I Know What You Are, But What Am I?
Not much can bring me down on a Thursday night. Especially when I am with my best friend (my sister) on said Thursday night, and we are eating sushi at our favorite restaurant. Sushi, in itself, sends my endorphins racing like twin fireworks to the top of the night sky. If you want to tell me some bad news, pop a Godzilla roll in my mouth, and pour some soy sauce into the side of my lips like the Tin Man’s oil can. Just fill my mouth before you fill my ears. But I deliciously digress…
Now, in the midst of this tobeko laced euphoria, I hear a young lady speaking to her parents in an incredibly haughty manner. At this point in the story, I would like to assert that I am not usually an eavesdropper, but you probably don’t believe me, so let’s move on to the part where I start eavesdropping. I was overwhelmed by this young woman at the table next to me. She barreled on in her conversation like a runaway train, and her parents’ silence was so tangible, I almost asked if they wanted a fourth chair. They must feel, I thought, like Dr. Frankenstein, paralyzed by a mixture of terror and awe in her wake. The young lady sped the conversation along so fast that it was not soon before I realized that she was actually having an argument with her parents, although an incredibly one-sided one.
Yet, this was not what pulled my attention from my feast of the senses. It was the following sentence that I am both amazed and sorry that I heard: “But I have always loved the English language and writing,” she said, as if that was an excuse for the world’s longest filibuster she had been performing for the last half hour.
And that was it. I mushroom clouded. How was it that this absolutely detestable human being, who had been defiantly yelling at her parents as they tried to satiate her with sushi and shushing, was a writer, like me? Why couldn’t she be discussing her love for pig farming!? I fumed. Why did it have to be writing? And then, it clicked. I’m an a**hole, too.
Ay, The Rub
So, what is it about writers that makes them predisposed to the a**hole gene? What was it about this particular girl that swapped my raw fish bliss for horror? Well, put a roll inside your mouth and open your ears, for I have some bad news.
Every writer is an a**hole in one way or another.
And thank God we are.
Take Hemingway. If you haven’t, read the (absolutely phenomenal) novel The Paris Wife, and try to tell me that he isn’t the scum of the earth. But also try and tell me that he wasn’t a master at his craft. He thrived in isolation, slaving to write the most precise, concise sentences possible. And when he emerged from his writing world, he absolutely wreaked havoc on his loved ones. Like all writers, he exhibited a strangely inflated ego. And yet, like all writers, he was ruled by his insecurities, living and dying through other’s compliments or criticisms of his work. He existed on the outskirts of his own society, and yet captured the human condition so profoundly in his writing. Sound familiar? It should.
All truly great writers will undoubtedly endure this paradox to become great. And eventually, we will all murder everything we love in the process. Because if we didn’t, if we weren’t able to completely push everyone away, even alienate the complete strangers sitting and eating sushi next to us, then how could we be productive? How could we set aside the time needed in our lives to write the next greatest novel if we let life barge in? Our insensitivity and yet our sensitivity to the world around is, simultaneously, our triumph and our downfall. Kill your darlings, as Stephen King says.
So, be kind to the writers in your life, for if history serves, all writers die by alcoholism, anyway. But we’ll go down swinging. Maybe even in flames, if we manage to spill enough vodka on the front of our shirts and stand near enough to a burning cigarette we forgot to put out in our fervor to just get this one line down…
In the end, show me a writer that is successful, and I’ll show you one that is a complete a**hole. It’s that simple, and it’s that problematic.