I tend to go through phases in what I choose to write about here. There have been politics phases, James Bond phases, Aaron Sorkin phases, family phases, phases devoted to the craft of writing as I see it. Lately though I’m finding a lot of what I’m writing is focusing on the idea of connection. Amanda Palmer’s video from a few weeks ago really slammed the back of my head against the wall. My piece for Huffington Post Books about Ksenia Anske touched on this idea as well. Because connection is how we make sense of the world. We’re a vast palette of individual colors who want to blend together. Yet there is a critical connection that we often fail to make as we throw our line out into the universe, hoping for the elusive nibble. In our focus on the potential connections out there, we forget about the connection within – the connection to ourselves, to who we are, what we want, and how we feel.
Writing can be a purely intellectual exercise; a collection of arguments and supporting evidence, arranged in the most coherent order to maximize the strength of the opinion being presented. Academia has thrived for thousands of years using this method, and our knowledge and scientific standing have been advanced immeasurably. But the stories that stay with us through the generations are those that touch the more primal part of our brains; the part that feels. We have this incredible disconnect, between aspiring to a higher stratum of intelligence while still being governed by passions that are as far from rational as can be imagined. The best writing, and the writers who make the most lasting connections, are the ones who can tap into these passions and share them in a way that tells complete strangers, “I get it. I get your pain. And you’re not alone.”
I’ve been accused of being passionless on more than one occasion. It’s a defense mechanism; a shield against loss and the pain that comes with it. There was a story I read once about Julian Lennon, and how John once screamed at him that he hated his laugh, and to this day a laugh from Julian is very rare. Similarly, emotional extremes are not my thing. For me the thought of ripping off that bandaid and letting the agony pour through the reopened scar is tremendously intimidating. Letting it loose publicly is even more frightening. Yet one looks at what someone like Ksenia Anske is willing to admit to the world and one’s own history seems laughably tame in comparison. I also consider it in the context of being a new father and not wanting my son to grow up thinking his dad’s a Borg drone.
There is great pain lurking beneath the armor – the pain of a lost father and mother, an adolescence and young adulthood spent wandering, feeling very much alone, not knowing what to make of this thing called life, feeling a sense of drift that persists to this day. There is anger and regret over very bad choices and their lingering consequences. There is frustration at the inability to articulate a clear vision of where I’m going and what I want. This last one is brutal for a writer. In creating characters you need to be able to define what they want, and how can you do this for a fictional person if you can’t even do it for yourself? Without wants there is no reason for the journey – there is no story.
Even if I was to never write another word, I still need to connect to my inner self. It’s very possible that once that connection is firmly established, the desire to write might fade away. If I am truly satisfied with who I am and the state of my life, then I may stop asking those questions of strangers, stop seeking connection out there in the ether that is the global consciousness. Stop noticing, as Amanda Palmer says, that this looks like this, because it just won’t matter anymore. And yet there’s another, more tantalizing possibility – that the other connections will grow deeper, that things will make more sense, that I will be able to articulate a vision of substance, of meaning, of true passion. I’ll know what I want and I’ll go after it at ludicrous speed, and those who don’t want to come along on the ride can eat my plaid dust.
If you fancy yourself a writer, you have to ask this very important yet somewhat awkward-sounding question of yourself: Is all of me in this? Are you writing the story of the sexy female vampire who runs her own shoe store and fends off the advances of a hunky foot-fetishizing merman because you have a deep, abiding need within your soul to spill your soul all over the blank page, or are you doing it because it’s a fun distraction and you’re tickled by the highly unlikely possibility of becoming the next Twilight? Do you have what it takes to push past being ignored, past the hit statistics on your blog ticking down to zero, past people who greet your latest missives with apathy and indifference? Is using your voice important enough to you that you can shake off the jealousy that can sometimes spike at the sight of others achieving great success by twists of fate, and say what you want to say anyway? Fundamentally, are you passionate enough about it that it doesn’t matter if nobody but your significant other ever reads anything you ever write? Intellectual exercises can be well-written, but they will never move anyone. They will simply exist in a moment of time and be forgotten. They will never connect.
Look, there are more than enough writers, both published and not, out there filling servers full of blog posts with advice on how to write, what works and what doesn’t (in their humble opinion, of course) and I don’t want to be that anymore. The only advice I can offer is this, and it comes from the school of “those who can’t do, teach”: You will only achieve what you want when you learn how to feel, when you have connected to everything you are. When everything you do is to its fullest potential, and when you’ve smashed through the self-imposed mental barriers keeping you from experiencing all the joy, wonder and even the sadness that life has to offer. When you cast off the stupid, pointless, time-wasting shackle of intimidation and become.
Thus endeth the lesson. Let me know how you make out. I will too.