The High Cost Of Being A Writer, Or Not.
Writers know how dangerous we are. Or how dangerous you think we are. We know that just knowing us has the risk of exposing you to the world, no matter the perspective from which you look at that sentence. We know the clear and present danger of our words on your perception of the world, and your perception of how the world perceives you. We know that you fear finding yourself or losing yourself or watching our words wash you of pretense, only to leave you under a microscope or a magnifying glass or alone in a mob unable to hide or be found. We know that knowing us feels like a risk.
We know what we risk.
We risk being a Typhoid Mary. Or metaphor Mary, or whatever it is that means you don’t want to connect with us. Or just that we know you’ll never see it the same way we do. Which is a different kind of being alone. That the connections and rhythms and haunting phrases are real only in our own “beautiful minds.”
We know we risk being alone, all the time. And that we are, anyway.
That the lives we lead, often with others, are not ours. Not really. That the things we think, the stories so plain to us, that are our pulse, our reason, our essence, our soul are not ours to do with what we please. Do with what we do. We know that to manifest our truest selves is to risk losing you.
But that to not write, is to risk losing us.
The times I fight and say “but this is who I am, this is my story to tell” never go well.
I do try to hide you from the world, from yourself even, in fiction. I wrap you in the scarves of metaphor, change genders and locations, create contexts unrelated to reality, but you’ll find yourself. You always do. When you know writers, you become skilled at seeing through any facade. So good, in fact, that you see yourself anywhere. Everywhere. In shadows, in decades you never lived in, in conversations you never had, thoughts you were never aware of thinking until you saw them written and were sure that they, too, were you. You diligently read between the lines and suddenly realize that we judged you in ways you never knew, and that, in fact, we never do.
Even if it only happened in your own mind. A thought, once conceived, is alive.
Even though all it really “is” is what I thought about, springing from that one moment we shared. There was nothing between the lines, but you’ll not be convinced, and this recurring nightmare returns, your relentless worry giving form to imaginary monsters that look like me.
Now I lay me down to write, losing more into the night.
I know that I can’t have my thoughts and words. That if you were there, you will lay claim to custody. “It’s just good manners.”
“Why haven’t you written your novel yet?”
Because I am afraid. Not of writing a shitty novel, I mean, there is no objective measure of that, I’m happy in my world of words, if it feels good to me, it’s good to me.
No, I am afraid of the reactions of that person who will be convinced that the desk lamp in that one scene, the one with the frayed cord, is somehow them. That the rabid dog is a metaphor for our relationship. I am afraid that the few loves I allow myself will peel away like a blister, wondering what I r-e-a-l-l-y meant, and sure it was about them.
“It’s like you were writing about me” from a stranger is the highest compliment. My greatest achievement.
“It’s like you were writing about me” from someone I know is a shot across the bow, a reminder to stay in my place, an accusation that my cruel intentions have been found out. It’s my greatest fear, a harbinger of loss to come.
Of drama to be dealt with.
And that all says nothing of non-fiction. The essays and ideas that seem so important and feel so alive to me. The ones that result in strangers telling me I should be raped or killed. Or that I saved their life and they feel less alone. Or that I am an ugly cow who nobody could love. (Which is nonsense, of course. Everyone loves cows, and they’re all adorable, with those big eyes and long, soft noses.)
Or the ones that are, even you admit, fantastically important and well written, but you just don’t want people to know that we’re friends because some other person might judge you for knowing people who write about such things. It’s like I can lose you, once removed, or something.
Then there’s the ones I write, and want desperately to set free and share because I know that they need to be heard. A validating truth for others who….. but I can’t, because you were there. And you’ll get mad at me. You’ve made clear that I have no right to my own life, thoughts, events, if you were there. It cannot be known that you were there. With me.
Your insistence on my silence is your only vaccination against the dangers of knowing writers. The threat of your loss is the only way to control something of such intangible menace.
But it has a cost.
It’s too much for me, if I’m honest (which I know so many hate it when I am.) It’s not a price I’m willing to pay.
My voice is too high a cost. Simply too high a penalty for such an imaginary threat.
I will protect you from myself. Distance is the price of silence.
Mind you, I would never tell your stories. But I need the right to write my own.
Unlike so many others, I have learned not to keep things in. It simply isn’t my way, it weighs too much. It creates too much clutter. I won’t do it.
The task of feeling and doing and seeing so much, but being told to not let it out, it’s too….. heavy. Constipating.
And this, right here, is why writers – at least this one – so often hang back. Don’t connect. Stay at a distance.
The solitude of a safe distance is one of few places that I don’t feel alone. In my head with my stories is the one place that no one is judging me, or afraid of me, or telling me to just be: quiet, normal, still, calm, reasonable. (Not me.)
The solitude of a safe distance is one of few places that I don’t feel alone, because it’s a place that I’ve discussed with so many other writers. It’s a place so real that we don’t have to see each other in it in order to share it.
As is so often the case with writers. It’s real to us. And we can tell you about it. All the “its.” We can see things you can’t, it’s what makes us who we are.
And our words? It’s not just who we are, it’s what we are. It’s how we make sense of the world. Like a puzzle master laying out all the straight edges first, connecting the corners, filling in the pieces, making the picture clear.
We do it for ourselves. It’s how we cope. But we know the power of the words, the stories, the ideas, when you read them.
“It’s like you were talking about me.”
And suddenly you’re not alone, you can see the borders, the big picture, and you know where the pieces go.
Unless we can’t let it out, then it all stays jumbled, inside us, with no one and no way to help. The house of the dead relative you never really knew, piled to the ceiling with bits and pieces that you have no idea why they hung on to.
We’d change for you if we could. We know, your life would be easier if we’d just shut up. Or at least stop thinking so much.
We’d change for ourselves if we could. We know, our lives would be easier if we’d just shut up. Or at least stop thinking so much.
And we know the cost. Either way.
Not writing is not an option. Being told do shut up is an indictment. And our conviction to a life of writing is a sentence of solitude in so many ways.
But we – I – do it anyway.
There just isn’t any other way.
It is easier to say “no” to knowing people than it is to say “no” to the writing.
And it is impossible to truly be alone when you fill the world with stories that bring the world together. Even if it’s around your ideas, and not around you.