Yesterday I went to the last in a series of Generative Writing Workshops hosted by writer and playwright Barrie Cole. It was the only one in the series I could attend, sadly, because now I find myself wanting to sit around more with the funny and powerful writer’s I met and dig up fresh ideas. We did that for 4 hours while the intoxicating smells of Ribfest blew in on the northerly winds and the bass heavy sounds of Viceroy-the opening band on the nearby Bud Light stage- permeated our thoughts.
While I sat among these seasoned writers, listening to the surprising words and the worlds they created and destroyed in 10 minute writing intervals, I had a couple of tiny epiphanies. Barrie, a woman I traditionally regard as a writer and a fellow mom, briefly exuded the glow of a guru as she spoke some parting words. I imagined an aura of mauve and mint green twinkling around her,”Remember, if you wrote something today, you are a writer. And even if you wrote and published ten books but you didn’t write today, well…” she allowed our minds to go where they would go. Fortunately, we had all written gobs of stuff that day and could rest assured we were writers just then, thanks in great part to her encouragement and open-ended prompts that involved butcher paper and physical actions to break the ice! Yay for embracing the kinesthetic side to creativity. She told us that we might all have weird dreams that night due to the huge amount of ideas we had generated as a group. I did have weird dreams that night.
But as I drifted away from the gathering, the epiphanies came faster and more powerfully than my dreams would:
Being a writer is bullshit
Yes, its bullshit. I have been focusing very hard on being positive lately, so it is hard for me to say this. Therefore, I’ll offset it to the fisherman. Its like being a fisherman is bullshit. The ocean is huge, unstopppable, and not really even fathomable. And a fisherman bobs on top and catches a few things at random and fancies himself some sort of master of the deep. Same goes for writing. You snatch a few crabs out of the trap of your brain and slap them in the bucket and you think it is the most beautiful crab/idea you have ever seen. But that idea crab isn’t even in its native environment where it truly embodies itself and all that is the ocean. You just ripped it away from its hunt and now you fancy yourself a hunter. You can’t describe or contain the ocean anymore than you can describe or contain life. You and your crab are just a blip on it or in it. Attempting to harness its power to fish out a story is highly presumptuous and a bit cocky. Ultimately, it will be the end of you, you know this, right? One day a shark will pull you overboard as you haul in a net, or a squall will come and erase your craft from the radarscreen. If you are lucky, you might live to sit on the dock mending nets while your grandkids go out to sea, and you can tell them some cautionary shit about sea monsters. And if you happen to be that lucky, ask yourself why you were a fisherman. Was it to make a living? To feed your family? To feel the freedom of the sea? To feel a part of the ocean? Well, whatever the answer is you salty old dog, it is some beautiful bullshit. You did it because you had to. Writers are full of bullshit because that is their nature.
Being a writer starts with shapeshifting
Most writers know well what it feels like to be someone else (or at least imagine they can) and usually they assume everyone else has the same superpower. But it is a rare skill, and one that started early. The child who prefers to observe rather than dive in to the fray becomes the one who envies the confident kids and eventually pities the frail kids. This happens because the observer slips in to the skin of the strong people so often to imagine living their success-hoping to absorb their powers of assurance- that it becomes second nature and the observer can no longer pick and chose whose skins she enters. She sees pain, joy, sorrow, fear, hope and she leaps on to the back of it. This is the trick that turns the observer in to the writer or artist. The observer/artist/writer is not especially sensitive to the sorrows and joys of the world as people tend to suppose. The observer has just lost the natural barrier between themselves and the world’s inhabitants. Their defenses are permeated so frequently by the surprising transmogrifications they experience, that they are compelled to process the information by rehashing it to their fellow man in the form of art or stories. You are a shapershifter when you enter your writing, and you write because it is easier and more acceptable to do so there than in the real world.
Being a writer is omniscient
Having the power to become anyone is intoxicating and just a tiny bit brazen. Like the fisherman, thinking you are in command of your tiny vessel and taking it where you will, exploring the depths of the ocean as you please, you will feel the exhilaration of being alive and the terror of losing that life equally. You can see you are out of your depth, but you also have no choice but to be there and embrace your nature. If you could only concern yourself with your own catch like many of the others seem to do, then perhaps life would be simpler. Instead, you have drawn the universe you are trapped inside of and you must be of it and outside of it at the same time, like a prophet, or a cartoon character. You have chosen to use your observant nature, your bullshitting skills and your shapeshifting powers to be a tiny shard of the mirror that shows the inhabitants of the world a reflection of themselves. Waste that shard and you have wasted your life, which is why you must embrace your nature and ride on that ocean and catch those paltry crabs.