“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), Superman
During the month of March I made a consistent effort to blog every single day, and for the most part, managed to stick to that schedule. (Sundays were a little scattershot depending on the preceding Saturday night’s extracurricular activities.) Both the news and the mundane quirks of my life offered ample fodder for linguistic rumination – and there could always be additional pontificating about The West Wing if either of the former were found wanting on any given day. Lately I’ve gotten a bit lazy, and it isn’t for a lack of inspiration, but rather that I find myself less satisfied with writing things that have no deeper meaning.
Perhaps it’s a natural evolution as time and experience add up. Maybe it’s the pressure of starting to build an audience – there is certainly a form of liberation to one’s self-expression when few are listening that diminishes as expectations begin to rise (don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for each and every one of you out there reading me!) When one occasionally scratches at the edges of greatness, or, more to the point, writes a post that really touches someone else, the demands of living up to that standard increase exponentially. It isn’t a matter of seeking constant validation – it’s more that when you see what you can do with that space, you find yourself less comfortable wasting it on posts about space vampire zombies.
Lest this be dismissed as the lament of another struggling writer feeling sorry for himself, let me first say that I too find literary navel-gazing to be tiresome. I still recall watching a panel discussion of scribes about fifteen years ago and finding myself repulsed by a pretentious cigarillo-smoking douche who droned on about how he’d hadn’t been able to write a play in ten years. It isn’t by any means that I think I can’t write, or that I’m finding the muse elusive. I just don’t want to write crap. I don’t want to write it, and I don’t want to ask anyone out there in Internets-land to read it. I want what I write to be meaningful and thought-provoking. To be consequential. I’d rather let a day or several go by without a solitary word than publish hackery for the sake of having something to post. So yes, when you’ve written in tribute to President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage and its greater historical and emotional context, what do you do for an encore that even comes close to a subject of such importance? Reviewing The Avengers or talking about the sixth season of a TV show that’s been off the air for nearly seven years doesn’t quite cut it. That, I suppose, is the danger in “very special episode” syndrome – you run the risk of making the rest of your work look like substance-less piffle.
Yet you can’t shy away from tackling the big questions if you feel you have something to say about them. To do otherwise is to not be truthful to who you are and what you believe. And that brings up an interesting point.
Writing is therapeutic for many people; a chance to process our confused feelings about a world that fails to make sense most of the time and strip away the layers of contradiction to find the truth at the core, and at the same time, peel the layers of self to unveil the essence of our soul. It’s rather like sculpting – the masterpiece is there underneath, you just have to chisel away the unneeded bits of the stone. Devoting a post or two to cotton candy instead of meat and potatoes can still be a worthwhile exercise, inasmuch as there can be a sculpture waiting inside every size and shape of rock. Some stones may shatter into pebbles when you begin to carve them, and some may turn out to be nothing more than misshapen lumps, but the potential of art always remains, the supply of stones is endless, and each stone contains a grain of truth. So maybe those posts about breakfast and reality television interspersed with the grand philosophical musings are all necessary stops along this journey, and we shouldn’t fret so much about whether or not a less-imposing topic is worthy of our discussion here. You’re arguably more likely to stumble across something unexpected and wonderful when you start from an otherwise innocuous premise. For me, the potential of that discovery is worth saddling up more often than not, because regardless of what you think the destination is, you don’t really know where you’ll end up until you actually start moving.