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Friday, February 1, 2013

Why I'm Not a "Writer"



My wife, god love her, thinks I'm capable of ANYTHING. ANY. THING.

Jim, if you want to be a writer. . . you should do it. Jim, if you want to be an artist, you should do it. Jim, if you want to be a brewer, you should do it. All of which is SPECTACULARLY supportive, but not grounded necessarily in reality, because I am not convinced of two things, the first of which is this: that she is qualified to adequately judge my ability to write . . . or more accurately, "be a writer". The second is that I myself am not qualified to adequately judge my ability to write.

I HAVE some experience in the field of failure, you see. Apart from writing (the manifestation of which is almost solely this blog) I used to like to draw. When I was a little boy I sketched everything and anything. As I got older, and drawing pictures got less "cool" I slowly decreased the frequency of my drawing. It trickled down to doodling until I eventually stopped even that, but it had always been something that I'd enjoyed. And so when my friend Gino and I were discussing drawing, I was very excited by the possibility that I could draw for his company. Gino, you see, is a movie makeup artist. He sculpts the fantastical creatures that I proposed hypothetically inventing in drawing form. Gino had encouraged me to show him what I could do, because his makeup and effects company (which does movie make up and effects for damn near any big budget movie in industry that is not driven by CGI) was looking for a new artist/designer. And it wasn't his fault I was excited. There were no false hopes, he just asked if I felt I could draw up to the standard of, say, a comic book illustrator. I felt I could. (have you SEEN comic book art lately? Possibly I had not).

My wife, god love her, was CONVINCED it was my calling. It would have been AWESOME. I WOULD have loved it. I started to get a little excited. Gino is blessed. He is a talented artist who LOVES what he does. There are very few callings that I can say I would be PASSIONATE about pursuing. . . but this was one. So i passed some sketches off to Gino to review.

It took longer than I expected. In hindsight, I suspect he was reluctant to relay bad news. Gino is a PRINCE. A friendlier, more outgoing, more genuine person, you will likely never meet. He essentially said, in the kindest of terms. . . these aren't good enough. He constructively suggested that I take art classes to work on my perspectives. . . something I've never done. . . and he was RIGHT to suggest it. But I was disappointed nonetheless. VERY disappointed. I didn't cry or get all mopey or anything, but it sunk like a cinder in snow inside my chest and I essentially tried to ignore it back into nonexistence. I had it in my head, you see, that I'd won the lottery. I'd already started to fantasize my success. My calling!

So here I am. Again at the brink of a decision. . . try to write something? A book? Writing is art/entertainment. If you can tell a story you can write. You don't HAVE to know the mechanics. . . at least the mechanics aren't what make you a good writer, the creation of a good story is. At least in my opinion.

Writing is very personal to me. Very much "laying it out there". I take criticism of my writing relatively poorly, though I think I'm objective enough to recognize valid criticism (perhaps given enough time to calm down and consider it rationally). You have only to look back a few months to some criticism of my BLOG to realize how thin-skinned I can be. And that's just a stupid little blog.

So some of the people in my little circle of friends, god bless them, think I'm capable of being a writer. I would LOVE to be a writer.

BUT

There is a part of me that is happy in my safe little "I could write if i WANTED to" haven. That part doesn't want to cross the boundary into the "I tried to write, but was told I didn't have what it took" realm. My writing ability is currently limitless. I'm a fucking GENIUS and an OCEAN of untapped potential.

today. . .

Tomorrow. . . mediocre (or. . . worse, "bad") writer?

In "Of Human Bondage" by Somerset Maugham the main character, Philip is studying painting in Paris. He's doing alright with it. He's poor though, and really needs guidance. He finally approaches his instructor, I'm going to cut some of the paragraphs from this little passage of the book, but leave in the applicable passages. . .

"I'm very poor. If I have no talent I would sooner do something else."
"Don't you know if you have talent?"
"All my friends know they have talent, but I am aware some of them are mistaken."

*THIS is what I'm afraid of. . . I think I DO have talent. . . but I'm aware I may be mistaken.*

"You shall show me your work."
"Now?" cried Philip.
"Why not?"
Philip had nothing to say. He walked silently by the master's side. He felt horribly sick. It had never struck him that Foinet would wish to see his things there and then; he meant, so that he might have time to prepare himself, to ask him if he would mind coming at some future date or whether he might bring them to Foinet's studio. He was trembling with anxiety. In his heart he hoped that Foinet would look at his picture, and that rare smile would come into his face, and he would shake Philip's hand and say: "Pas mal. Go on, my lad. You have talent, real talent."

*THAT, of course, is my secret dream. Foinet then reviews Philips work. . . *

"You have very little private means?" he asked at last.
"Very little," answered Philip, with a sudden feeling of cold at his heart. "Not enough to live on."
"You have a certain manual dexterity. With hard work and perseverance there is no reason why you should not become a careful, not incompetent painter. You would find hundreds who painted worse than you, hundreds who painted as well. I see no talent in anything you have shown me. I see industry and intelligence. You will never be anything but mediocre."
"I'm very grateful to you for having taken so much trouble. I can't thank you enough."
Monsieur Foinet got up and made as if to go, but he changed his mind and, stopping, put his hand on Philip's shoulder.
"But if you were to ask me my advice, I should say: take your courage in both hands and try your luck at something else. It sounds very hard, but let me tell you this: I would give all I have in the world if someone had given me that advice when I was your age and I had taken it."
Philip looked up at him with surprise. The master forced his lips into a smile, but his eyes remained grave and sad.
"It is cruel to discover one's mediocrity only when it is too late. It does not improve the temper."

I need a Monsieur Foinet. Maybe need is too strong a word. I don't NEED it, but wouldn't it be nice? I really enjoy writing the blogs. I'd LOVE to be able to parlay it into something else. I'd love to write for a living, say. But I frankly don't know that I'm qualified (talented enough). And I frankly don't know if the people who say I am are qualified to determine that.

Gino provided me with some guidance on the drawing end. He was not unkind. He never intimated that I'd NEVER be able to draw for a living. . . he just said I wasn't CURRENTLY able to do so. That was enough for me. I hadn't drawn for years, I certainly was not going to redouble my efforts at reviving a mediocre skill for no reason. Now I satisfy myself with a pencil sketch of something here or there once a year or so. I love doing it, but it's for me or my friends or family, because I don't feel comfortable sharing it with the public. It's hard to be criticized for something you really put your time into. Something that came from you. Something you created.

Anyway, it's not as if I have a novel in my head to write if I decided to write a novel. There's no story BURNING its way out of me. And maybe that's what decides it. What's the point of FORCING the issue when you're 1) not convinced you're even talented enough to do it, and 2) you have nothing to bring to the table. I mean, the disappointment would be twice as bad if I actually put the time and effort into hundreds of mediocre pages only to be rejected.

One last sidebar. . .

And I know I've said this before. . . I have tried my best to raise my kids not to overlook things that seem fun just because they're afraid to look stupid. When my kids are with me I attempt cartwheels and sing loudly and dance the electric slide do all sorts of ridiculous things that are meant to show them, hey, look how bad I suck at this, but it's fun as hell anyway, and who cares how ridiculous it looks?? It hurts my heart when my oldest refuses to do something she might like because she's afraid of getting teased. Afraid to fail. The coolest people I've ever met were the ones who just did what they wanted to do and didn't give a shit WHO laughed. They did it because it was something they wanted to do, something that they thought would be fun. THAT'S the lesson I try to teach my kids. . . and I'm very much aware that it is that lesson I need to force myself to learn.

The reason for writing this:

These thoughts occur to me periodically, but typically at someone's prompting. I added a friend recently who has been asking me (repeatedly) why I don't write. And so of course, I thought about it again. All the old reasons that more or less boil down to fear of failure. And contrary to SOME people's opinions, my ego is not nearly as big as I like to PRETEND it is.

3 comments:

  1. I'm sorry. I'm so behind on commenting on posts this weekend. I had THINGS happen. I KNOW! Like, I did real-life THINGS! Where I left the HOUSE! With PEOPLE!

    I love this post, Jim. I'm kind of with your wife. I think you can do anything, too. But here's the thing? Especially writing. Because I've been reading your writing for the past - what, year or so? And it's GOOD. Really good. So when you're ready, someday you'll write something. And it'll rock.

    And screw your fear of failure; we all have that, and sometimes you just have to tell it to take a hike. We all fail. Some of us more spectacularly than most. Over and over again. But if we don't TRY anything, we don't GET anywhere.

    Also, PS, you might not be a published-on-paper writer, but you ARE a writer. And a damn good one, too.

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    1. Thanks Ame. I appreciate it. I actually wrote this a long time ago, and someone asked me about writing, or maybe it was drawing...and I was like...I HAVE this already! So I dusted it off and updated it a little and posted it. But I so rarely check this blog, because I almost never post here, that I missed your comment.

      I'm excited you got out. With PEOPLE. And did THINGS! What did you DO????

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