Saturday, October 4, 2014

Life Sucks And Then You Write

Let me start by apologizing to my millions of faithful fans (and by that I mean the handful of folks who read and comment regularly--you mean more to me than a million strangers would) for missing last week. It was just one of those weekends where being a teacher took precedence over being a writer. It happens sometimes. At least until I find a way to be a writer full time while also managing to eat and pay my bills. But that's not the point of this post.

Some of those who know me in the meat world, as people heavily into all things online call it, are probably aware of the fact that my personal life has kind of been leaking oil over the last several years and really blew a gasket over the last couple. What's interesting is that the time period where things have been the worst have been when I've been the most productive and creative as a writer. The more miserable I was the more I wrote and the better the writing seemed to be.

This is hardly new ground. A long line of miserable artists whose lives were littered with booze, drugs, busted marriages, and (sometimes successful) suicide attempts have already plowed this field. I guess the question would be just what the connection is between the two. To speak debater for a second, what is the causal link? Is the mind that's creative also prone to volatility? Almost certainly. But in my case, I'm positively boring psychologically. At least I think I am. Maybe someone could let me know if I'm really, like my friend Sherlock, a high-functioning sociopath and just haven't noticed yet.

I think the cause-effect relationship, at least for me, goes in the other direction. It's the misery that leads to the creativity, not vice versa. I have come to believe it's about two things: suffering leads to understanding and suffering leads to the desire to escape, if only temporarily. I'll hold the second of those beliefs for another occasion and concentrate on the first.

Especially over the last two years, I've learned a lot about myself and the world. These lessons have been hard-fought. I understand I tend to put off hard decisions and placate rather than confront awkward situations. I've also learned that I tend to enable the people I love to indulge in destructive behavior. Yet another thing I've learned is that some people know that and also know how to take advantage of it. Finally, I now know that I have a strong tendency toward passive aggressiveness. So all in all, I guess I kind of suck when I'm at my worst.

But I've also learned that when I'm at my best, I'm compassionate and giving and loving and sometimes quite funny.  I love to help people and I am pretty intuitive about when someone is suffering.

So what does that mean for my writing? Well, since the narrator in my book series is in many ways a somewhat idealized version of myself, knowing myself better means knowing him better. Harry Shalan is a deeper, more nuanced and realistically flawed character because I've become more self aware. And his loved ones, as well as how he interacts with them, have become more real as well.

So do I have to be miserable to be a successful writer? I hope not. But I understand that, to slightly misquote Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth writing about. And when do we examine our lives? Not when the car is running smoothly.

So here's to just enough engine trouble to make me a best seller but not enough to turn me into a suicidal drug-addled drunken bum whose estate gets to figure out what to do with all his royalties.

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