Now that I’ve gotten through the appropriate wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding my bitter, desolate – one might even say bleak – future as a fiction writer, I’m left to look at why I keep on trucking. The answer should be obvious to me: I’ve been doing this for 20 years. It’s what I do. Now I’ve put something out there, and while the sales might suck, it’s obviously never been about the money. So why do I keep doing it then?
Of course, this is aside from my recent post on why we write. The best way to explain what I’m trying to say is that this is less about writing as an inner drive and more about what keeps me on the path that I’m currently walking. I could quite easily walk away from it all and keep my stories to myself; lots of writers have done it. But I don’t want to do that. Why?
That’s a harder question to answer. It’s easy to come up with a passe answer, like “I just want to get my message out to more people and more people to read what I write”. Okay, sure, that is true on a certain level, but it’s not the whole story. We’ve established that it’s not about the money. I mean, money’s great, I’m not going to turn down an opportunity to be a full-time novelist, but that’s not my drive. I have a full-time job that I actually really enjoy, and so I’m not upset about the prospect of this never turning into a full-time authoring gig.
But when you ask me about fame…that’s where it gets a little trickier. I’m not talking about the 15 minutes of fame type stuff, though. Not the “hey, everybody wants to be like me” stuff, either. I’ve spoken against that many times on this blog; my experiences with anything resembling that were frightening.
So what am I really talking about when I say that fame is a component of what I’m trying to do? Aside from, of course, “I just want to get my message out to more people and more people to read what I write”. In order to explain, I’m going to have to get a little personal on this one.
Most of my life I’ve had a very strong fear of death. I don’t know why. I have some theories about it connecting to some experiences that I had as a child, etc. etc. But the theory behind this intense fear of death is not as important as its mere existence. Of course, fear of death is psychologically linked to a fear of change. Right now, as a matter of fact, as I’m undergoing a rather large life change in putting myself out there for criticism, the fear of death has increased to the point where I’ve had some anxiety attacks over it.
Maybe you see where I’m going with this. When I was young, I thought about this issue very seriously. Immortality cannot happen. Period. You can’t live forever, no matter how you might want to. I tried to brainstorm alternatives, and my mind latched onto the idea that people who create certain works of art, in a way, live on through their art. Look at Van Gogh. Guy was a virtual nobody during his life, now everyone knows him.
Sure he’s dead, and I know that, on a purely rational level, this makes no sense, but emotionally, this search for “fame” is more a way of trying to beat the reaper. It’s almost a way of looking impermanence in the face and saying “oh yeah? How about this?”. I think it’s related to why I get so anxious when I’ve created something that I think is pretty great and it doesn’t receive the hoped-for reaction. I suspect this has something to do with how other artists react poorly to criticism. It’s all a raging against the dying of the light, and in some ways that rejection – or poor sales – can feel like the threat of annihilation.
I try to tell myself that it’s all a shell game. Everything comes to an end. But there’s still that small part of me that once lived in my childhood and wants to outrun death forever. It’s ironic, given that some of my eating habits are so self-destructive.
What I’m trying to say here is that I’m a neurotic mess! I’m a writer! It’s what we…well, most of us, anyway….are! No matter how hard I try to keep perspective that on a long enough timeline, none of this matters, IT STILL MATTERS. Very much, and there’s not much I can do about that.
My life has been a constant war between my emotional side and my rational side. I think that I’m at my best when I get the two to work together – when I can manage to capture emotion and describe it in a rational form. Okay, some of that keeps me going, too: those rare moments when those two parts work in concert to come up with something that’s…well, not bad at least.
So yes. All those words, all that prose, to say that I’m afraid to die. Yet I know that it must happen one day. To me, the act of creation and attempting to build a name for yourself is emotionally one of the few bulwarks. Does that make me weak? I don’t think so. I think it makes me human.