
Other times, if I’m not in the mood to dredge up that version, if I don’t have the energy to, I’ll tell the truth. I’ll talk about procrastination and failure and doubt and dread. I’ve never mentioned depression yet in an interview (is this an interview?), but anyone who can read between the lines will probably see it clearly. At first writing was a way out of it, when I was very young, but by now writing has long since been in a co-dependent relationship with it. They gaslight one another daily, and I can’t tell them apart a lot of the time.
I think a lot about the things I didn’t write. They exist as ghost pieces, ghost stories and plays – not a ghost novel, not yet, I don’t torment myself quite that deeply just yet – but shorter pieces, the kinds of things I imagine that I could have done, made, written, several times over, if I had just, I don’t know…insert motivational phrase here. Set my mind to it? The phrase brings up an image of setting a dog on a pack of sheep that need to be rounded up and driven into a pen – ugh, that metaphor, no, that pun, where did that come from; well, there is an answer to your question about the unconscious and how it pushes things through the surface unexpectedly – except that when you set a dog on anything, you’re not asking it to bring the thing to you, but to frighten it from you.
The ghost pieces are the things that by now could have been written, should have been written, if I had turned out to be the kind of writer I really did think, at twenty, twenty-five, thirty-nine (I am ever, underneath it all, hopeful; there’s the rub) that I would turn out to be. What would that feel like, being that kind of writer, my shrink asks me when I go on about this, and I stop for a moment and let my mind fill up again with the fantasy of it: the prolific, productive, clear-headed writer version of me; idea-drunk, process-sober; nipping brightly between genres and projects as though between huge, spacious Airbnbs on a never-ending grand tour; starting things; finishing them. I think it’d feel amazing, I say to my shrink, and she goes quiet, which always feels vaguely recriminatory, and I look at my watch, to see how many minutes, this time, until but we do have to stop.
“I don’t understand,” a student said to me once, after I’d explained to the group how hard I had to push myself not to avoid the act of writing, even though it was the thing I always wanted most to do with my day. I was a guest speaker, or giving a guest seminar, to the group; they were not kids, but people who’d had lives, and who were taking this course, now, paying a lot of money, now, so that they could write the novel they had always wanted to write, or always seen themselves as writing. This student, this writer, was someone who worked for the same newspaper for which I’d written for years; he was a sub-editor, and he was completely baffled by what I was saying, about not being able to write. “I just don’t understand how, if you want to write, how you just don’t write,” he said. “I mean, nobody’s stopping you..” And whether there was scorn in his tone or whether I was just projecting it there, and projecting it onto his face, I have not forgotten it, nearly ten years later, and I can remember the precise angle at which he was sitting in relation to me in that room, the precise angle at which his response came barreling at me, and the way the heat, the shame-heat, hit on my cheeks first, and then on my collarbone, and down to my fingers, my fingers which did not write enough then, and do not write enough now.
I have no wisdom to offer on this, by the way. There is no resolution, no epiphany up ahead here. I live in hope, every day, that I will snap out of this bullshit and write as much as I want to write, because when I do it, it makes me feel – what? Alive? I don’t know. Excited. A bit excited, sometimes a lot excited, at the business of being alive. To make something is an astonishing, vertiginous thrill; to see it coming into view, to have that moment when you know it is not just the dross of your thoughts, but something other than you, something beyond you, and that you are going to be the channel, the long, sparking tram line, along which it shoots into itself, into its form.
That’s all. What’s the line? That’s all, I don’t think of you that often.
Yeah, but he did.