Every Monday and Tuesday night, in some cafe in the City, me and a few of my closest fellow writers sit ourselves down, introduce ourselves, and then shut up for an hour and put our thoughts on paper. We sit mere feet from the tracks of the N Judah line, on opposite ends of it, clanging bells and espresso machines and the chef's choice of either jazz tunes or KFOG visions peppering our gumbo of thoughts. I am the one calling time so that the pens can fly and the keyboards click. I'm wired. I'm sitting with a band of writers and my last corporate mentor sits at the back of my brain and gives me a stern stare: "Show me your discipline, your focus."
I can't write a word.
Then I tell myself, "Free up, we'll keep it in the journal. You don't have to publish this one." And I don't publish yet another one. I don't share yet another set of words with the universe, either because I know it's not intelligent enough to warrant comments, or because the kind of comments it would generate would stump me. Or, worse, I would assault someone just by publishing the piece.
So my writing comes out in small, furious, tentative slivers, barely a wisp of smoke from where I'm standing.
I'm sitting waist deep in a river of writers and dying of fear of my own shadow. The Tea Party can publish treatises that would make Dick Cheney sing the Hallelujah chorus, but I'm afraid to ruffle feathers or lose the last of a few fragile friendships. I can't seem to comprehend a friend supporting me regardless of my opinion, and yet others who I haven't seen in twenty years could not only express a differing opinion but tell me that as a writer I shouldn't have missed on something so obvious, and I embrace their opinion. I don't consider any of my ideas mature enough to present, even when I've read all over the board on the subject matter and have written the resolve out in my mind. When no one else has presented my side of the argument, I see it as a miss on my part, not innovation. Hmm...if no one's invented the light bulb, it's because there's something wrong with wanting artificial light, right?
Then I explode with my opinion. Case in point, my post on another blog about the BART protests.
I opened up that post with fair warning--I was not going to respond to comments on that post. I was angry at two aspects of the world when I wrote that: a) I couldn't side with the sloppy, ineffective and reckless approach of the protesters; and b) I am probably the most inarticulate person on Earth. I love words, nuance, and a slew of other inconvenient aspects of literature so damn much that they stop me from being a good, and intelligent writer.
Not to say I can't learn. I apparently do not know how.
On a daily basis I come to the typewriter angry, and entirely at my own responsibility. I hold myself back until I explode, when I should be writing, should be falling, should be placing my foot squarely in my mouth, if for no other purpose than to learn. I need to learn that making mistakes and writing those mistakes gives me permission to get it right next time.
And by "right" I mean in my own voice. Not closer to the trend. Closer instead to authentic for me, and closer to what my perception is. If I don't trust the voice of my perception, then I am no better than those reviewers on Amazon and Yelp who are paid $5 a review to express praise they don't truly believe. I'm preparing a recipe in which I hate the smell of the primary ingredient. That could generate enough creative anger to last a (albeit shortened by stress) lifetime.
I realize I don't have to tear the door down with a battering ram. While my goal is not to be popular or safe in my approach, it's also not to shock readers just for the sake of shocking them. I'm no Madonna or Lady Gaga.
I have to write to discover. No matter how unpleasant the outcome is.
Lastly, and probably the most difficult part to learn, is what to do about the comments, or lack of them. I obviously have some unnatural phobia of apathy and criticism. I often want an honest discussion and end up getting silence, total and yet vague agreement, or incredulous disbelief that I could be so wrong. My growth opportunity is in embracing comments for whatever form they come in, even if the trolls, strike, or if the post generates no commentary at all. I need to strike boldly forward and have a self-discussion or self-critique ready, but not a self-censorship. I doubt that my readership will grow beyond what it is now, but just in case my self-censorship and consequential outbursts are what is limiting my readership, I have to make changes.
And I have to ask myself: do I want to be the resident expert, or do I want to be on a quest?
God, I love quests.