Tag Archives: journal

Thoughts come when they will: 30 May 2010 journal

Sunday, 30 May 2010 (MMX), 5:24 a.m.

[“M” is my wife. “Blerg” is a Tina Fey word from 30 Rock.]

There’s no reason to be up this early, except to give the mosquitoes a crack at our flesh. They are numerous and determined this morning. It’s time to wear pants, I guess. I killed several just on the walk down the drive this morning.

That was just a couple minutes ago, but the way I wrote that sentence, it could have been any time in history.

I was super-annoyed by these mosquitoes. It’s too bad we don’t have screened-in porches around here and central air — both would make summer more livable, enjoyable.

Anyway, mosquitoes — there are many of them, but you don’t have to overreact and not want to go outside at all. Damn, I’ve got a bump, a scratchy, well, itchy, bump behind my left ear.

Anyway, we went out yesterday late morning. M dropped off dry cleaning.

5:44. I’m back after second Sammy walk. I thought maybe he had to poop, and he did poop, and a few mosquitoes swarmed him as he pooped, and I wore my sweatshirt jacket with hood pulled tight around my face, which helped.

M. dropped off dry cleaning and picked up prescription and got cash at bank and ate breakfast at diner, and while there, we looked through a real estate guide, and saw a church and parsonage on sale for $160,000-something. I don’t have the money, of course, but I liked the idea of having a church for performances. But it freaked M out a little — church guilt, ideas of what should and shouldn’t happen there.

And later we drove past 721 Kristi in Rose Meadows (south of Mill Road) in Byron and 301 South 2nd in Oregon. Why did we go to Oregon? Oh, M wanted to drop off jewelry at jewelers at Conover Square, and I went for groceries, and in the cheese section, I thought, if I don’t want anything, I could be pretty mellow, laid-back. Wanting a particular house makes me less so.

A dream this morning that I went to a house under renovation. My brother Nace was working there (I sorta felt I should be helping Nace, but I didn’t. He was wiring a sound/electronics system, though he admitted an electrician should have done it. There were lots of tools around.). There were also some acquaintances of mine from high school with whom I talked. Somehow it turns out Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, was stepdad to a former student of mine, and this was his house — a barn-to-house conversion on Flagg Road, couple miles west of high school (not modeled on any particular house).

How houses grab my attention now. I thought yesterday how I used to be obsessed about something else — cars, I guess. I used to check out car ads in Rockford Register-Star newspaper, which mostly made me feel bad — I couldn’t afford a nicer one. But then I did get my cars — they have been good and not so expensive. Ah, well. I don’t want an older house now because of the lead paint and all that other old shit — old wires, pipes, insulation, all that necessary stuff.

Thursday, we saw a local lawyer hauling trash bags near the high school and railroad — Byron Community Revitalization (or some group-title indicated by “BCR”) clean-up day. An old dude on a little motorized seat — Ron Millard, M said later — saw me with Sam and asked if I take a bag with when I walk him.

And so yesterday, we came home after Oregon, hung up underwear, put socks in washer. Then I slept in TV room from 2:30 or 3 till 6 — woof. Then I hung up socks and we went to Dos Amigos in Byron, Family Video, and Sam’s for ice cream, and then we ate it over at that Byron park on Mill Road. There were some old dudes there and a few teens, boys and girls, horsing around — they probably live nearby. Rose Meadows is south and Fawn Ridge is east of park.

Skeeters weren’t so bad during the day yesterday. They’re worse at 5 a.m., apparently. Today is the first day in several that I have done journals before watching TV. My friend Dave’s play is today — I wouldn’t mind seeing him do an Italian-American accent (in “Italian-American Reconciliation.” M said she, with her Italian background, might be offended — partly a joke).

Well, here I am. I slept (napped) for 3 hours yesterday, and I am starting to feel more rested, less mentally exhausted. My low back has been tense and dully painful the last two evenings. I took Advil at bedtime and that was okay. Yesterday afternoon I felt it threatening to tense up.

Anyway, yes, here we are. I’m starting to get tired now. We did watch Secretary on IFC — it’s a story of dom/sub relationship — and then some of SNL before bed at 11. That movie was a little odd, so dark, a bit foreboding. It made me a tad anxious, but not a big deal. I remind myself sometimes that it’s okay to be anxious now. It’s no big deal. I sometimes tell M: it’s okay to feel bad. You (and I) don’t have to fight these feelings.

We argued — mildly — over “What a Fool Believes” by Doobie Brothers after hearing it on radio as we drove down Cox Road and up the driveway. M says the line “What a fool believes he can see, a wise man has the power to reason away” means that the man reasoned — overthought — away his desire to go after the woman who, we are told, is leaving. I was sticking to my earlier interpretation that the guy is a fool for believing something false about the woman that prevents him from going after her — maybe he believes he has seen her be unfaithful or something. But then I got sick of arguing it.

See, we really do just think a lot.

And I’m tired of pretending to like camping — not that I never did, but Dad and I even stayed in hotels half of our trip out west. How I smoked in front of dad, my buying into that mythology, that image of the West. How dad had intended Nace to go instead of me.

No, I’m just not too excited to go camping. And I’m comfortable with the fact that I would prefer sleeping indoors, on a good bed, to camping (lumberjacks would burn the straw from their mattresses and refill them every week, I saw on TV on some show about lumberjacking and Paul Bunyan. 1880 to 1890 was the height of lumberjacking in Wisconsin, said some guy from Eau Claire museum of lumberjacking (is that the verb form?).

So, yeah, I don’t need to go camping. I mean, left to myself, I just don’t.

Something about the lime smell in my Negra Modelo yesterday (which went better with my Combination C than soda does) reminded me of Terranea vacation — something about that smell — and M’s pina colada — and we reminisced, though thinking of going to ocean still made me think/prompted worries of what I’d do to hide the hotel room key while we swam. And how funny, too, that I also had a thought of Denver vacation, and the thought that came first was: should we really get another dog? We had reserved Sam but hadn’t picked him up — and of course I’m glad we have him — but that’s what I worried about on that August ‘08 trip.

I do think a lot, not always original things. In fact, as I go through my daily life, many thoughts aren’t original at all. I’m not saying all my thoughts are interesting, but I do have a lot of them.

Take a pic of that green house on Route 2 near Supervalu in Oregon, and that tall house in Kings — collect pictures of houses you like.

No, what did I want to say about all my thoughts — not all of them — but when they occur?

My clothes dried quickly on the line yesterday, and I brought one basketful up, but the other I left at bottom of inside stairs — and just now (okay, a couple moments ago, before this paragraph, as I was advance-numbering the next few pages), I realized that basket is why the dog couldn’t sleep down there last night, as he often will, especially when he’s hot. I saw him coming back up from down there.

The psycho-sexual stuff in Secretary, how tedious that seems. Maybe that’s why I’m not a sadist. It seems to weigh on Spader, too, though there’s also guilt there.

But, yeah, the thoughts come when they will. When I’m examining pre-cooked bacon with thoughts of it as a dog treat, or heading to get string cheese — that’s when I thought yesterday (actually, after bacon, before string cheese) that I could be more laid-back if I had less desire. If I didn’t care, I could be a cool hippie.

Eh, this still isn’t catching my attention. I mean, I don’t think it’s remarkable or interesting in itself that I had that thought then. Reminds me now of something I read a while back, that in a literary novel, a character may learn a little insight — or maybe not — over the whole novel, which is in contrast to those movies or TV episodes where a lesson is learned (or maybe nothing is learned — that “Family Matters” episode I saw recently where Carl and his son were dealing with the son’s dealings with a racist cop. No lesson was solved there, but it still didn’t quite work dramatically).

Blerg, see, spitting stuff out of my head — that’s what these journals are for. It’s 20 till 7 now — I wonder if mosquitoes are less bad.

I nearly constipated myself by having ideas I didn’t want to write down — none were great, but now they’re dispersed. Maybe they lead to something else? Maybe there was a thought that I had quite said anything interesting about all the thoughts I have, or how I didn’t seem to have much to say, or how I don’t really need to watch the houses on TV real-estate shows this morning, or how I could pick out a topic from pocket pages but I’m about getting too tired to write just now. It is 6:45, and I have been writing for more than an hour.

But I think/feel there was more to say, something new to say, about the ideas — the insights. I have more insights than I have experiences — in Hollywood movies, there’s more of a one-to-one correspondence of experience to insights.

Narrative: why does so much have to be narrative? Jeez, I even saw a movie labeled “National Geographic Entertainment” yesterday — why not a documentary? At least Linklater doesn’t seem so devoted to narrative — Waking Life, Slacker. Movies, huh? We rented 5, including Being There and My Man Godfrey* and Bamboozled and The TV Set, and Avatar* (*These movies were M’s choice; other three were mine). Some of these we rented because we had heard they were good movies. But no movie really solves anything, does it? It is it really possible for a movie to even change/influence one’s life? Maybe books have more power that way.

Blerg. I’m done for now.

No wrong way to journal: From 20 Nov. 2011 journal

At Costa's Ristorante, 18 Nov. 2011

At Costa’s Ristorante, 18 Nov. 2011

Each journal is complete.

I’ve tended to judge some of my journal texts a bit harshly in recent weeks, in that they don’t all have grand ideas. But I need to remember that each journal is the result of a real experience. That I sat down each morning and wrote, and, of course, there’s no such thing as success or failure there — it just is. It’s experience — it’s not even fully described by “experience.” It’s me, it’s me being here, being present.

I am sometimes grumpy, sometimes over-generalizing, sometimes repetitive. But that’s all OK, it doesn’t matter. There’s no wrong way to do the morning pages, as Julia Cameron wrote. These journals aren’t merely texts to rifle through — they are part of me (and, of course, also not part of me). They are me being open, honest, putting words out there even if they aren’t brilliant or original. That’s OK, too. I guess what I’m saying, partly, is that when I go to read journals, I don’t have to be dismissive. I can accept what’s there — embrace it.

Shadow frost. 23 Nov. 2011

Shadow frost. 23 Nov. 2011

Radical openness, part 2: Weds. 30 Dec. 2015 journal

Continued from previous post.

In essence, there is nothing that I have to say to others. There’s nothing I need to say, and what texts I’ve created, these don’t need to be published. These are not vital info for others, not all that informative nor all that entertaining. Yet, maybe I’ll publish them anyway. Maybe I put up a few things on my blog, things whose value isn’t argued for or explained. Yeah, I may look a little weird doing that, but I want to know what these other forms would look like — can these be done?

The value for me is in the act of publishing is in the doing (if someone likes what I’ve done, that’s just an ego stroke for me). I don’t learn much or have new ideas from having others read my work (though I guess it’s possible someone could read my work and give me a deep analysis from which I could get insights).

(These lines make some sense to me now, but I recognize that this text may not make sense to me later, once the ideas are gone from my mind. The ideas are in my mind now, so they do seem normal now.)

If you are to retain open-mindedness, you just gotta trust that new learnings, new experiences, will come. You can’t know/predict what these are, or else it wouldn’t be new learning. You gotta have faith in the process of letting go, having an open mind!

I may publish a text that isn’t clearly trying to communicate, but is conveying the message, “I’m alive, here’s something from my mind.” It’s not what I say that matters, but only my voice — that I’m writing — that matters? My experience of writing and editing? Of course, these don’t matter to others. But new ways to be, to write, can indirectly communicate, but this doesn’t need to matter to others — a near paradox.

I’ve written for a couple hours, and I may not have said anything of interest to anyone but me. But the point is, I like to write! I like spending time that way! Any value for others in my texts is nice but incidental.

2:55 p.m. — An implication of radical openness: I may just remain silent. I may not have anything to say! I will likely try publishing things. I won’t take “radical openness” as a restriction. Don’t take this idea too seriously, either!

I don’t want to have to put on a persona, do a performance, as most writings and art made for others are. there’s writerly ego there in making the performance pleasing to others.

When a nonfiction writer dramatizes his role as an observer or participant, that’s a layer of fakeness, because one can’t live (do things other than writing) and write at the same time. [see another example here] To pretend in an article to do so is to make artifice. Writing is done after the experience. Why not be more natural, less self-aware, self-dramatizing, portraying self-as-character? To be less aware of writing to/for others might be more authentic.

4:10 p.m. — Writings — texts — do not represent life or physical reality or experience. We may try to represent these in words, but it doesn’t work well. Writing is writing, representing only itself. The mind uses language — that’s it! Experiencing and writing are two different things — it’s inauthentic to both to elide that distinction.

The way we teach students to write — say, the Personal Narrative, the Research Paper — is filling in a form, learning to put info in a format that others people can easily recognize. This teaching has students learning to do a specific type of thinking and language use, but it’s not a type of writing that reflects authentic, spontaneous language use, as a freewrite can.

The criticism that certain narratives aren’t realistic doesn’t make a lot of sense from this perspective (that writing doesn’t represent reality). All stories use language — there’s no way to compare language to reality.

I seem to be making a claim here, though I don’t want to, because my larger point about radical openness is that I don’t need to make points. Claims are made as compared to some sense of reality — that’s one definition of truth: something is true if it matches or adequately explains some aspect of reality. My point here is that there is no truth, there’s just language, and looking for truth in language may not be possible or even useful. Of course, the trap here is that I’m making yet another claim about reality. An expression of language is just an expression of language.

6:30 p.m. — I think what I want to say is that this idea (that writing represents itself, language use, not physical reality or experience) can be interesting, useful — but that my point in writing isn’t to make claims but just to write because I like to write. There’s no point where I will or could be done. There’s no idea/claim argument endpoint. What I was writing earlier in today’s journal is that a topic or point, to communicate that is to communicate, when that’s kinda flawed. (Why? because of reasons I gave earlier today, which I can’t quite recall …)

9:12 p.m. — well, because of radical openness! Because nothing I can say will be as cool as what might be said next — and because whatever I’ve already said in the pile of writings isn’t as important as what I might learn from the next editing session! Old thoughts are old, existing thoughts are old, but the experience of reading old texts is new!

Writing I love doing, and its value to others: Tuesday 19 July 2016 journal

At home, 8:05 a.m. — As I saw a car drive past me and my dog on our morning walk, I thought that the method and rate of one’s travel shapes or reveals one’s goal or purpose. The car’s driver is getting quickly to a certain place, while my dog and I were walking for the sake of walking.

Idea: In interpreting a text, we assume that if the text has been published (unlike a journal or a private correspondence), what’s there was meant to be there. And that assumption may be worth questioning.

Three neighbor kids came over to our house as my wife and I sat on our front lawn last night. They asked if we’d bring our cat outside, and after we set the cat down, five-year-old Dustin commanded, “Kitty, play!”

Our dog was out front of the house, too, attached to his cable as I did lawn work. He was lying, sphinx-style, and panting, and looking at nothing in particular. I told him he looked like he was just groovin’ on the evening.

How good I thought my Grinch and Frosty the Snowman posts were until I reread them last January for possible use in my English 2 classes. The posts weren’t terrible, but were too complex for my sophomore students to appreciate, and overall not as funny as I remember.

I don’t want my blog to turn political. I don’t want to drive away readers who disagree with my positions, and also politics tends to be either relentlessly of the moment — meaningless — or it’s based in values that are inarguable.

An author can’t wake up people who aren’t interested in waking up, who aren’t seeking or who aren’t at least open to new ideas. I don’t want to praise complete openness — I’m not interested in trying anything, any drug, any experience, just for the sake of experience. There is value in the orientation I have to the world, which is based on all my years of experience and reacting to, thinking about, that experience. Maybe if I took peyote or did a sweat lodge session, I would have an experience that would change — broaden, in a good way — my perspective. On the other hand, not all experience is good. Some experiences are things I’ve wanted to retreat from, and these haven’t taught me much except that there are things I don’t want to experience. Other times, I’ve had experiences that I just couldn’t make sense of, and so I couldn’t assimilate them into my worldview. Some people have really bad experiences, like PTSD, that sorta break them, at least for a while, or send their lives in new directions, which aren’t always bad, but can be. Anyway, I’m not sure having an idea that certain experiences can break a person helps me to live a calm, fear-free life.

I could edit down my journals into single-idea paragraphs, but that seems safe. What’s interesting, what’s the challenge now, is expanding my ideas of what’s permissible, what new forms can be found, or familiar forms exploded. In other words, not editing a text down to a single topic or story seems to go against what I’ve learned, what I’ve internalized, about editing for publication, what’s best or acceptable to publish. And I want to be willing to challenge my own beliefs about what a piece intended for others needs to be.

How much can I push readers, how difficult can I make texts for them? No, actually, that’s not the question, since, as I said not long ago, I’m not writing for others. I could just post what I like. It’s easy for readers to say no to reading my stuff. I don’t want to do the performance, where I publish only a few perfected (whatever that would mean) things — I’m choosing to look messy, to post things that aren’t perfect, because process matters more than product. But with what I was doing with that post last night, editing my journal, I’m not even sure what the product is, and I’m telling myself that it’s OK to accept the uncertainty. Don’t close off this attempt. Go through with it, even if it isn’t, if you’re not sure that it’s, good.

Sure, it might be self-indulgent to post material from a day’s journal — exactly none of it was written for an audience. Yet I persist in thinking that there’s value there. In one sense, this might be a frontier — I mean, I’m not sure there’s value here, but I don’t want to go back to the known forms of nonfiction writing. That would feel like a retreat from exploring, and it would feel unsatisfying. It’d be easy to maintain the distinction between writing-for-oneself (private writing like journals) and writing-for-others (public writing like an essay). The private writing I do because I like to write, and it doesn’t matter much what I say. I can babble joyfully like a baby; I don’t have to try to seem special. Writing for the public, though, that’s a performance, and I feel like I gotta have a topic and a reason for why my topic matters to readers.

I don’t write about my experiences in a novelistic, scene-setting, moment-by-moment way because I don’t want to make certain moments of my day or of my life stand out.

3:30 p.m. — As I edit this (Monday’s) journal, I’m thinking that there may not be a reason for anybody to read this. I mean, there’s no introductory/enticing reason. But also, is there even a reward to reading it? Or is the reward just the chance to be amused and/or challenged by my mind’s words, by an aspect of my mental presence?

What is it that makes people want to read? Or, rather, what is it that we get out of reading? I like getting new ideas. I sometimes like to be merely distracted/minimally entertained, as when I read before bedtime. Sometimes I want to see others agree with me (as when I read political commentary).

I wrote an email to my friend Doug an hour ago in which I said I want there to be a way for the writing I most-love doing to also be interesting to others (at least to some others), worth their time to read. There are certain writers whose every work I’d want to read — I, for a while, would read anything David Foster Wallace wrote (well, his nonfiction). But the writing that I do that seems most-valuable to me, why wouldn’t that also be valuable to others? (In other words, I don’t want to have to write stuff I don’t feel eager to write just for the purpose of being read).

‘I’d like to become an intellectual’: From the Writings of Younger Me

Below is a journal entry written when I was 18 years old and in my first year of college at Michigan Technological University. I’d been keeping a journal for a few months before this, but on this day I typed my journal on the laptop computer I’d just received (which, for the record and to make this seem an eon ago, was an IBM-brand with 2 megabytes of memory and a 120-megabyte hard drive, a computer that cost nearly $2,000). I was a computer science major then, and I was living away from home–eight hours north of home–for the first time. 

When I think now of how I felt then, I remember being lonely and overwhelmed, but I remind myself that there were good times, too. I’ve at times thought that I could write a memoir or a bildungsroman about those experiences, but whatever I’d write would be more artificial than the for-myself texts I wrote at that time. Reading this today, I’m struck by how much this does sound like my writing voice, albeit a less-experienced version of me. (I edited the journal entry below only minimally, to make reading smoother and to explain contexts.) However, I’m distant enough from these events that I feel like I’m reading someone else’s journal.

But this is what I wrote about my life at age 18 when I was age 18. I didn’t have the wisdom of looking back from an advanced age, but then, none of us have that wisdom as we are living our lives. These journal writings, then, are nonfiction that may have the flavor of a character monologue about them, the character being a me who is now distant from me. I have always (I think!) attempted to be honest in my journals, and as I publish these writings from my current perspective, I present them for readers to take at face value. I do not mean to endorse or criticize what these texts contain; I see these texts as valuable in their honesty of revealing a particular mindset from a particular time.

October 23, 1992

I got this awesome computer today and flunked my calc [quiz?] I was so excited. Pretty good day, but flawed. The bell of my tuba [the sousaphone I played in my university’s pep band] was bent when it fell off the bleachers [where we stood and played]. Some people got extensions on their program due dates–which bothered me a little, since I worked all last week on my program, but I guess it’s no big deal–I’ll have a chance to work on my program some more, too. This weekend is to be spent on homework. I’ll be glad when I go home – not so much because I get to visit the metropolis of Rochelle, but because I won’t have to do homework. Like I told mom the other day, I always have homework, or am feeling the constant threat of homework. Maybe I worry too much–I should probably relax more. Ran into Cute Trombone Girl tonight when a few of us [pep band members] went on a trip [stopping and playing] around the stadium. I thought about apologizing again, just to talk to her, but that seemed kinda lame, and it was (or would be). I’m not real worried though–I just try to put women out of my mind. It’s easier that way. First hockey game of the year tonight. I got tired of standing w/ tuba, but i’d better get used to it. I called home and talked to [my two-years-younger brother] Nace–still a slacker. I’m getting to be more of a slacker in calc. I almost want to get a ‘D’ so I can repeat it. A ‘C’ would be alright, too, but I’m going to drop down to regular calc 151 [from the honors calculus class I was in] anyway. Mom called back, but there was not a lot of time, and the hockey game was imminent. Not a lot of news, either. Homework is all I do, it seems. I do slack off sometimes, like today, when I played with my new computer and read [a magazine] instead of studying. I was just fried, however, from my whole week of constant homework. Next week won’t be much better. I think I’d like to become an intellectual. College sure has made me think more, about humans and life in general. I know I’d like to write fiction. Right now, authors seem demi-gods to me. I’d like to try writing anyway. I’d like my contribution to society to be something of art or literature, as opposed to the contributions of technology which surround us today. Well, I’d better go to sleep so I can get up tomorrow and do more homework.

Ten years of ‘Morning Pages’

This weekend marks my 10th year of following the advice in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” and getting up early each day to write “morning pages” — three hand-written pages of whatever comes to mind. This means that I’ve written 3650 (well, maybe I’ve skipped two or three days in that 10 years, but otherwise it’s been every day) days of “morning pages” — or, as I also call them, “journals.” I’ve almost always written at least 3 pages, and probably my average is more like 4 notebook pages; at an estimated 250 words/page, that’s 1,000 words/day, so 3.7 million words. Sure, it’s meaningless to talk about a quantity of words written, but it’s still fun to see those numbers. It’s weird to think I could write a million of anything, but over time, the texts add up.

I have kept a journal since I graduated high school at age 18, but until age 30, I wrote only sporadically, usually when I felt I had something to express, and that filled about 35 notebooks (mostly of the 8.5″ by 11,” 200-ruled-page variety). But once I started writing journals, I still recorded things I felt I needed to record (including daily activities, reactions to experiences, etc.), but I also started writing things that I didn’t know I needed to say. I started to say things that surprised me, things that seemed wiser than I felt I was, and so I have been able to learn from my smarter-self (my subconscious mind? I’m not sure where these ideas come from), such that I feel like my best teacher now, the teacher I most need to pay attention to, is my self.

Sure, that sounds egotistical, and sure, most of the 160 journals I’ve filled in 10 years do not contain fascinating writing. It’s the height of self-indulgence, someone could say. And yet, of course, it’s “indulgent” only if I’m asking for others to indulge me, to pay attention to what I’ve written only for myself, and that’s not what I’m doing. Writing doesn’t always need to be made for others, and I write because I love the sense of listening to my writing-voice.

Writing these journals has also given me a chance to write on days where I wouldn’t otherwise time or energy to create. I get up early to write, and that’s time I’ve been able to protect better than, say, time in the evenings.

I don’t even go back and read my own journals very often. I have kept all of my journals, and I go back sometimes to see what I did on a certain date, and sometimes to see what I was thinking about. I wonder sometimes if these journals could provide ideas for writing about here on the blog, and they could, and have, but mostly once I write a journal, it’s done. It’s past. I want to write what’s going on now, what’s new, rather than re-reading what’s past.

It’s been an interesting and valuable practice for me, and I’d recommend others try it as well — I do assign my high school writers to write journals, with topics of their own choosing, every class day. Some of my students seem to love doing their journals while others don’t enjoy it much. I suggest to all of them that they at least keep the journals they’ve written once the class is done — this text of their teen-selves is something that no money can replace. I now have almost 200 books that are unique to my library.

But Julia Cameron’s book states that morning pages are a primary tool of creative recovery, and I’d agree that doing these journals has helped me grow as a writer — I have learned more about what I want to do and who I am as a writer, and I’ve also learned what seems to me to be the most-important concept in becoming an artist: the willingness to put words on paper without worrying about whether these words are interesting or good or bad. I just write, and that’s enough (most days, anyway).

I write for myself (mostly)

In an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!”, Tim Kreider explains his frustration with being asked to do artwork for free:

So I’m writing this not only in the hope that everyone will cross me off the list of writers to hit up for free content but, more important, to make a plea to my younger colleagues. As an older, more accomplished, equally unsuccessful artist, I beseech you, don’t give it away. As a matter of principle. Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable — it isn’t right — for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.

I also like this point:

The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads. Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again.

I don’t write to make a profit (though I also don’t write to help others make a profit, excepting whatever WordPress might make from the wonderfully few ads on this blog). I write because I want and need to write. I write journals each morning to clear from my mind the recent memories and ideas and reactions that accumulate there, and I write at this blog out of a need to tell, to share, to teach, to entertain. I struggled for a few years with feeling that I ought to be sharing the ideas that I came up with in my journal writing, and then I realized that the journals need to be kept secret. I’ve gotta have a private place where I can write without the fear of what a reader might think of me.

But I also want to share some writing, and so, two years ago, I started this blog and have since been figuring out what of my writings I want to share with others. That’s an ongoing question–I don’t want to repeat myself, and I want to test conceptual boundaries.

But I don’t always make my blog posts easy to read, and while I appreciate readers who appreciate (some of) what I’m trying to do, I don’t necessarily need readers. My writings might at times be described as “self-indulgent,” but this hardly feels like a criticism, since, yeah, it is exactly my self that I am indulging by doing all of my writing. As a younger writer, I wondered what parts of my writing I had that would interest other people; now I’m more interested in writing whatever interests me, and if that interests others, cool, but if not, eh.

In the transition phase between these two positions, I recall reading Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and thinking that King was lucky in that, somehow, what he wanted to write was also something that would sell. Maybe my perception isn’t what King would say; maybe he intended to write commercial works, and at any rate, his memoir clearly points out that his life was not without stress even once he began publishing.

But for me, the best things in my life — my relationships, my jobs, my abilities, and even my ideas — have come to me without me trying to force them. When I’ve tried to force things in my life, things haven’t gone so well. So now, too, I’m letting my writing come out and see what arrives.

And lately I’m understanding my writings as the written, shared interpretations of my experience, of my mind’s voice chatting. The texts I write can be seen as entities separate from my mind, but I’m looking at the connection between the two. I’m taking the perspective that my writings are how I react to and explain the experiences I have subjectively, and which can’t be shared directly with others. (I feel like there may be more to post on this at a later time.)

I know that some people do want to get paid for what they write, and I know that that’s a different purpose for writing than the one I’ve just described. It took me years to learn about myself that I would not be satisfied with writing only or mainly for commercial reasons. I make my money as a teacher, which itself is a satisfying, rewarding profession (and also gives me things to write about), and which allows me the freedom to write whatever I want. This freedom is more important to me than making money from my writing is.

So, perhaps Kreider is correct when he writes that “content” is devalued at this historical moment. (By the way, no one is a “slave,” to use Kreider’s term, if one has the choice not to do work.) But to see one’s art merely as for sale also seems a limited way to think of what art does for us.

UPDATE/SUMMARY (now that I’ve written all this, my point becomes clear to me): Writing for other people, like doing any work for them, means that one gives other what the others want. I want to write what I want, what I’m interested in, and for that freedom, I don’t need to be paid. Perhaps some writers do only what they themselves want to do, and some readers respond to that, but as a writer, I’m gonna do what I want to do whether others care or not — I see Emily Dickenson’s life of not-publishing as a legitimate life for a writer.