Friday, December 04, 2009

The Writer Who Cannot Write

There is no such thing as a writer who cannot write. If you cannot write, then by definition, you cannot be a writer. A writer writes, and while I have gone through periods of insisting that I am not a 'writer' (the title coming to mean something other than the noun), writing has always been present in my life and psychological make-up. I find myself without definition when unable to write. I cannot shape my days and I cannot explain myself, and I cannot. I cannot. I cannot. There is no such thing as a writer who cannot write, therefore, I am not, I am not, I am not.

Which means there can be no first person. Second person is not distance enough from this non-existent figure. Third person remains, and there is not distance enough in this perspective either, but there is no fourth person perspective to take. What would the fourth person involve? No pronouns, in fact, it would not mention the writer who cannot write at all.

Intellectually, she has always recognised the reasons for which people turn to drugs and alcohol at times of stress; an artificial buffer, chemical-enforced mood alleviation, necessary distance introduced by an introduced substance, all a welcome reprieve from the claustrophobic confines of the human mind.

However, she's never truly got it. She finds the mind an unpredictable beast to tame at the best of times, it's whacky enough without bringing foreign chemicals into play. Why mess with it? (Said purely from fear.)

She thinks about writing a lot. A lot a lot. On that first day, lying in bed long after she has woken because there is no point in getting up, this becomes apparent. Being unable to address any of her top tier writing projects she accepts, bitterly. What then to do with all the time that leaves her?

There's a couple of short stories she's been meaning to look at- wait, no.
That post on those books- wait, no.
The quick movie reviews- wait, no.
What about- no.
And so on, and so on.

There isn't enough housework to last a day and, as she discovers, it only exacerbates things. The things she finds when she digs through the accumulated strata on her desk - cards, letters, receipts, things she'd though she'd lost, things she didn't know she'd lost - all warrant attention of some sort. The stories they give rise to, the memories they unearth, all these moments she begins to compose in her head, giving shape to a paragraph, testing the phrases- wait, no.

Planning a written piece without being able to then write it creates a stranger inner pressure, as all that intent has no outlet. Thwarted once, twice, thrice over, she has no way of releasing any of what is building up in her. By being awake and alive, she cannot help but collect things to write.

She keeps returning to the metaphor of a dam, which is obvious. Without controlled release, eventually the dam will break. She can already feel the cracks.

Having finished all her chores, and possessing no desire to be out in the world, there is only one option left to her. She reads.

To her surprise, reading isn't always enough to occupy her mind. Her diligence in quashing any writerly thoughts is paying off, and all the hintermind and subconscious processing that would have been occupied with said writerly thoughts is now sitting idle. As such, the books she reads are brutally and savagely ingested as mind parts fight for sustenance, and not every book is enough to fill her. She finds herself looking up from the page, a response to what she has read running through her head, making a note of that reaction so she can write about it later- wait, no.

And so, because she just can't stop the internal writing engines and they're driving her to despair, she resorts to drinking.

Which, given she's a lightweight, she's a featherweight, she's a nothingweight, isn't as dire as it sounds. It doesn't take much to dull the edges and make her comfortably stupid. In the evenings, when the sun is down and no one can see how red her face is, she goes for a walk. Or more accurately, she goes for a drunken shamble, and burns off the worst of the alcohol to save herself the hangover.

This is not a healthy behaviour to indulge in, but, the state of mind she was heading towards is worse.

She doesn't doubt that for a second.

And she understands, now, why people drink.

She will also never be buying a $14 bottle of pre-mixed pina colada again. You get exactly what you pay for when you buy one of those. Looked like raw egg as well. Despite what the label stated, the ingredients did not 'mix'.

You also get what you pay for with a $10 bottle of sake. Which is still much better than a $14 bottle of pina colada.


Given the circumstances, she isn't adverse to spending money on a decent bottle of something, but, given the circumstances, she has to be thrifty. No typing means no typing. She cannot perform the tasks required in her job, and try as they might to accommodate her, there just isn't enough work to be found in an office that doesn't require typing. The work they find her is embarrassingly mindless, humiliatingly tedious, and only available during business hours. The paycut that comes from losing shift penalties is manageable. Lousy liquor and house arrest is only a temporary trial.

Truth is, the house arrest is a welcome solace. She's a mess, knows it, and doesn't need witnesses. The order prohibiting her from writing is its own protective measure - it ruins her, yet stops her from venting it at others.

She's irrational, furious, distraught, illogical, grieved, vicious, unfair, and far too self-absorbed. Every single person who fails to offer some token of support, who does not check in on her, who does not acknowledge her existence at all in this trying time, she hates. Every single one of you. Without exception. Even if such contact is beyond what she has any right to expect from a person, even if such contact is not even welcome by her. She hates your indifference, your selfish lack of consideration, she hates you for highlighting how vulnerable she is.

Every single person who reaches out and expresses their concern, sympathy and support, she also hates. Every single one of you. Without exception. She hates that you dare intrude on her when she has so little to spare, that you dare assume you could possibly EVER understand the HORROR she is going through, that you dare burden her with your concern when the last thing she needs now is to feel guilty for causing you worry, you dare offer advice when none of you can help, and she hates all of you for knowing she's weak, and knowing her as a writer.

Identity is not something she has a comfortable relationship with. It's an artificial construct created purely to for the aid of social navigation, yet she feels obliged to be the identity she has assumed. If she cannot define herself in her writing, then she defines herself by its absence. If she cannot be a writer, she doesn't want anything to do with anyone who knows her as such. That identity is dead. (Well, in a coma.) They can't unknow that part of her, and she doesn't want reminding.

What if this is permanent? What if she can never write again?

She'll jettison her identity. All of it. Change her name. Move. Never have anything to do with any of you again.

Dramatic and selfish, and startlingly unexaggerated. She is not graceful when tested.

Over time, as she survives one day, and another, and yet another, the rawness fades. The jagged edges dull. The pressure behind the dam wall stops climbing. She's resigned to her one allotted task at work, and the longer she sits in that chair, the more her shame becomes just another piece of furniture. With all the hands-on training (haha, no pun intended), she gets in the hang of quashing writerly thoughts. She's so good, she doesn't even think writerly thoughts anymore. Days go by without any sort of meaningful or interesting dialogue. She can't even have a conversation with herself.

It's a false calm, a tranquility that exists only because she is careful to do nothing that would disturb even the air around her. Thin and insubstantial, it cannot contain the turbulence beneath, and regularly she'll choke, look up and look away, and wait for that escaped sob to subside.

The metaphor changes from dam to dog. If a stray dog stops by your door and you keep feeding it, it'll stick around. If you ignore it, it goes away.

It isn't just the hours immediately before her she must learn to traverse a-new, but the land in her head that is dedicated to her vision of her future. Plans she wasn't aware she'd devised and expectations she didn't realise she was carrying are now rendered null. The rest of her life abruptly vacant. There's an immeasurable emptiness opening up in front of her.

She reads fifteen books in fourteen days. She finishes three bottles of spirits. She hopes the dam will hold and the dog will wait.

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