I get that a way to sell kids on reading is this old trope of a kid sitting down to read and finding themselves surrounded by dragons and rocket ships and pirates and all sorts of other things. Reading will take you places!!
Yes, it’s true. Reading does take you places, but outside of the scope of reading as a form of escapism, it’s no wonder kids don’t buy into the poster on the library door anymore. Netflix can take you places too. So can Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and video games. And you don’t have to invest a lot of time filtering through the words an author has strung together to explain what a dragon or a pirate ship or an alien looks like when CGI and special effects do a better job of it.
Writing is clumsy. There’s a reason why a picture is worth a thousand words.
Those aren’t the places reading takes us. Reading (and writing) takes us deep within ourselves. As a writer, I take emotional risks every time I stick more than a few words together and share them with other humans. My blog posts are often very personal, to the point of oversharing sometimes. My words have been used against me in court, because out of context, they could be taken as a sign of mental or emotional distress. Which is a real buzzkill as a writer, because good writers take risks, and take their readers to places that are dangerous, uncomfortable, very real, and resonate with the human condition.
It’s like that joke about a writer’s search history.
I’m not writing about rocket ships and fuzzy friendly aliens. I’m writing about pain and conflict and solitude and anger. I’m not writing to make a judge or lawyer feel warm and fuzzy about what they do. I’m writing because if I observe something, or I feel something, there’s a good chance a big chunk of other people on this planet felt the same way, only they didn’t have the words to express it. Maybe when they read my words, they won’t feel so alone, or they will gain strength from it. Or maybe they can read about how their heart was broken, coming from someone else’s words. These are the things that have always connected people. This is why adults read. Once you get past the veneer of faeries and princesses and circus tents from that stupid poster, you’ll see that even the most escapist stories are really about all the bullshit going on inside any one of us.
The Lord of the Rings was about the trauma of War. Any Judy Blume book is about teen angst, depression, alienation, and struggling for identity. Lemony Snicket wrote books about how adults do everything in the best interests of the children, while irreparably damaging those children. Stephen King wrote books about monsters and death because the characters living in his story were usually worse than some two-dimensional vampire or spider-clown. And we recognized those assholes from our daily lives!
Today we live in a world that is possibly more disconnected and apathetic of each other than any other time in history. It’s watching what we say so we don’t upset each other that plays into this a lot.
Sometimes I feel like I am facing a dilemna. The more I write, the more I feel alone. Like choosing this path in my life has somehow disconnected me from others. I have been told by others that the words I write are too much, too personal. They step away from me. That the stories I have shared made them cry. Part of me thinks that’s just me doing my job, and the other part wonders if it will be worth it one day. I could just be putting words down that will guarantee further isolation and a constantly diminishing supply of people in my life.
If I am successful one day, does that mean that I will be alone as a result of my achievement? Or just because I am an asshole. Just remember: If you know me, I will write about you. Or some part of you. It might not always be pretty.
This is not a quality most people would care to find in a partner.
A friend of mine asked me today what I can do to change it if that isn’t what I want. Truth be told, I think not writing, getting a job just like I had for the last twenty years, keeping my head down and my mouth shut, and spending the evening watching TV and falling asleep in a chair would be the obvious choice. It’s what I did when I was married. It was also killing me.
I think I need to see this through. I’m not great at parties, but I’m by no means antisocial. I have a very small circle of friends, and can hang out with strangers and have fun with them too. People wear me out. I tend to internalize my feelings. Process them by grinding them over and over in my head and attempting to form some kind of story out of them. I seem to always have something to say about something. But at what cost?
Today, I had a thought about having one of those days where it feels like I am barely hanging on. Luckily for me, I can use that feeling as fuel to write. It’s the pain, the uncertainty, the inner conflict, the regret and heartbreak and all of it that can be channeled into a story. Maybe one day somebody will actually read it.
We all go through it. Might as well use it. Instead of pretending everything is fine. Everything isn’t fine. If it was, we wouldn’t have books. We would all just ride around on jetskis all damned day.
But as a writer, I’m in the muck. It’s where I work. In a seated position, shoveling shit from one side of my brain to the other. It’s not pretty. It’s lonely. And if I get rich off of it, I’ll be lonely and rich. And still very much living in those murky places in my mind most people would rather chase away with booze and pills.