The art of writing is not for the fainthearted.
To write well — to write something worth a damn — you have to be able to see yourself as Creator. This may sound easy to the novice, but there is a prerequisite to this capacity, and it is not a thought, a mixed metaphor or a degree. It is an utter dismantling of everything you think you are.
We are all Frankenstein’s monsters: every one of us.
Do you know who and what has put you together? Do you know whose eyes you see through? Whose hands caress your lover in the dark? In whose footsteps are you marching? To whose gut are you listening? From where do the words you speak come?
You have been assembling yourself since the dawn of creation, and you have forgotten the origins of your parts. It is, in fact, probable that you have forgotten you have parts at all.
Are you ready for this? Are you ready to meet your demons, your ancestors, the mysterious ghosts that roam the hallways of you? Are you prepared to do the math of ages, to root out the lies you live by and redeem them in print? Can you menstruate on paper? Would you tell your deepest secrets only to discover they are but a label on the lid of a box that has no bottom? As you write, you will resurrect everything from which you have been running. Can you look yourself in the eye?
Good. This is the beginning of greatness. This is the first step to becoming a writer. You are about to get the best education of your life, and you, dear friend, are the teacher. You are not just constructing a story; you are changing the world: your world, and really, what other world is there?
Your story is the story of all of us. As you reveal the stitching of your sewn-on fingertip, the welding of your elbow, the pins in your knee that makes it bend, you free us all.
Are you crying? Put some fucking pigment in your tears so we can cry too. Everything about you — holy and unholy — is glorious, mysterious, unmapped and unconquered. What is more sacred in a time in which even the elements have been bridled than the wild terrain of your inner life? May your courage remind us all that we have not been defeated.
Your story is your gift to a world gone insane. What is true — no matter how relative — is a soothing balm to the spirits of all living things. Reveal your purpose to yourself, and let your record stand.
What the eff is stopping you? Your story is important and you owe it to yourself and the world to tell it. Hell, you owe it to whatever, or whoever, put you here on this tiny crowded planet. You owe it to the trees, to the rivers, to the children. You owe it to the ticking clock that counts you down to sleep.
Easier said than done, you say? Here are a few pointers to get your fires burning:
1. Ditch the shame.
“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Write your way through it. Where did it come from anyway? Under whose authority do you cower and hide from yourself and the world? Do you really believe that hiding what you are — which is what we all are — keeps the world in balance?
The old powers want you to hide. They are invested in your hiding, your cringing, your shame. They do not need to put iron shackles around your wrists and ankles. The shackles are inside you, and the slave-masters of the world are betting on your refusal to believe in something you cannot see with your eyes or touch with your fingertips.
No, you cannot touch it, but you can feel it. And you do. You feel it every day. Every time you smear a breast-cancer causing deodorant on so you do not smell human, you feel it. Every time you give it up when you do not want to, you feel it. Every time you put on sensible slacks and a turtleneck sweater and sit in traffic when you really want to wear stilettos shaped like guns and fishnets while you lounge at a bar in Maui, you feel it.
Stop feeling it, and write it.
2. Kick your inner critic’s ass.
“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli
Whose voice is that, in you, which says “you must not”, “you cannot” and “you should not”? Do you think that voice is yours? Do you think that voice protects you from chasing the red ball into oncoming traffic? Are you six? Are you really satisfied living in a playpen with the same toys you had since 1985, ’65, ’72?
They are hand-me-downs from your parents, and their parents. They are government cheese and GMO corn puffs in a plain white box with no decoder ring inside. Are you going to eat that shit? If you are, then you cannot make art. Write that dick a letter on pink paper and send his dumb ass to the unemployment line. You have work to do.
3. Stop making it all about you.
“Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential.” ~ Jessamyn West
What makes you so freaking special? Do you think you are the only one who ever worked her way through college digging sharp spiked heels into a man’s back for money? Do you think you are the only atheist who ever prayed for death after your lover left you over a text message? Are you the only mother who ever thought — even for a second — of tossing her kid out the window when he would not stop screaming over a blue phallic-shaped Kool-Aid pop?
Well, guess what? There are millions of other people who think they are the only ones too because no one has the guts to let it all hang out. They did not have the courage to show up for work — the real work: the art of being human, together. But you do. I know it.
You are only the sculptor, the painter, the story-teller sitting by the fire. The material of your life — right down to your flesh — is collective; you gathered it from the ground and it never belonged to you. You were chosen — for whatever reason — to get dirty and wet, to ruin your clothes and singe your hair near the kiln. It is your art (life), but the materials you use to create it are borrowed, and it does not matter what your medium is. The profundity of your very existence is enough material to work with for an entire lifetime.
If you think your life is ordinary, then you do not know who you are. If you think there is no meaning in cutting the crusts off the bread, then you do not understand life. If you believe anything is random — anything at all — then you are squandering your opportunity. There is always meaning. There is always gold, but it is deep, deep in the belly of the world.
4. Call ‘em out.
“If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~ Anne Lamott
Are you going to let them get away with that shit? Are you going to hold it in your body until it becomes acid in your joints and deforms your pointing finger into a gnarled branch? Are you going to let the toxins of perpetrators past float in your blood until your liver and kidneys give up trying and you turn yellow, or need a cold dead machine to keep you alive?
What are you doing to us? The world depends upon the visionaries, the schizos, the grateful broken, the multiples, the alchemical brilliance of lead into gold. Do not let them poison you. Bleed it out.
Call out that motherfucker who put a roofie in your drink, even if it was the school nurse, the shrink, your brother’s best friend. Call out the parents who could not see you, who tried to fix you, who shaved off your beautiful jagged edges so you would fit into a box, ‘for your own good’. Call out the bitchy snarling woman coming out of the salon in the Hamptons who visibly disapproved of your tutu and combat boots.
They were afraid of you. Every one of them. And with good reason. Unleash yourself. Use your wounds to heal us all. We are counting on you.
5. Embrace danger.
“Find what you love and let it kill you.” ~ Charles Bukowski
Dance with him. Snatch that red rose from his lapel — recklessly — and bleed. How else will you know what is inside you? You cannot avoid pain without avoiding the sweet scent of velvety rose petals on your skin.
You can dump it in a river, or hide it under a rock until it splits the ground beneath your feet and you fall forever. You can put it in a box and jump on it until it is compressed into a hard lump that appears behind an organ you never think about; but you cannot run forever. Eventually, you will have to choose, you will have to fight, and you will have to surrender to fate. Why not do it now?
Why not wrap your legs around the neck of the beast and poke his eyes out with your tiny dagger? Why not gaze deeply into the flame and, at the risk of burning your retinas, find out what makes fire burn? Why not sling yourself wildly into the seventh circle of your own private hell — screaming your war cry, sword in hand — instead of waiting for the dark armies to come and take you, bound and helpless, in the night? You are the kind of hero great men have written about for ages of human time.
And it is time.