It’s about to be 2019, and I’ve been writing seriously for almost ten months. By seriously, I don’t mean that I’ve been published or commissioned, or that I’ve sat daily for twelve hours at a typewriter sweating blood. I haven’t even taken proper classes yet. By seriously, I don’t mean that I’ve discovered myself a Writer, destined to write the Next Great American Novel, wearing loose-fitting black sweaters and pondering the meaning and importance of fiction. Well—maybe I have been doing a little of that last part.
What I mean is that for most of 2018, for the first time, I’ve sat down for a few hours, sometimes many times a week and sometimes few, sometimes stopping for weeks, sometimes overflowing with joy and sometimes feeling broken and stuck…and I’ve written words on a page. The most unexpected side effect for me of starting Morning Pages over a year ago was not to encourage, but to curb my journaling. After several months of limiting my graphomania to three pages a day (and after some David Bowie and lots of crying), it’s no coincidence I felt ready to use the writing to explore the kernel of an urge to attempt fiction. (An urge that has been skulking around probably since the first story I ever wrote, in backwards letters and misspelled words, about a family of Pac-Men fighting at the breakfast table.)
But writing is hard, you guys. It’s f*cking hard. (If not as hard as the truly hard things in life, like being a Syrian refugee, for one.) I don’t mean the physical act of it. It’s obvious that I happen to be an addict who will not stop until every word in my brain is out in the world even if it’s all just a noxious cloud of nonsense. It's obvious because I’m here writing to you, when there’s no monetary or social or spiritual value in it. It’s not the act that’s hard for me. Turns out the hard part is what John Gardner and Francine Prose warned me about so many times: the utter discouragement, the many dark nights of the soul that come after the first blush of romance. It’s coming face to face with the unending and impossibly tall concrete wall of my own limitations. It’s struggling mightily with my own consciousness.
Okay, I’ve already dealt with this all as an actor. But writing is insular. I can’t avoid abusing myself every damn day—even if it's mostly not while I'm writing--with the mean little voice that questions my own transformation, the voice which exists only in fear of the future and shame of the past. What are you doing? it screams. You suck at this. You are just (there it is again) shamefully bourgeois and untalented. You’re just doing this because you failed at being an actor. Whatever happened to your love of film? Whatever happened to being a movie director? (As if that were invalidated forever.) Whatever happened to structuring your entire life the last five to nine years around the sacred dream of being a successful, working actor? What happened to filling your every waking thought up with that? What happened? Isn’t this just another fluke? And who do you think you are? A dilettante? What is the point of this? What are you going to DO with your LIFE? How are you going to succeed?
That’s a hefty burden to bear, especially when no one really cares, in the final reckoning, what I do with my time, much less what I label myself. In these last few years, I’ve undergone more harrowing identity shifts than this. I’ve entered and left the uber-structured groves of academia. I’ve dealt with the tribulations of a long-term relationship. I’ve extricated myself (partly, enough to have a look around) from the mind-moulding wreckage of a childhood. I’ve declared myself something (an actor) then made that a reality around me. I’ve moved as far as possible across the country. I’ve taken lots of foreign trips. I’ve spent many long hours alone. I’ve felt my mind and body age into adulthood (against my will). I’ve even undergone a big old Thomas Merton-style conversion, in the face of tragedy and change. Yet it still freaks me out on a mortal level, in spite of all the very real terror and trauma going on in the world…that I’ve been writing. And that I probably will keep doing it for a while. And that I have much to learn. And that I don’t know where 2019 is going to take me. And that the only thing I can do is surrender to it.
They never said it wasn’t hard. Part of the great muchness of life is that (if we are lucky to have the time) we all struggle with our own stupid brains, and that doing so can feel as difficult and as real as Siddhartha battling a million demons at the base of the Bodhi tree. We’re all trapped in our imagined boundaries of selfhood, bearing some kind of divine spark with some kind of flawed monkey consciousness on top. We have to keep learning the same universal lessons over and over and over—which is the whole reason fiction exists.
What's my point here? If only we could worry less. We can go on. We can have to faith to try….to open our hearts, to meditate, to learn healthier physical and emotional habits, to allow in a grace that gives us a strength and judgment beyond what we could ever imagine. We can let go a little bit right now, and now, and now, and wake up five years, two years, one year, six months later and find ourselves somehow a completely different person, a tiny little baby step closer to what feels good and right. Even if your mental chatter is not as off-puttingly loud or circular as mine, and even if you have your own particular cocktail of issues and ineffective programs for happiness, you know what it is I’m talking about. Even if there is only one person reading this, I know it’s worthwhile if you can glean the tiniest little nugget of truth or hope from what I’m attempting so poorly to say. Which is, as usual, simply a reminder to myself: The only way to grow is to go through some scary, hard stuff, to let go of our ego and what we think is right, to let go of knowing or trying to control or anticipate what is going to happen to us. We’re all like my bulldog puppy—we just don’t know how to use stairs, until one day we do.
So, 2019. Let go of worrying so much about what is going to happen and what you need to do to prepare for it. Don’t worry so much (like I do) about shifts in your job, your vocations, your monetary status, your hobbies, your lifestyle, and your love relationships. Let go of fear of the things you don’t know or can’t figure out, of the terrifying abyss within us, the nothingness/somethingness that pervades every wonderful thing in this universe. Forget for a moment the guessing game of what apocalypse is going to hit the world next. Say a prayer for the many who are suffering. Take a deep breath, give thanks, hug a loved one. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” Pay real, loving attention to the celebration around you tonight, even if your celebration is just treating yourself to a solo toast while there’s some breath left in you...because even that is a blessing. And have a happy New Year, my friends.