‘Tis the Season

In recognition of the holiday season, I hereby give you a sneak peek of two gifts I’ll be giving this year.

The first sneak peek is a gift for my dad. All props go to my sister, who found this gem while walking through an outdoor artist’s market in Boston, MA:

Red Sox Art

The second sneak peek goes to Lana Cole of the Cole Campfire Blog! She’s been an incredible supporter of my young blog, and I want to repay her kindness in kind. So I hereby present to you, Lana, my own work as an amateur artist:

IMG_0218 copy

Hope you like it! 🤞 (Also, be sure to check out Lana’s amazing White Elephant gifts on her blog!)

Why Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is my favorite book

Whenever I’m asked what my favorite book is, I tend to say Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard—winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

It’s a book I originally read my senior year of high school. (I’m pretty sure I was 1 of 2 people in my AP Language class of 30 who actually liked it.)

And, over the years, I have grown to like this book even more. Annie Dillard’s beautiful prose augments a romantic yet realistic view of nature that has become more lucid with each re-read.

In particular, the following paragraph dropped my jaw to the floor earlier this evening, and I still haven’t been able to pick it back up:

“Nature is, above all, profligate. Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once. This is what the sign of the insects says. No form is too gruesome, no behavior too grotesque. If you’re dealing with organic compounds, then let them combine. If it works, if it quickens, set it clacking in the grass; there’s always room for one more; you ain’t so handsome yourself. This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.”

p. 66

Writer’s Anxiety

Today, I’ve had three thoughts about my writing: (1) it’s great; (2) it’s okay; and (3) WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING TRYING TO BECOME A WRITER.

These vacillating thoughts have meandered throughout the day. One minute, I’ll be convinced that I’ve written a legendary novel that will one day be remembered fondly like it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The next, I’ll be convinced that I’ve written something akin to a dumpster fire. Then, when I’m lucky, I’ll be convinced that I’ve written something average that’ll be appreciated by a select group of readers with a preference for realistic fiction.

So what are these vacillating thoughts? Are they just the side effect of being a writer? Of feeling anxious about my writing?

In other words, do I have something called writer’s anxiety?

Writer’s anxiety is a byproduct of the glacial pace of publishing, and I think it’s best described by the following example:

Let’s say you’re reading a book for a nice, relaxing distraction from your writing. So you’re telling yourself, “I’ll just read this book and not think about my own writing. Okay? I’ll just sit here and enjoy someone’s else creation, appreciate the hard work this author put into this book. Okay?” But then, about ten pages into that book, let’s say you find yourself involuntarily skimming over the words on the page—not really reading.

Instead, your mind is elsewhere. Your mind is engaged in a psychological tug of war. A tug of war where you meticulously comb through your own writing with both a hypercritical eye and a friendly eye. One minute, you’re legitimately convincing yourself that you’ve written a legendary novel that will one day be remembered fondly like it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The next, you’re legitimately convincing yourself that you’ve written something akin to a dumpster fire. Then, whenever you’re lucky enough, you’re legitimately convincing yourself that you’ve written something average that’ll be appreciated by a select group of readers with a preference for realistic fiction.

And that’s when your attention will finally return to the page you’ve been trying to read for five minutes and you’ll realize, I have the disease.

So you’ll say it out loud to yourself, “I have writer’s anxiety,” and you’ll freeze.

Because, suddenly, you will have come to realize the worst possible truth: even if I end up publishing the heir apparent to To Kill a Mockingbird, I could never accept it.

The reason? You know, in your heart of hearts, that no matter what anyone says about your writing, you’ll always have three vacillating thoughts: (1) it’s great; (2) it’s okay; and (3) WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING TRYING TO BECOME A WRITER.

A Weekend of Writing

Ah! It’s finally the freakin’ weekend. Time to take a break; relax; and write.

Last night, I dreamed up this big scene involving a war of rivaling dragons. (Like, I literally had a dream about it.)

The dragons would be fighting for days in this unpredictable war where both sides would win and lose various battles. At the end, though, the dragons would sign this historic peace treaty that’d immediately be recognized as an historic turning point in the Great War. It would be the beginning of an ending.

(Well, before there’d be a new beginning. In the sequel, the dragons would turn their attention to a new foe: incompetent knights.)

This dream was so inspiring that I actually woke up earlier this morning, at five in the morning, to write out the first page of the scene.

Unfortunately, though, in looking over that page, I now realize that it was nothing but late-night gibberish.

But whatever, the point remains the same: I am freakin’ ready to write!

I’m ready to turn my dream into the best fiction that reality has ever seen. A. Freakin’. Masterpiece.

Now, I just have to open up Microsoft Word, crack a few knuckles, and get to—

Wait? Did you hear that???

The TV just told me there’s sale on shoes this weekend. And OMG, did you see that tweet from the President this morning? I couldn’t believe it either!

Okay, I need a break.

I’ll get to my weekend of writing . . . next weekend.

Writing and Working

Okay, first things first: writing is working.

In fact, writing is A LOT of work. For one, being creative—in any capacity—requires a lot of energy and focus. For two, writing can sometimes feel like an exercise in insanity. After writing, revising, and rewriting the same passages over and over again, you can convince yourself that what you’ve produced is the world’s greatest crap, which you wholeheartedly believe should never be seen and/or smelled by any sentient being.

To cope, you step back and take a break. You go to your . . . other work. Something your friends and relatives might call your “actual work.”

That sentiment alone is demeaning and discouraging. But what’s worse, your “actual work” might involve menial tasks (or repetitive tasks, at the very least) that aren’t nearly as stimulating and/or fulfilling as creating and writing.

Yet, every other Friday, you get paid for that work. While, at the same time, you might not be getting paid for your writing.

So why go back home and continue writing and revising and rewriting the same passages, over and over again, until you feel as if you’ve truly gone insane?

It’s that stupid, cliché answer: you’ve found your passion. You’ve found the work that you love.

Of course, it’d be great to get paid to do the work that you love. But that wouldn’t be why you’re doing the work.

You’re doing the work because you love writing.

Whether you grew to love it, have always loved it, or simply love it today (after hating it yesterday), it doesn’t matter. A love to write is a love to write. It’s as simple as that.

So no matter the frustration, the lack of energy, the lack of time, or the reason—if you find yourself writing, then you’re a writer.

You’re a writer, and you’re working. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

A Star Explodes

*** Fair warning: There will be spoilers regarding A Star is Born ***

In the 2018 remake of A Star is Born, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) discovers Ally (Lady Gaga) and—spoiler alert—turns her into a star. Ally’s rise to stardom is a significant plotline, but the most interesting plotline (to me, at least) is Jackson Maine’s fall.  

Jackson Maine was originally just a poor boy living on a pecan farm with his dad and his brother. But then Jackson made it big time, becoming a rock-and-roll star. He took on the stereotypical rock-and-roll persona by doing the whole party-til-you-drop routine. Just about every night. In fact, when we’re introduced to Jackson, he’s playing a show, drinking a drink, and swallowing a number of pills.

After a brief blackout, we catch up with Jackson at a local drag bar, where he watches Ally belt out an inspired performance of La Vie en rose—a French song. And that’s when Ally’s stardom really takes off.

Ally hesitantly accepts a place on stage beside Jackson. Then Ally reluctantly falls for Jackson. Then Ally happily tours with Jackson, honing her singing and songwriting skills along the way. Which all leads to Ally being discovered by a big time music mogul, whom offers to take Ally on her own tour and produce her own album.

At this point, Ally’s star is officially rising, and Jackson’s star is officially fading. But we don’t really know it yet.

Jackson is still drinking, smoking, and doing drugs til he drops. But he hasn’t been doing it as often with Ally. Jackson is still rocking, rolling, and performing shows with his band. But he has also been helping Ally with her own career, supporting her (almost) every step of the way.

Heck, even after Jackson becomes jealous of Ally, disagrees with her image and music, and literally pisses himself on stage at the Grammy’s because he’s too messed up, it still doesn’t feel like Jackson’s star has faded just yet. (Previously, when Jackson got too messed up and disappeared for a night, causing Ally to frantically chase after him after one of her shows, Jackson and Ally reconciled by getting engaged and married. So the Grammy incident to me felt like another bump in the road—not the end of the road.)

Jackson goes to rehab, talks about his childhood, and admits he had attempted suicide when he was a teenager. Jackson then completes his rehab, goes back home, and is told by Ally that she’ll support him.

At this point, everything still seems okay. There still is hope.

But then Jackson has a grave conversation with Ally’s producer/manager about the damage that Jackson’s pissing on stage at the Grammy’s had caused. Afterwards, Jackson gets into his car, swallows a number of pills, and, instead of attending Ally’s show where he’s supposed to perform on stage with her, he chooses to commit suicide.

What’s interesting about Jackson’s tragic death is what spurred his decision to end it all. And, correspondingly, what did not spur his decision. For instance, I don’t think Jackson committed suicide because of the incident at the Grammy’s, or his stint in rehab, or his addiction to drugs and alcohol, or the fact that Ally had become a bigger star than him.

No, I think it was the effect the incident at the Grammy’s, his stint in rehab, and his addiction to drugs and alcohol had had on Ally.

It was the fact that Jackson was now viewed as a liability to Ally’s career. Not the genesis.

Perhaps, then, Jackson’s tragic death can be viewed as an act of love. Setting Ally free from his self-destructive ways.

Or maybe, as Ally’s tribute suggests, it was nothing but a tragedy. Taking away Ally’s one and only love.

On being an obscure, reclusive writer

J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee kinda sorta popularized the idea of being a recluse. I mean, yeah, the idea of being a recluse already had its own glorious history. (Emily Dickenson is a popular example that comes to mind.) But for the pre-postmodern era (that is, before the Dave Chapelles of the world), J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee kinda sorta take home the reclusive cake.

After publishing The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, both J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee, by all accounts (or lack thereof), chose to disappear from public life. They chose to reject the fame garnered from their novels.

That choice, of course, was their choice. But it’s a choice that we tend to respect, if not glorify. For whatever reason.

Maybe it’s because neither J.D. Salinger nor Harper Lee had to deal with social media. They didn’t have to post about their mundane, everyday activities, detailing their “best life” as famous writers, as people who had hit the literary lottery.

Or maybe it’s because of the mystique of reclusive writers. That, by being reclusive, we can ascribe to them greater knowledge than the popular writers who post YouTube videos and write blogs and tweet things.

Or maybe it’s because J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee could chill and write, for the sake of writing. They could carefully exist, on their own accord, in their own privacy. Worrying about bigger and better things. Not likes or shares or comments.

No matter the reason(s) though, I highlight J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee not so much for the merits of being a recluse, but for the option of being a recluse, which they both exercised.

In the modern era, popular people must be accessible. They must be relatable and reachable and amenable to all that PR stuff. Which, of course, could be for a good reason. Modern day recluses might be more like Peter Van Houten of The Fault in Our Stars—not J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee.

Either way, I still think it’s important to point out that being accessible is difficult for a lot of writers.

I mean, after all, writing is a somewhat reclusive profession. So it can be a lot of work for naturally reclusive people (aka, introverts) to become accessible. Especially given that it’s in the nature of a reclusive person to shun all that happy, smiley PR stuff.

But therein lies the rub.

For obscure, reclusive writers, like me, who have avoided broadcasting or branding themselves (for the most part) on the internet, becoming popular and accessible and all that stuff isn’t really an option. It’s a requirement.

Like, even if I had the choice to reject the (totally nonexistent) attention coming my way, out of principle, for personal reasons, I couldn’t. It’d be professional suicide. Self-destruction.

So that brings me to the point of this blog post (my first blog post!): I will no longer be some obscure, reclusive writer. I will engage the PR machine and formulate some type of brand—some type of personality—to the public at large.

Even if doing so, as of right now, kinda sorta feels like screaming into a void. A void wearing noise-canceling headphones.