Thursday, March 2, 2017

“There’s only one thing certain. That is one’s own inadequacy.” Franz Kafka

Nocturnal angst. Tears shed on the pillow. A wave of shame thinking that no one will ever read this memoir, that it is crummy writing, mundane expression. Unique maybe as are all memoirs, but nothing anyone would want to read. Felt despondent thinking of all of those words and all that time and writing classes to arrive at this end. And how many years do I have left? And even if I enjoy writing, what is the point?

Two thoughts brought me here. One, we did a free write exercise in class last night and I wrote about not getting the full time position at the library after working in that role half time for years which was the source of shame and grief to me. My face grew hot again and tears filled the ducts just thinking back to those feelings of not measuring up and being shunned. I lost the job to a much less experienced person who was "more of a team player" and though I joked about this ever after, it hurt. Somehow it was tied up in my mind with my mom's death and how she would have clucked and tsked in surprise that I did not get the position. She had great stores of empathy for my disappointments and my successes.

Second, I was reading Idaho. a novel by Emily Ruskovich which is hardly an uplifting story about dementia, poetry and prison but shows powerful writing skill; the author fashions sentences like poems. If I could produce one such paragraph....but it also brought me down on my own writing. Maybe I am too old to learn or perhaps this is why I never pursued writing until now. Just loving books and words is not enough to make you a writer. So I search for the encouraging pieces by writers to teach me how to hush that harsh critic, that cruel judge in my head who screams opprobrium and tries to get me to surrender, to give up. I am not alone according to Psychology Today

"For many of us, this inner critic is so entrenched in our psyche, we’re hardly able to distinguish it from our real point of view. But when we do, we find that it’s actually extremely powerful and painfully prevalent. A 2016 survey found that the average woman criticizes herself eight times a day. Self-criticism is a strong predictor of depression, and several studies have shown that it consistently interferes with our ability to achieve our goals. So, if you think this mean inner voice is just a motivator, inspiring you to do better, think again, because chances are, it’s actually limiting you in ways of which you aren’t even aware."

 I find what I was looking for in Annie Lamott's stellar Bird by Bird which I should have picked up at first sniffle:

"I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do — the actual act of writing — turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward."

 And Novelist Richard Bausch's Ten Commandments for Writers, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I ponder #5, #9 and #10.

Ten Commandments of Richard Bausch

1. Read: “You must try to know everything that has ever been written that is worth remembering, and you must keep up with what your contemporaries are doing.”
2. Imitate: “While you are doing this reading, you spend time trying to sound like the various authors — just as a painter, learning to paint, sets up his easel in the museum and copies the work of the masters.”
3. “Be regular and ordinary in your habits, like a Petit Bourgeois, so you may be violent and original in your work.” — borrowed from Flaubert
4. Train yourself to be able to work anywhere.
5. Be Patient. “You will write many more failures than successes. Say to yourself, I accept failure as the condition of this life, this work. I freely accept it as my destiny. Then go on and do the work. You never ask yourself anything beyond Did I work today?”
6. Be Willing. “Accepting failure as a part of your destiny, learn to be willing to fail, to take the chances that often lead to failure in the hope that one of them might lead to something good.”
7. Eschew politics. “You are in the business of portraying the personal life, the personal cost of events, so even if history is part of your story, it should only serve as a backdrop.”
8. Do not think, dream.
9. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, and learn to keep from building expectations.
10. Be wary of all general advice.

And because his first and foremost commandment is to read, here is his reading list from a May 2012 interview with Emily Besh

"...yes, of course the classics—and books, books, books, all the time. Right now I’m reading Tolstoy—War And Peace for the fifth time, Anna Karenina, for the third; Kawabata—Thousand Cranes; Shakespeare—over these last five months, King Lear six or seven times, listening and reading; Romeo and Juliet four times, listening and reading; As You Like It twice, Macbeth three or four times; Hamlet four or five times; Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar; Graham Greene—The Power And The Glory for the third time; Eudora Welty—"Delta Wedding;" Percival Everett – Assumption; Alix Ohlin—Signs And Wonders; Trollope—The Eustace Diamonds for the first time (and I’ve been reading it for a year); and Philip Roth—Indignation, and I just finished Nemesis and Everyman.

I have work to do. Enough tears and gnashing of teeth.

1 comment :

Unknown said...

All I can add is that you writing is damned hard work for little payback and that you're not alone. Anybody who's put pen to paper feels that the effort is futile. Next time you're feeling this way, if you can't find solace in books, call me and we'll talk about it over wine.