Writing: The Art of War


A Tale of Two Cities is apropos to what I want to say here. At least the first line, that is.

I think some of the best advice and worst advice my parents ever gave me was to say, “Keep one foot on the ground and one in the clouds.” This was after they realized that my special interest in life was writing. Meaning that I wanted to be a writer. Which, I guess, must have been almost the same as me saying I wanted to be an actor or I wanted to go to Clown College. Gasp. Oh, God. Oh, no. We have one of those kids. Not Michael J. Fox from “Family Ties.” The other kind. She is going to suffer. She is going to die a horrible death. Look at Poe. Look at John O’Brien. Look at Sylvia Plath.

No–wait a minute. Poe didn’t kill himself. He just died penniless in the gutter.

Same thing. Same thing!

Not comparing myself to the above at all, by the way. That’s my parents talking, pulling extreme examples out of thin air. And that’s patently absurd, by the way. The last thing I need is my knees and back to be aching while I’m twisting myself awkwardly into the gaping mouth of my Whirlpool. Ouch!

In the best of times, the advice led me down the middle of the road, happily and placidly doing the 9 to 5, paying the bills, buying the groceries. I could survive. I was a survivor. But there’s a problem with surviving sometimes. If your mind is moving to other places and your blood is thrumming with that rhythm. There’s a problem. The bills and the groceries and the alarm clock and the freeway. They morph into a creature, an indescribable monster which, in the worst of times, begins to do things to you in the most hideous of ways: secretly, slowly, subtly. Not all at once, not dramatically, not in-your-face. No, no, no, no, no. You look up one day. And it’s time. You’ve lost time. And not in the good way. Not being sucked up into an alien spacecraft and then deposited back down hours later with nothing but a raging headache and PTSD to show for it.

Obviously, there are bigger, better problems in the world than this one. But let’s just whittle it down to this right now: what does one do? For those of us who have a second head peeking out from behind our first one, a second personality inflamed by the ineffable? After one is finished blaming the questionable advice, blaming the world for being the way it is, blaming oneself for listening. What does one do?

Well, I realize something: no one had a gun to my head. I didn’t have to do it that way. I could have been braver. I could have even done the 9 to 5, too, but ninja-style. Get in there, do the job, get out. Then bend my back into the real work. Give 8 hours grudgingly to the bill payer, then give double that time lovingly, fervently, to writing. Sort of like going into battle. Always wrangling, grinding, toiling, scrimmaging to keep that passion–whatever it is–as a first priority, a top priority. The only priority. As if you were fighting for peace on earth. Except it’s your own personal peace, the sanity of your being, that’s at stake.

There’s always this beautific expression on the faces of those who have “found the secret” or “know something” that we don’t know: Jesus, Buddha, the Dalai Lama. Cher, sometimes. Well, interspersed with the suffering expressions, of course, during the worst of times.

But I think we need to have a different expression on our faces. I think the expression on Walter White’s face is symbolic of the complete and all-consuming force of will, the “don’t-fuck-with-me” fortitude it takes to keep one’s ardor alive and in the forefront of one’s life. Remove the drugs and violence and murder from the equation and just tattoo that deadly expression of self-determination right onto your soul. And no wincing. No crying. Take the pain. Because in the worst of times, “creating” is not fun, and in the best of times “creating” is not fun. It’s a war and should be viewed as such. One could even adapt his words as their motto, on top of it, and bellow it to the stars as often as it takes, even if only to convince oneself, in order to keep going: (writing interchangeable with whatever you do; insert choice of creation below)

I am the writer. I am the one who types. SAY MY NAME.



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