>“I read your blog. It’s good.”
Periodically I hear this from people. I offer up the URL like a sacrifice, a present, when I meet new people. When I’m going to meet new people. From a deeply psychological perspective, it tells more about me than anything else—how I present things, I how I share things. I like to think that a literature student could take this and make comments about my life and who I am: the mix of egotism and self-deprecation shows that she doesn’t believe herself to be deserving of the praise she believes she receives, but believes that praise to be accurate nonetheless. She is uncomfortable with various aspects of her life, but feels an obligation to share them anyway. She tries to be polite and maintain boundries even when she objectively fails to do so.
The fact of the matter is, even while I think my blog posts aren’t great, I think Life on M is good.
And that’s always a bad sign.
There’s a certain type of egotism in deciding to call yourself a writer. In one sense, there’s an admittance that your ideas, insights, perceptions, or just ways of sharing these things is somehow unique, wonderful, or deserving of notice. I have something so worth sharing that not only will I share it, but that I assume people will read it and ought to pay me for it.
For one summer I called myself a writer. It was a struggle that took years and faded away quickly. In applying for a Fulbright—a thing I was denied for those of you following along at home—I had to publically and repeatedly declare I was one. In moving to Somerville, I came under the costume of being a writer. For four glorious months of my life, I did a lot, which included writing. I rode bikes and cooked. I learned and read and watched and changed and researched and wrote and wrote and wrote.
In middle school I wrote my first real story. It was about a physicist who created a black hole that was slowly consuming the world.
It wasn’t very good.
By eighth grade I wrote my first novella, an eighty-five page. It was cleverly titled “Destination: Unknown.” It was about Andromeda Benton, the boarding school attending daughter of the lost adventurer Orion Benton, who got pulled out of her universe into an alternate reality that had been created for the purpose of staging a contest merely known as The Hunt that occurred once a decade. The Hunt was a scavenger hunt, effectively, across what appeared to be the grounds of the school Andy attended. While people put together teams that trained for years, she was accidentally thrust into it, a solo adventurer who just wanted to get out. It was dangerous. People died and got lost and there was magic inherent in the universe that changed the Hunt. There was a story that followed it that I only wrote half of.
That summer, 2001, I also wrote a play about someone dying of Hep C. I was a morbid fourteen year old.
In the fall of 2001 I pushed out my first “serious” short story, which talked about a young American writer going to the French Riviera in the wake of WWI, where she fell in love with a female dancer. She left the dancer once someone bought the novel she’d written. I remember getting it back in English class. My teacher had given me a B+. “You didn’t follow the assignment,” she told me. “But it was well written.”
I justified to her why it actually fit the assignment, but she and I both knew I was reaching. I got that response a lot in school—I didn’t follow the assignment. Instead, I would write these sprawling pieces as loosely tied to what I had to do as possible.
In high school I came up with Major Arcanna, and have been tweaking and revising bits of her as time has gone on. The first six issues are written up, undrawn. Anatomy of a Revolution was a graphic novel I penned my first year at university about a post-second-revolution America and the political nonsense that occurs when revolutionaries try to run a country. It starred Zwei, a former revolutionary turned politician who was tired and aging. In chapter one he is betrayed by his wife, who was a rising star in the former regime. When the wife goes on the run, V goes after her. Only known as Valkyrie, V is the body guard/right hand man/confidant/former best friend of Zwei. There were dull moments of people talking about politics, and lots of flashbacks and broken story telling.
At university I wrote a play as I struggled with defining myself as an academic and not a scientist, as I had once hoped to be. I started writing Reinventing Mary Jane, which was a comic about Mallory Jameson, who became the girlfriend of the young superhero Fireproof. The comic was ditched for a novel that became Against the World, staring Liz Peirson and Max Romero which still sits, lacking a climax. I wrote a novel and a screenplay that was my coming to terms with the inevitable breakup between the Artist and myself. They’re a pair, telling the same story in two different forms. Shortly after that, I plugged out a nameless screen play that was just another love story, picking up on a trend I’d been following in which endings don’t exist. I always liked the end of it, where the two leads lay in bed together holding hands, looking at each other. She says “This is pretty good, isn’t it?” and he says “Yeah,” before they jump out of bed to take care of their child—the implication being that this moment picked as the end was merely a breath mark in the story of their relationship.
In Korea I wrote two screenplays, All’s Fair that was renamed as “Things Other People Say About You and Me” that was then scrapped and turned into something else entirely, resulting in, I guess, two screenplays with similar plots and the same characters, but different stories. “Zombie Summer,” which was a coming of age story about a boy who believes in zombies that don’t really exist, was sketched.
Once I came back to America, there was my summer of writing about the culture of freedom. I plotted out another comic series which pulls at my mind and begs to be written, but it doesn’t have a single issue yet, just story arcs. I’ve started two novels in the mean time, one serious piece of lovely trash about Evelyn Harris, who has to go save her boyfriend Harlan Locke, and an unnamed piece about the unfortunately named Kalinka Herschoff and her struggle with figuring out who she is. The former strongly reflects on the problems I have with teen romance books, the latter my own struggle to define myself. The former, I recently, realized, begs for a companion piece—something I guess will need to be attacked in book two. In my current project, Evelyn adventures for her boyfriend, and doesn’t do it alone. I find myself needing to consider how people adventure for themselves, and how they do it without having their partner accompanying them.
Throughout most of this, I never called myself a writer. I wrote, sure, but I wasn’t a writer. It made me cringe when people would talk about a group that included me and said “As writers, we…” I detail my ten years at taking writing seriously, outlining various projects, mostly for myself to help me remember, but in part because I find it ridiculous how anyone could see this and believe I am a writer. I’ve published nothing: I’ve sent a few short stories out at various times—one I wrote about communism in China, another about baseball, vinegar, divorce, and flying faster than light—but they all came back with rejections. I never sent things out seriously because my shorts weren’t good enough. No one was enthusiastic about putting together films because I find it impossible to write a screen play shorter than an hour. But more than that, it’s been years since I’ve submitted anything, and I was lying to myself when I said that it might be good enough for publication. It wasn’t—and logic tells me it still isn’t. Instead, I sit on my pieces like a miser or a dragon with gold. I chug along and pick pick pick at the trashy novel, waiting until it’s finished enough I send off letters to agents trying to sell it to them.
The thing I find most absurd about my fear driven reality is that I want to be a writer. I’m not one now, but some day, I tell myself, I will be one. Some day someone will read one of the things I’ve written, think it’s good enough, and give me a contract that I sign, thereby making it so I am, officially, a writer.
And I really think it will happen.
This whole bundle of emotions and thoughts, racing towards a land of fantasy, is lined on a path that makes me not just slightly uncomfortable, but more than a little nauseous when I think about it. My fight against calling myself a writer, is powered by all of the self-professed artists, musicians, and writers I’ve met who produce nothing, sell nothing, and share nothing. The ones who are bad. I don’t want to be this person, who calls themselves a writer but never makes a sale. I don’t want it to come out that, in truth, I’m not very good. I don’t want to spend years of my life trying to be something that I’m just not going to be.
I am not a writer: I write. I am not a knitter, or a biker, or a baker, cook, researcher, musician, educator. I am a person who knits, bikes, bakes, cooks, researches, plays music, and teaches. I think of it this way not because I am a person with many facets who refuses to be held down to a single one, but because I am not as into or as good at any of these things as people I know who identify by them.
In living in a world where I can “be anything,” being something is hard.
Over the weekend, a friend of a friend was in town. He asked me about why I moved out of Philadelphia, if I still think it’s so great. I told him that if I hadn’t left when I did, I never would have. I told him that leaving was important to me, because I wanted to be something else than what I had been: I wanted to be a writer.