It is 4 AM. This night is a metaphor. Sometime around 8 pm I felt tired and decided I would take an evening nap and awake at midnight to begin my career as a writer. What I never mention to myself is that this has happened before: I sleep until midnight and then reset the alarm for 2:30, then for 3:30 — eventually for 6:45 (NOCTURNAL WRITER WAITS UNTIL DAYLIGHT?!). It is 4 AM, the night is not yet gone, and I am contemplating a cowboy named ‘Bill’. Bill was the main character of my submission to young authors’ day in 3rd grade and my first protagonist other than myself. Bill leaves the ranch to visit Africa, India, Australia and Southeast Asia. Even if rife with stereotypes plucked from television, “Bill the Cowboy Travels the World” set the stage for my vocational crisis. Bill circumnavigates the planet but decides to return to the work he began — a ranch-hand can do anything he/she wants but the ranch is still home. At the end of his journey, Bill returns to the ranch to share his stories. I drifted from a writing-life, without great success, and now I am returning — for better or worse. If nothing else, I need to finish this (THIS) journal entry (THIS ONE).
I want to wrestle this octopus; I described the feeling as “The Beige Ninja” when I was in college: something lethal (TERMINAL), lurking in our unremarkable surroundings. Not even a ninja can match an octopus for elastic strength and baffling stealth, nor its many arms. Its epoxy tentacles dragged the greater part of me into the abyss when I jammed it into the recesses of my psyche. The apartment on 1336 North Capitol Street was terrifyingly appropriate for my mental state after coming through so many consecutive challenges — newly refurbished, liberally cluttered, and noxiously cramped. It just dawned on me, as the faintest light percolates through the mini-blinds of my new apartment, that this is the largest space I have ever furnished for myself. I escaped alive (FREEDOM!).
As my oldest living dream, the authorial impulse is entangled with more shame, self-thwarting, and peculiar fits of denial than any of my other vocational affairs. I spent the greater part of childhood pacing around our yard imagining things (MOSTLY DINOSAURS), slowly accepting I could not will myself to become a cartoon character. At twelve, I decided I was too heart-broken from a girl to begin my novel about a cyborg pre-teen — he struggles to comprehend falling in love, despite the large processor mounted on his skull. At sixteen, my dog
walked me in endless circles through the woods while I imagined characters like I saw in action cartoons, eating irradiated fruit and struggling with new-found powers (THEM; I ONLY WISHED I HAD POWERS). I dreaded the moment anyone would see me pecking on the family computer and ask me about my ideas. Ridicule would have destroyed me so I simply imagined. At university, I discovered the Internet on my laptop… and blogging via LiveJournal. I wrote long pieces of nonfiction (LIKE THIS ONE), became a university writing consultant, enrolled in creative writing courses, and started my first novel as a senior thesis. I got credit for that project… and there it lies, petrified. I practice a concoction of procrastination and avoidance, with promises to salvage lost progress. My subscription to writers’ digest lapsed before I read a single issue. I threw them away, too; those issues of Writers’ Digest are like e-mails sitting in rarely opened files or the myriad of webpages ‘bookmarked’ because I was “too tired to focus properly on this right now,” — then deleted quietly at a later date: forgotten.
My innate creativity dessicated in post-university life. I never wanted to end my life but I would lunge for a ‘reset’, a ‘do-over’. Understand: the hunger for significance predated even my desire to be an author: I led the class academically and trailed socially. Sometime after “Bill the Cowboy Travels the Globe” I became fixated with being the best. Doubts floated to the surface and left a ring of scum around my professional life that I could never quite scrub away, even with some modest accolades from writing professors and talented friends. I fell behind my own internal clock, that precocious force which drove me to be “advanced” or “a prodigy”. I ran myself into a psychological debt with myself — one that I could not repay in the wake of family tragedies, much less in the Levant.
The feelings of sadness surface like sweat — I am learning to notice and describe the messages my body is trying to convey. Imagine a briny acid forcing its way through the pores, as if secreting lemon-pulp, and a dull burning sensation like habaneros on the lips. Until last week, I thought it was enough to say I felt depressed; I invented physical reasons to feel as if I were being pickled like last Autumn’s olives rather than make the connection to unmet expectations. That ‘pickling feeling’ is unassigned regret. It is the bodily manifestation of an inkling that the past decade could and should have happened differently. As aging professionals, we lament the loss of our most precious aspirations — to be an ecologist or a jazz musician, perhaps start a family (DO NOT UNPACK THAT BAGGAGE). My relationship failures represent the loss of my most humble aspirations: (I SAID ‘DO NOT UNPACK’ IT) — okay, fine. The one aspiration that will not expire is the very first aspiration, the one that began at age eight — to be an author of books. I deliberated on the possible irony of that for twenty minutes but this reality festers and itches so much because it does not defy anyone’s expectations for me — including mine. I know what it takes and I have not done it for fear of failure.
I was the child for whom things came easily or else they were not worth doing; to dedicate myself to something at which I might never be the best was frightening. Looking at an issue of Writer’s Digest, I knew there were so many things I did not know about the craft and so many reasons that the publishing industry might never notice me. I hate a potential waste. I constructed a reality where I was supposed to pursue another vocation but ‘fell back’ on technical writing or where my mind needed to be fertilized with painful or exotic real experiences before, spontaneously, I would emerge from my chrysalis (MADE OF CALLOUSES) as a virtuoso and never have a manuscript rejected. Something supernatural — an epiphany or miracle — would emerge and be my salvation.
I wrought a work of ingrown fictionalization, a powerful character that overwhelmed all self-doubt without having to be written. He is me — activist me. I am not quite sure from where I draw the energy to write, which might explain why this obstacle is so hard to overcome, but ‘Daniel Xavier’ (LEGIT ALIAS, BABY) uses outrage to fuel his endeavors, and the more he endeavors the more he finds to be outraged about, so that I became engrossed in a figurative fire-nado of social justice indulgences. I welded him into a social justice machine in my imagination, though in every day life I was preparing grants and reports (WRITING), not wrapping a kefia over my face and defying Israeli oppression. Yet the activist in me is not just an escape, though because what is constructed is still real. When I opened a Writers’ Digest e-newsletter last week (BEFORE THEY STARTED TRYING TO SELL THINGS) I gleaned a piece of advice that almost scared me back into denial. “Most successful writers don’t score until their fifth manuscript…” Not counting those who never find their ‘muse’, authors average four failed book pitches.
“Something still needs to happen,” said the fool in me, “and then…”
“It’s too late,” said the octopus, “you’ve already had ideas but you didn’t—”
“THIS IS DANIEL XAVIER: YOU NEED TO FAIL FOUR TIMES, THEN COME SEE ME.”
Octopus says, “That’s ridiculous — let’s check Facebo—”
“BE SILENT — QUICK JD: IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE STORY IDEA TO FAIL WITH, WHAT WOULD IT BE?”
“He doesn’t actually know—” (HOW IS AN OCTOPUS TALKING?)
“I actually do — I know the right story to learn with…”
“MAY IT BE SO; BETTER TEN YEARS AGO THAN NOW BUT BETTER NOW THAN TEN YEARS HENCE!”
I have to be honest: the octopus is still with me, still affecting me. My first night working on character development with Scrivener went well; the second night I caved and searched for thrift stores online. The third night, I started developing ‘Jem’: an antagonist who will become my hero because the protagonist of the novel needs to be challenged (THEY ARE BOTH PART OF ME). Sunday night, I did nothing more than pick backgrounds for the Tumblr I want to begin. It will be called “Interpolar Ice Field”, a pun on interpolations and the ‘principle of the iceberg’. My new handle is ‘Aukstronaut’ — invoking the extinct arctic bird, the sounds of awkwardness, and voyages into yet unexplored frontiers. This morning, I will finish this definitive piece of ‘Reverse Exiled’, though I have not fully defined what it means to be “reverse exiled”. At last, I might raise more questions than I answer. This week may keep me too busy to write.
Or maybe my writing will keep me too busy for this week; no one knows the future but I do know that Hope is a more powerful force than even Faith because an audacious Hope is a more redeeming Faith than just Believing in something unseen; that Hope moves us to action. Only my fascination with Creative Hope could draw me away from the writing life but I believe such a Hope is simultaneously my reason for writing, the one thing that will keep me writing, and a main thread in the pieces I will write. I can work with Muslims, Jews, and whoever may share my Hope but I struggle to stay engaged with resigned Christians. I need to get past this pet-peeve because they will be my target audience: when everyone has Hope (THAT HOPE), they can join together to beat Fear and help ‘reverse exile’ us all.
Correction: it is now 9 AM on August 27th of 2013 and I am a writer.