We want it in the same way every kid who picks up a guitar wants to be a shooting star like Jimi Hendrix or John Lennon. Young film makers want to be the next Spielberg or Scorsese. Who wants to be the Vice Pesident? Fuck that. We want the big desk in the round room man! It’s a primal need, the instinct to be the alpha in our pack. Show off to the losers at our class reunions. Make Mommyand/or Daddy proud. Stand on the top of Mount Tallestintheland shouting “Pay attention world! You’re gonna remember me and everything I do!”
What it comes down to, no matter what profession or artistic craft we’re involved in, is that we all want to do something more than simply pay this month’s rent and cable bills.
Is that so wrong?
Where is this coming from you ask? Why am I blogging about this
subject today? Sheer, unadulterated terror. Fear of the mysteries heading this way in my unknowable future. Will I ever finish another novel? Can I write a paragraph worthy of other people’s limited time for attention? Is anything I ever create going to be any good?
Answer: I dunno.
I mentioned Fight Club earlier. I recently caught parts of the amazing movie on tv. Un-Fucking-Believably-Awesome. Very, very, very intimidating. Not only is the film great, the book it came out of changed everything. It’s dirty, offensive, rude, violent, gross, scary, misogynistic, overtly testosteronized, dangerous, psychotic, threatening, violating, and brilliant. If Palahniuk never wrote another word after that novel, he would have still pissed his territory all over the modern literary landscape.
But he did write more words. Lots of them. Lots of really, really good ones. The first book I read of his was Survivor. At the time I worked as a
bouncer at a bar in Venice Beach. The Townhouse was a place where mostly locals would come. We had a few out-of-towners from the European Hostile on the corner, but mostly the usual crowd showed up to hang out. That’s where I discovered the genius of Palahniuk, standing solitary outside the door in the cold, beach-night air. The words shot straight to my brain under the glow of the bar’s sign and the streetlight in front of Angelica Houston’s ten foot cement wall surrounded house.
Whenever a half-in-their-cups-Venetian walked out for a smoke, they’d spy me intently scanning those pages, absorbing their impact in palpable, abusive crashes to my psyche. Watcha’ readin’? They’d ask. Too excited to stop myself, I’d not only tell them the entire story up to the page I’d reached at that point, I’d shove the book in their hand and make them see how all the pages were numbered in reverse order. I can’t remember precisely how many people I forced that book upon, but I very well may be personally responsible for at least half of Palahniuk’s Los Angeles fan base. It also made me rather unique in my field. How many bouncers have you met at dive bars who not only read on the job, but try to show you how mind-bogglingly cool said book is?
That’s what I thought.
I do owe Mr. Palahniuk a bit of thanks though. Sharing my intense enjoyment of that book with so many people brought to my boss’attention how well liked I was becoming. A friendly bouncer who gets people coming back to the bar instead of scaring them away? Soon after he took me off of the door and I became a bartender. So thanks for the help with the promotion Chuck.
As they say, I have digressed. I am not saying that the Key to everything is world changing like Fight Club became for many readers. (I’d love to think that of course) I am saying that it was extremely difficult and time consuming for me to write. It took a few years and more than a baker’s dozen profanity laden tantrums in my empty living room. If I wasn’t already bald, I’d have been pulling my hair out for sure. Now the trick is, how the hell am I supposed to do it again?
I write a bit every single day. I work on short stories, blog entries, reviews and yes, even ideas for another novel. I know other authors who are able to put in several thousand word days. They can write a novel in a few months. Good ones that don’t read like pulpy trash shoveled out for the sake of nothing but getting them finished. Of that, I am envious. I don’t appear to be built to work that quickly or efficiently. At least not in making something that I’m willing to send out into other people’s lives.
However, I refuse to give up! (Here comes the swell of overtly dramatic music) I will sit at my computer, fingers on keys, eyes on the screen! (Strings build in intensity tugging at motivational heart strings) One at a time the words will appear on that blank blasted page. Some will be deleted…oh yes! (Horns climb to higher registers) Though ideas be trashed, characters vanished, plot lines shoved aside and removed from relevance…I will not succumb to self-doubt or criticism! (Trombones play wah wah wah) If it takes my final breath, my last ounce of will, my muscles will create before they atrophy, something worthwhile. (Drums thunder and a hundred member choir sings Hallelujah!)
That’s my realistic goal anyway. I would love one of my stories, paragraphs or even sentences to matter to someone enough to make their life one ounce happier than it was before they read it. I don’t even have to know about it. It’s the act of creating and the dream of the effect my work may have on someone else. One rule of thumb about making art I constantly have to remind myself of is that I must make it for myself and not be concerned with how it is received by other people. When I’m finished though, I really do hope that somebody else gets it.