Let’s see how this all shakes out.
At the moment, my brain is in the grips of a non-linear yet somehow-hopefully-all-ultimately-pulled-together free association involving the following topics:
- the blog’s three-year anniversary (today)
- past lives
- eggplant parmagiana (probable dinner)
- climbing over the ‘no roof access’ sign to sunbathe on the roof (current location)
- Vic Chestnutt
- the meaning of life
Buckle up, darlings. Here we go:
Happy Birthday, WAiW: I started you three years ago today on the most absurd of premises. You’re old enough now. It’s time we talk about the story of your conception…unless I’ve already told you. In that case, fake interest and nod occasionally: your mama hates it when people don’t listen. So anyway, I was in a hotel room in Salt Lake City, Utah, deeply disaffected but unsure how to address it. CNN was playing in the background, and a story came on about the lady who writes dooce.com – which was apparently a ‘blog,’ whatever that was – and how she got a book deal and I thought: I’ll start a blog – whatever that is – and the world will beat a path to my door! It’s that easy!
And whether or not you believe it, WAiW, in a way, that’s actually happened (albeit without the cash prizes or dream vacation homes, but there’s more to life than luxury, right? All you need is love…) You see, in three years, all sorts of amazing people have somehow followed the breadcrumb trail to our little outpost and reached out and/or stuck around to read what I have to say month after month; year after year; randomly and occasionally and with long pauses. I don’t know how or why, but they have. That’s simply amazing if you really think about it. In fact, that alone has served to buoy me through hard times and dashed hopes and continued occasionally seemingly-pointless efforts. Though the mountains divide, and the oceans are wide; it’s a small world after all.
And still, time marches on and sometimes not much happens. For those counting, I have written four books and published exactly none of them. I used to be kind of embarrassed by that, but I’ve decided to wear it as a badge of honor. It’s not that I’m not a good writer, I just haven’t had my serendipity moment yet. Right? RIGHT???? Yes, of course, right. And thus, with each effort I have gotten a little better and a little smarter and more imaginative and inventive and patient. Each book has honed my ability to create a world and tell a story and take an imaginary individual through a major experience. It’s goddamned alchemy, I tell you, and one of these days my efforts will pay off: I truly believe that. Perhaps it’s self-delusion, but I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s worth my time and energy. If I stopped and focused on the lack of financial compensation, I honestly think I would be missing the point.
And yet, what a hard road the creative one is in this day and age. “Why do you think they call them ‘starving artists?’” my mother once asked me. “Everyone wants to meet the artist who actually makes it big.” She’s right. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that somehow we’ve gotten it all backwards: as though money is the only reason for anything. Oh, for the days when ‘storyteller’ was a valuable profession… It’s like everything has gone off-kilter – the emperor has no clothes – and everyone feels it, but no one can quite remember what the right path looks like anymore. This lostness permeates everyone, and eats some of us alive.
I’m truly shocked and deeply saddened by the pervasive depression I encounter in this world. Maybe it was always this way – maybe the human experience is so trying and alienating that there have never been ‘good times’ but it still seems as though the bad times are endless and exponential. As I’ve already shared, I am of the relatively fortunate. I am a doer and a go-getter. I am a woman of action; irreparably stuck with a deep and ubiquitous conviction that I possess a little bit magic. I can make things happen, and once the stars align and I get the potion just so, I will prove my mettle.
Maybe it’s because of that internal buoyancy that I find myself extra-pained and empathetic for those plagued by doubt and fear and stuckness. I’ve been stuck from time to time over the years, but happily (and I would say in no small part thanks to hypnotherapy), I’ve cast that off. I could write three books a year easily, and will definitely do another one before 2011 is out. At the same time, I see the desperation in those who long to create, but through personality or circumstance just can’t seem to pull it off. To hear the call, but be unable to answer it is a terrible fate. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” ~Thoreau
And then there are those that do sing, but still succumb to the beast of despair. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the musician Vic Chestnutt, but I happened to be watching an old YouTube performance he did about six months before he took his own life. Winter 2009: it was a hard time in my life. I was facing the imminent loss of someone I dearly loved, and somehow hearing that he was now gone too truly saddened me, as though another friend had left the fight.
I hadn’t thought of him much since, yet I’ve always been moved by this song whenever my iPod decides to play it. I love how you think he’s talking about a childhood sweetheart for the first minute and the raw despair he manages to channel through such simple lyrics, and this solo performance takes my breath away. I’m not sure exactly how this relates – maybe something about the value of art or how creating doesn’t have to just be pretty or happy to be important, or how unrestrained pain is sometimes the most powerful and beautiful emotion there is, or how we have to try to hold each other up when we have the strength and they don’t, or maybe I just feel like sharing it. In any case, the performance astonishes while tearing my heart out, and I wanted you to see it too.
Make no mistake, I am grateful I don’t live my life in this space (Vic had a terrible struggle with chronic depression), but some part of me envies his ability to convey such agony so sweetly. As I endeavor on the next three years of blogs and novels and life in general, I will strive to carry a little Vic Chestnutt, and a little of the friend I lost that same winter, and also a small piece of the man I once loved who also took his own life almost a decade ago. Their stories are as invalauble as any of ours, and their pain a testimony to life itself. Perhaps shared suffering told in soft voice to an attentive ear might make the long walk a little bit easier.