Never having been a drug addict, or even a particularly successful drinker, I am unfamiliar with the need for a “fix,” the whoosh of relief that apparently comes with the first hit, of the yearned-for chemicals. The closest I have ever come is probably the temptation to call the Bad Boy Who Will Break Your Heart Again, knowing that it’s wrong, and embarrassing, and unhealthy, but feeling that there is nothing else in the world that will set things right, re-order my frayed nerves and give me some relief from my suffering. It is not an admirable choice, but sometimes desperation masters the best of us.
For me, long past any thoughts of guys who can’t commit, there is the “crack” of approval. I picked up the pipe last week, and while the results were not particularly destructive, I am more than a little ashamed that I was incapable of sitting out a little change and discomfort, and couldn’t stop myself from looking for a heady round of comforting applause. Years ago, my English teacher put down his Yeats, fixed us all with his weary gaze, and opined that “the problem with Americans is that they can’t stand to be unhappy, even for a minute. It’s part of the human condition, and a source of great personal growth, but you are all constantly looking for ways to ignore those feelings and ‘get happy.'” Apparently, he was right…at least about this particular American.
I am currently working on a book that will be published under somebody else’s name. Ghostwriting, kind of, but the author makes no secret of the fact that she hires writers to help with her work. She is a miracle of graciousness, generosity, good humor and business savvy. It is delightful to work with her. I believe in the project. I am lucky to have the work, and to be paid for my writing. The problem for me is that it is not really my writing. I am writing in a voice not my own, for readers who would likely be baffled and depressed by my usual product. I am writing breezy, and upbeat and light, despite the fact that I am serious, deep and melancholy. I can do it, I’m doing it every day, and it’s probably a great writing exercise for me to stretch my muscles and shift my paradigms.
At the end of the day, though, I find that I miss…me. More specifically, I miss the kind of communication with readers that I have found through blogging, particularly on Open Salon. Here, I write, in my own voice, about the things that interest, bedevil or elevate me, and I am gratified by the response that comes from my fellow readers and writers. I am vindicated, and sometimes criticized, but it is attention. It is attention paid to my writing, my voice, my thoughts.
By Thursday of last week I was absolutely sodden with my inability to write the way I was being asked to write; I was too serious, my humor was too dry, my real self was leaking into my work. My employer, a consummate professional with a keen and experienced eye, has no time to coddle me. She has a deadline. She calls it like she sees it, and she’s brilliant in her ability to sense when writing is “off” in terms of her audience. I kept plugging away, taking notes and re-writing, but I began to have unproductive and mutinous thoughts. “I am serious. What’s wrong with being serious? I like big words. I like complex sentences…”.
I wanted, quite honestly, for her to cast off everything she had learned through years of experience, clutch me to her virtual bosom and say “Oh, Ann – you have shown me the error of my ways! From now on I’ll just let you write everything any way you think is best, book sales be damned! Whatever did I do before you came along?!”
I needed a fix.
First I did the thing I am not ashamed of, which was to watch Kenneth Branagh’s version of “Henry V” for the 20,oooth time, savoring the complexity of language and ideas, and having a good, cathartic cry that started with the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech and lasted through the last scene of France and England burying the casualties of Agincourt. I walked around mumbling the word “remembered,” savoring all four Shakespearian syllables.
Then I posted here, which I was not going to do until I was finished with the book project. I posted something that I had written earlier in the year and published on my own blog, a piece that I truly loved and that I wanted to test with a wider audience. It could have waited, that piece, until I was done with the project. It could have waited, theoretically, until July, or until after my death. I posted it last week because, after days of having my self confidence rattled by my new gig…I wanted approval. I wanted ratings, thumbs-up, virtual hugs and reassurances that I could actually write well. I craved it, and it was the only thing that could set me right. I filled my pipe, I dialed the sexy loser, I posted.
It worked. I felt that delicious combination of “safe” and “high” that comes from getting what you think you need. It did boost me enough that I returned fresh to the work before me, able to dig in, learn from the master, and push my ego out of the way. That was a good “end”. What, though, of the means? What does it say about me as a person, as a writer, that I could not simply hang on tight, put my head down and gut out an uncomfortable conflict between duty and ease? Was that a one-off, or will it happen again, any time the going gets rough and I need to feel a rush of warmth and approval?
As is often the case, I have no answers. Confession, however, is good for the soul….