Pen-Pow

I first fell in love with writing when I was a kid and realized it’s a form of channeling.  I wrote long letters by hand, on yellow notebook paper.  And I realized, I didn’t just write different things to grandpa than to Asian penpal; I felt entirely different ways, writing to grandma vs. Asian penpal.  Entering teenage-hood, I would actually sort out how I felt about people, and what they evoked, by prospectively writing them something.  

The interesting thing is that it tracked differently from my conscious feelings towards people.  Someone I liked a lot might not be a good “write”, while someone I didn’t, would be.  Some different element came into play than I was consciously aware of.  One of the most toxic relationships I ever had, to use a cliche, was in my 30’s with a man that I loved emailing.  Hardly anything else about him was present or available — he, like, demonized me in weird ways, and utterly misunderstood me in others.  I can’t explain why it felt so good to write him, but it did.  

It’s very much a part of my emotional life.  I’ve tried to date guys who check all the boxes on the surface, sort of white hat dudes, but sometimes I can’t get excited about writing letters or emails to them so I know it’s not gonna work.  There’s a lot I could say about Nick, which is not the topic of this blog, so I will just say, I experience no shortage of writing engagement to, on, and around him.  Which is important.  

As I got older, though, I realized that I didn’t want to be reliant on the unpredictable magic of the Someone Else factor.  I mean, that’s always nice, but there are issues.  First and foremost, even if different sorts of people inspire different sorts of writing, I’d still like all that to stay in service to myself, being more consciously controlled by myself.  Second of all, and this reliably happened every time I found someone I loved to write, they would become overwhelmed, thinking it needed to be transactional, and no pen pal by any definition can keep up with me.  So it would flounder under its own weight.  I didn’t need a bunch of writing back from them, I just loved the way *I* wrote, in light of certain people, but then again that’s a little one sided isn’t it?  Third, since my best writing connections didn’t always track with my best life connections, enjoying a writing relationship with anyone could easily become a mixed signal for one or both of us.  And finally, back to point number one: people in life come and go, and when they go, all the shit I spent time writing to them goes too, so I wanted to consolidate more, and keep more of that process “for myself” as it were. 

And by the way, one funny point — as I got older, I didn’t actually have to engage in protracted literary exchanges with people in real life.  I’ve met people in airports, never to be seen again, where I’m like “damn I’d really love to write you” lolol.  It’s a sort of libido, I suppose, that can cohere with physical libido but also can entirely not.  

So yes, I’m lucky I suppose to have had this built-in vehicle of intimacy — I don’t know what else to call it — which is not only safe (ish) and generally edifying, but over which also I’ve learned to take some degree of control, eliminating the person at the other end entirely, in a sense, or eliminating the definite need for the person at the other end let’s say.  It was interesting to (about — haha private joke: my mostly-perfectly bilingual Libyan friend was never able to get that one right, he always said “interesting about” when he meant “interested in”) have arrived at a point in my life where I do have a long-term, in-person intimacy connection, with Nick, that represents a solid-enough bridge to put all my weight on, and to realize: I still really need to write.  I mean, by that time, I had a degree in the shit; I’d committed to it in a major external (financial) way.  That puts it firmly in the realm of art, according to my personal definition, which is along the lines of, creative (vs destructive) impulses that can’t be denied, and which serve no obvious purpose.  

And that kind of makes me wonder: why do writers write?  It may or may not be a reasonable question; to which writers, themselves, may or may not be in a position to offer an honest response.  One huge problem with writing is that it’s a vehicle of self-intimacy which necessarily involves the monkey mind, the language mind, which can get almost infinitely up its own ass.  I mean, there’s a reason animals are just better people than people, and that reason may derive from, or perhaps only correlate to, the fact that animals don’t, and can’t, get infinitely up their own monkey-mind asses.  Talking is problematic, writing is problematic; no one can tell anyone anything new, in a sense.  If it’s truly new, it will be unrecognizable, and if it’s recognizable, then it’s not truly new.  We’re all just kind of shaking hands with ideas we already remember from some other party, in a sense, through writing and the consumption of writing.  Maybe the most interesting thing about the human experience is that, for all our adventuresomeness, it’s still and always a quest for the familiar, or the familiar-enough.  We don’t crave constant surprise and challenge; we crave occasional surprise and challenge, like chocolate chips in the otherwise comfortable batter of our cookies.

This sounds maybe pessimistic, but I don’t actually trust anyone who can’t admit to an inherently selfish reason, at least in part, for the things they spend a lot of time doing, and writers *can be* the worst about this.  I’ve said before, it’s mentally dangerous enough when everyone disagrees with you, and possibly even more dangerous when everyone agrees with you.  People who don’t write tend to oddly valorize people who do, as if they just willingly jump on grenades all day long, and the worst thing a writer could do is allow themselves absorb that valorization.  That way lies pompous, and pompous is the death of authenticity, and authenticity is the only state from which good writing (or good anything) ever comes.  That’s why writing represents this interesting tug of war between a state of chronic authenticity and a state of chronic monkey-mindedness, inherently, and some good things can come of it.  Some bad things too.  

So if I were to articulate the current reasons I write, in order of importance, I suppose they’d be, first, that form of intimacy with the world over which I can practice myself into some degree of control.  My empire no longer rises or falls with the advent or exit of a good pen pal.  I like to feel connected beyond myself, even if it’s an apparently one-way connection; it’s actually not.  When I sit down to journal (a true one-way connection, Source notwithstanding), entirely different things come out, so clearly I’m “channeling” some kind of awareness beyond myself, even if it’s wholly imagined.  Second, I like pitting my authenticity against my monkey mind and winning, more often than not.  That sharpens my instincts for authenticity everywhere, not just in text form, and it serves me well.  We can easily become bamboozled by language, our own or another’s, and so in that sense it’s like a daily fight with a ninja, just for fun.  

It’s easy for some people to assume that increasing sophistication of thought tracks with increasing sophistication of language, which is patently silly.  In fact, I once spent some time occasionally offending the sensibilities of a writer in Tucson, an older gentleman.  We were corresponding pleasantly about writing commercially and otherwise, via email, after having enjoyed each other’s company at a mutually favorite cafe over the years.  I was a more easily authentic writer than him, and he was appalled that my writing would often untie its cravat and even take off its shoes, when warranted.  His writing assumed and maintained this certain tone and gravity.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing exactly right about it either.  Just because a person walks through the door in a tuxedo doesn’t mean they’re any smarter than you, and just because a book or article or blog maintains its literary dignity doesn’t mean it’s got shit to say.  

Indeed, sophistication of thought, or its evidence, is everywhere around us, and if we’re hung up on language and typos, we’ll often miss the miracle entirely.  Never mistake a stuffy sentence for a valid thought.  Never.  

This was my biggest frustration in teaching writing, I suppose.  Perfectly nice, smart, funny students would, on the page, voluntarily put themselves into a straitjacket with lead shoes, and I was like, “What are you doing?  Where are you?  Come back here.”  Language, and the unfortunate necessity of actual words, is just something to get over as much as possible, like a bunch of ones and zeros.

I think the biggest reason I write is because I like being good company to myself.  If we’re not good company to ourselves, we’re unlikely good company to others, and when we’re being good company to ourselves or anyone else, it’s not like accessing a closed system.  It’s not like swimming in a stagnant pond, or shouldn’t be; we all have tributaries, we are tributaries; energy is flowing to us and through us at all times, and writing is only one of many ways to surf those waves.  Imagine being a surfer but not having to wait for the ocean to produce waves; you can generate them with thought.  That’s pretty cool.  

But here’s what writer’s block is: imagine being a surfer and you’ve become so good at generating your own waves that you forgot the ocean can also do it, and then you encounter a wall with your own ability.  All you can do is wait for the ocean, but by then you’ve become accustomed to a degree of control that isn’t helpful now.  I think writer’s block can also be about having spiritually moved on from a project, or possibly never having been truly interested in it, but choosing to be enslaved to it anyway.  In that sense it’s interesting how we acknowledge the cessation or stagnation in the flow of energy around writing, which also occurs around everything else in our lives but which we don’t acknowledge in such an accurate sense.  “Writer’s block” is also a helpful concept in that we understand there isn’t necessarily something wrong with us or the project; sometimes it’s just a call to reframe what we’re making it all mean.  This can be very appropriately applied to other things in our lives, when the energy flow stops.  It can be because it’s time to leave the relationship, job, city, whatever; or it could be that we started making it mean something that pinches us off from our innate enjoyment of life, and we do have the power to reframe that meaning.  

I know for me, with this blog, I can get a little pessimistic that it generates anything but offense (you know you live in a witch hunt culture when that’s your primary creative concern), but then the smallest little inkling of a positive comment or like or just someone showing up will salvage it for me.  I’m not saying I “need” that validation, per se?, but I do think it’s important for us to remember that we all run on compliments, and it takes honestly the most infinitesimal quantity of congratulatory “gas” for us to go another hundred miles.  It’s good to build in a habit of genuinely complimenting others in the world, when we like something, knowing that our impulse to criticize is so much more urgent lollll.  I sometimes think we’re literally all just one compliment away, even one random smile away, from our next great idea, our next great achievement.  It’s so easy to believe the worst of ourselves, and so many people show up to assure us that worst is true, unfortunately.  

I remember I was having a day several months ago where I was like “fuck it, I should just stop”, and my brother randomly mentioned that someone who’d read his repost of my blog thought that something I said was quite prescient and predicted exactly something he observed, x y z, I don’t know what.  I’ve certainly never blogged anything I would regard as prescient — ALTHOUGH, what are the chances Joe Biden comes down with “coronavirus” just in time to not have to debate Trump?  I’d say pretty fuckin high — but anyway, that one remark just turned my whole day around, and I thought, yay, I can’t wait to blog tomorrow!  

So, you know, it’s not good to set ourselves up to need too much from each other, and it’s also not good to set ourselves up to pretend we don’t need stuff from each other.  Worst of all, life often constrains us to a set of people from who we simply cannot get satisfaction, in whatever form, and writing is a way to extend the search, certainly.  One point Teal Swan hammers on again and again — to her way of thinking, psychological “dysfunctions” are actually childhood adaptations that were functional at the time, else they wouldn’t have occurred.  And now it’s our challenge to heal them and to create better circumstances in our lives in which those maladaptations are no longer necessary or even viable — is that, as children, we are limited to whoever the fuck serves as our primary caretaker, and literally everything about our development is negotiable in favor of sustaining our own survival based on securing the continued approval and support of that caretaker.  (Cue the crazy.)  

And then as adults we have, but sometimes don’t realize we have, the opportunity to cast our net much wider.  If I can’t get what I need from you, that’s okay — I’m an adult and I can go get it from a whole bunch of other people.  So in a sense, that can be the best of what writing does for us as well.  We can experience connection with others, in a certain sense, by casting a much wider net that would even be available to us as ambulatory, financially mobile adults.  From the comfort of our own homes, as it were.  I have certainly spent many, many, many days and nights feeling wonderfully connected to a tapestry of authors, Tanith Lee being chief among them.              

6 thoughts on “Pen-Pow

  1. Your writing instructor was on to something, writers (and everyone for that matter) should be their 100% genuine self. My reason for writing used to come from a sense of fulfillment, where I poured out everything that I absorbed in the world whichever way I wanted, knowing that someone would relate to at least one thing I stated, to understanding the value editing has on the overall picture that I attempt to articulate as I continue to express my complete self. the best way I know how.

    You talked about the paradox of recognizing the new, but the two are more connected than you realize. I have learned that originality is the sum total of creativity and familiarity, therefore the new is best presented from a position of perspective. Thank you for writing this post.

  2. It’s amazing that through reading your post, I can really tell that you are not pushing yourself. Thank you for a refreshing honest post. I hope one day my writing improves to a point where I can write like this.

    1. Thank you, it’s truly enjoyable, like flying when normally I have to walk 🙂 One of my best writing instructors told me, the job of a writer is to learn to sound less like everyone else and more like him/herself ♥️

  3. I cannot fathom how you write a several thousand word blog almost daily, with excellent and insightful content no less, as well as do all the other things that you have set yourself up to. It’s extraordinary, reminds me of the Greek ideal of the life well lived or a well rounded person or whatever it was. Anyhow, it is inspiring.

    1. The much harder thing is to not write a blog everyday lollll, or not be able to 😭 which has been the case for many years with work. I do not take this for granted at all! And it’s never as good, if I have to start later in the day, after too much psychic absorption of world stuff. Yes, that’s a good ideal…was it euphony or something…? Eustress?

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