The Soul of a Writer (essay)

“You don’t know why you are in despair. You only know you don’t feel like yourself anymore, but the crows have eaten all the breadcrumbs back to who you once were.”

I tend to think of myself as a writer. Since I was an elementary school kid writing bizarre Garfield (and yes the cat comic) fan fiction where Jon suddenly and inexplicably suffers from one catastrophe after another until he dies miserable and alone, I’ve always been someone with an inclination for writing. When kids are bored they find some activity to pass time. For me it was to write.

My parents worked a lot and my brothers didn’t like to play the same type of make-believe games I did. I was a timid kid, so I usually went along with whatever my school friends wanted to do.

Writing then, was about control. I invented an imaginary cast of characters whom would interact with myself and the world exactly like how I wanted them to. It’s like playing tea party or house, only I was too poor to have all the props so I wrote it all out instead.

As I grew older, writing became less a form of entertainment and more a tool I could use to understand the world. I used story to put form and shape to the chaos around me, and with time, concrete meaning unravelled into the abstract. My concerns leaned towards the metaphysical and I often thought about death and the unconscious. I wanted to know what lurked under the surface of experience.

I wrote and thought so deeply I occasionally felt like I was losing my mind. I would stare at words, rearranging them until everything had lost all of its meaning. If you spend enough time practicing one artistic medium, at some point you’re going to scratch the surface of your own soul. It’s an exhilarating experience full of suffering, but at least the suffering was ennobled with meaning.

Many of my favorite authors died by suicide. The journey through one’s own mind is full of despair. Sometimes you catch glimpses of demons and you know they live with you and will always live with you. There’s a lot of pleading involved. Prayer too, and crying, even if no real tears come. You don’t know why you are in despair. You only know you don’t feel like yourself anymore, but the crows have eaten all the breadcrumbs back to who you once were.

However, it’s not the end all be all. The writer’s journey will only help you glimpse one facet of the fractal soul. That’s why I always tell thinkers who suffer from depression that they’ll never “think” themselves back to good mental health. While it’s certainly possible, it’d be a long and treacherous journey. It’s better to act first and force the mind follow. It’s more effective to just dive off the edge and see how far the bungee rope of your free will take you before pulling back.

To think you can know your soul just by sitting around and looking within is a mistake. Such stagnation only breeds foul air and you begin to see your cowardice as stoicism.

That’s why I’ve since stopped asking myself “what is the meaning or purpose of life?” I’m not any closer to that answer than anyone else, it’s just that in order to answer that question, you’d first have to know what “life” is first, and to know life, you’d have to actually live it, not just think about it really really hard.

It’s there outside of yourself too. The Self. The Soul. Just as music doesn’t exist inside the instrument, the formation of your life reaches far beyond the physical confines of your body. There is you, and then there is the rest of the world, but that is also you because you are experiencing it. And whether life imitates art or vice versa, experience is alchemical in nature.

The writer negotiates by means of writing with her own soul. It’s not a give or take. There’s no exchange involved. There’s only discovery and when all the seemingly random pieces come together, you catch a glimpse of that unknowable and indescribable something, and it moves you to tears. You don’t know the meaning of life, but you don’t feel compelled to ask anymore.

You don’t feel like yourself anymore, but that’s okay, because you’ve become a bit more than just that.

1.17.20 Off-Center (poem)

I often find that my mind stands a few inches to the right of where my body is.
I am always slightly off-center.

Self-awareness meditation is the exercise of realignment.
Presence is the mind being where it should be.
Dead center in the void of your skull,
Where time doesn’t exist and past and future are delusions.

I often find that my body stands a few inches to the left of where my mind is.
I am never exactly where I should be.

12.20 Notes on Procrastination

After mulling around for a week about updating, it’s time to put my procrastination under the lamp and dissect it.

Head – The sorter of all thoughts. Eventually the mess piles up and you can only look on in utter defeat. As soon as you’re done sorting one pile, it’s already starting to unfurl and come apart. You’re scooping sand into a castle. No matter what, everything eventually scatters.

Hands – The creator of all human invention. There’s no way to fight the instinct to mold and shape the world into something more meaningful. The idea inside the head didn’t make it to my fingers. It got lost in translation I guess. Back to the drawing board.

Mouth – The jaw clenches when you feel tense. When I procrastinate, I bite the knuckle of my index finger. My pens are way too expensive to chew on.

Ears – Sometimes it’s too loud and sometimes it’s too quiet. I can’t work when someone’s talking, so why is it that I do just fine in loud coffeeshops? Right now I can hear the fridge humming loudly in the background. Sure I can listen to music, but I have to pick the right song. Now I’m spending more time skipping songs than I am doing any work. Eventually I get annoyed. No more music! But the silence…

Back – Didn’t someone say sitting causes people to die? Okay maybe that’s a hyperbole. When I sit for too long I begin to slouch. Everything’s so stiff. I think I better get up and do something else.

Stomach – Do I want a snack? What should I have for lunch? What should I eat tomorrow? Am I thirsty? Do I need caffeine?

Eyes – I wonder what’s happening on Twitter? Isn’t Trump being impeached right now? Let’s see how that turns out.

12.9 Who I Used to Be

Do you ever marvel at old drafts? Some of those lines are so beautiful, I’m a bit envious of the person I used to be, who was less knowledgable, true, but who had more passion and could write with such explosive zeal.

But the past is always seen through rose-colored lenses. I actually suffered a lot back then. The smallest things set me off into an emotional downward spiral and I’d often fall asleep in the fetal position begging the powers that be to keep me from losing my mind. However, I felt ennobled by my mental illness because many of my favorite authors suffered from severe depression. More than half of my top authors committed suicide. I thought it was a rite of passage for being a good writer.

The truth was, those beautiful lines had been glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel for me. I spent the supposedly “best years” of my youth in utter despair. I cried a lot, for no apparent reason. I might publish that writing one day. I’m not sure if it has any value to outside eyes, but I’m not being hyperbolic when I say writing saved me. After all, I write to create space, and without those lines, my depression would’ve completely suffocated me.

So I guess I’m not envious of who I used to be—that’s not the right word. Actually, I’m proud. Good job past me!

12.06 On Writing (Poem)

I write to create space.
That’s all there is to it.
I take a piece of this, a piece of that, a piece of myself,
And I rearrange it to my liking,
Fixing the words like adjusting a picture frame
A little to the right, or a little to the left.

I write because the world happens too fast, or not fast enough,
And like a scientist, I put the most interesting parts
Inside a glass cage, and work it through an intricate maze.
I collect samples to put under a microscope
To watch the cells divide and grow, or die in vain.

I write because sometimes I overthink or I can’t think at all.
I need relief! I’m exhausted and I want to sleep!
I write to create space.
That’s all there is to it.

12.4 Gray Morality (Poem)

Gray Morality

“Nothing is black and white,” I say.
Good and evil. Right and Wrong. It’s all relative.
Morality is a social construct.

You laugh and say,
“One day you’ll be brave enough to take a stand
For what you believe in, and for what you know to be just and true.
And when they come for you,
There’ll be no switching sides in the name of relativism.”

One day you’ll have to choose.
Not between black or white,
But to run, or to fight.

12.3 Thoughts

The painting above is what I used for “5 Ways to be a Better Creative” article. Actually it’s been put through the editor quite a bit so I’m not sure it can be called a “painting” anymore.

It actually started out as a semi abstract impressionistic painting of grass by a stream. I think if anyone saw the original they’d be pretty disappointed!

Bless technology. That’s all I wanted to say really.

5 Ways To Be A Better Creative

1) Fix Your Space

This one should be obvious. Keep your work area clean and organized at a bare minimum. The less clutter, the less distractions. If you’ve got a lot of supplies, get some shelves so they’re out of the way, or get one of those multi-tiered carts with wheels.

The less obvious advice to actually keep your room decorated in a style that is appealing and inspiring to you. Make it a place you’re proud of, that you actually want to spend significant amounts of time in. Get some wall art or make your own. Get some cool mood lights, etc. Invest in your space.

2) Don’t Worry About Failing or Perfection

You have to make the garbage before you make your masterpiece. Not everyone’s going to like your stuff and that’s okay. As long as you like it, then the piece of art has served it’s purpose.

Don’t worry if it sucks, seriously. Even my garbage drafts had nuggets of gold that I borrow from. Even my crud paintings can be saved with the help editing. My unfinished novels from my teens might not have been the best, but looking back I wished I had finished them. They’re like a time capsule, so even if they’re worthless to everyone else, you’ll still get enjoyment out of them.

3) Learn to Steal

As an avid watcher of Cooking TV, I can’t even tell you how many shows are about some celebrity chef going to some foreign country to learn the local cuisine and then take it back. If these rich professionals are stealing culinary secrets from rural peasants then it must be okay right??? (Seriously… though, wtf).

But really, it’s fine. Add a sprinkle of cardamom and crushed pistachios to ice cream and suddenly you’re a gourmet. There’s a difference between stealing and copying. Stealing is to make it yours and copying is… copying.

4) Get Your Health in Order

I have this thing where if I eat junk food I get a lot of phlegm and a runny nose (TMI I know), but it’s hard to concentrate on your work when you’re constantly blowing your nose. Overeating is also bad. Nothing makes you less likely to work than when your blood sugar crashes and you’re feeling bloated and lethargic.

Eat a clean diet and exercise. It’s hard to work when you can’t sit for longer than a few hours because of lower back pain, or if you get constant headaches or other minor pains. It’ll give you the stamina and vigor you need to finish these long projects.

Oh, and don’t forget to sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, refer to above. Eat clean and exercise. Seriously.

5) Finish

I don’t care if it’s crap. I don’t care if it’s not perfect. Finish the dang thing. Give yourself a deadline and publish it no matter what. You’ve got to get into the momentum of pushing work out.

Besides, in my opinion, it’s better for artwork to seem unfinished rather than overdone. Take movies for example. I’d rather leave the movie theater feeling like the director could’ve pushed it a little further rather than leave after some three and a half hour monstrosity of overindulgent scenes that add nothing except unnecessary bulk. I’d rather read a short and sparse novel than a hideously long one filled with page after page of purple prose.


Readers: Which one of these do you struggle with the most?