According to the page count on the statistics page for my latest project, I had reached 120 pages. The problem with that is that I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate. It doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that yesterday I looked at what I had going, and realized it wasn’t really working as a “story” so much.
There are a lot of characters in this story I want to tell, and the story covers nearly 80 years in the life of a city. In all of that large field of time and space, the story was being pulled in a lot of different directions by a lot of different voices, but none of them were terribly strong. They weren’t that strong because either their personal stories were so tied in with the stories of the others so as to blur in my imagination, or because the person with the real drive to have this story told hadn’t come forward yet.
I have a laundry list of distractions and vampire-like situations I see as contributing to this problem. I recently got an Xbox 360 so that I could continue to play some video games I’d become addicted to, but be able to remove the video game playing from my office and my computers. That was indeed a success. The video games have been deleted from my computers and the playing now takes place exclusively in the living room which is on the other end of the house away from my writing desk. But even allowing myself only an hour or so every few days to play seems to wipe my brain clean. The games are so visually stimulating that even the next morning, supposedly fresh and clear, I end up at my writing desk still imagining the world of Bioshock.
That chain leads me to my day job, which has not normally disturbed me. I have not been so lucky as to land a coveted position as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing. There were decision made over the last twenty years, opportunities bypassed, that seemed good decisions at the time from certain practical standpoints, but, in hindsight, only moved me further away from where I hoped to be at this point in my life. Therefore, with student loans to pay back, bills to pay, and the simple desire to avoid being a 40-something year-old man living in his mother’s basement, I have come to a place that, creatively, feels as barren as the moon. There’s nothing quite as devastating, I think, to the imagination as having to spend ten hours a day at a computer (8 hours for the man so I can pay my bills, two hours for myself). That leaves very little time to fit in the occasional game, or fit in time with my girlfriend time, time reading, time with family, time just sitting and thinking, or – perhaps in the longer term most importantly – time exercising (I can’t get below 210lbs, when I should weight 190lbs, and I have high cholesterol). All of this deadens the mind, I think, and very little of it stimulates that part of my brain that imagines.
Here’s how my day goes: I get up between 5 and 5:30am, make a chai, go to the bathroom and get to my writing desk. I sit there, try to focus on writing and not worry about bills, or money, or the deteriorating condition of the electrical system of my car (getting it repaired means a few days of getting up even earlier to get a ride to work from my mother because my girlfriend has let her car break down and rust in the driveway and let her driver’s license expire). Some days I write well, some days I don’t write much, and still some days the monkey mind rules and I can’t help but constantly check email or chase down some arcane bit of trivia that may or may not have to do with the story I’m writing. Then at 7am (sometimes later) I go take a shower and try to get to work by 8am. For 8 hours and 45 minutes I am alien to the world and work I really care about. By 5:10 pm I’m at home, unless I have to run errands, where I’m confronted with a series of decisions: do I force myself to try writing (or socializing online with other writers), which means adding to my already 10 hours facing a computer? do I take an hour and go for a walk (daydreaming of getting up to a steady job for more than two blocks), do I read (more time sitting), do I make dinner now, or wait and maybe eat dinner at 9pm, which is too fucking late to be eating dinner, or do I just say fuck it all and play Bioshock? Oh, and there’s the dishes that need to be done, the bathroom needs cleaning, and litter box that needs to be cleaned out . . and no, I don’t get help with those things.
It sounds, and even feels, like I’m complaining, but really, this is just an attempt at a dispassionate accounting of my day. There are no writers in my daily life right now, no creative stimulation that I don’t self administer in tiny bursts when I can find the time. There are no writers I can have a beer with on a regular basis and talk with the way I did with my classmates in graduate school.
In his recent chapbook “The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life” Dinty W. Moore shares a quote from Harry Crews that begins “You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently front the way the world wants you to live. That’s what I’ve discovered about writing. The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing.” The quote goes on to address the fact that if you wait for the right time or the right situation to write, you’ll never end up writing. Mr. Moore then writes about that quote, beginning with “The world does seem to conspire against the writer.”
What I’m saying, hopefully dispassionately and without any desire for sympathy and pats on my head (I wouldn’t mind some damn help, but if all you’re going to do is try to buck me up with some “it’ll get better, keep going/fighting” platitudes then well go suck an egg) is that the world seems to be conspiring particularly hard against my writing. I’m fighting it. I’ve always been fighting it. I still get up every morning, even on the weekends, plop myself down in front of the computer and do my best quiet the monkey mind and leap into a story. I still carry a book with me almost everywhere and try to read something new. I still carry notebooks (yes, several) with me almost everywhere I go and try to write in my journal, take notes, record observations, toss off a poem.
But my punches are getting weaker. The walls are closing in. And the only person I have to talk to who gives a shit is sitting in front of my computer (i.e. me.).