It seems appropriate – at least for me – after a celebratory post such as my last one, that an ominous thought should emerge, like a hovering shadow. It's just how it is. All I have to acknowledge is “I’m having a ball!” for a poisonous inner voice to counter, “Not so fast.”
Yesterday, our family attended a wedding, arranged by a family in the arts. Not show business, real art – the mother’s a painter and the bride’s an art historian. The family’s talent, good judgment and unique taste were revealed in every detail of the proceedings, from the original content of the ceremony to the striking choice of the flower vases, the flowers selected from the downtown flower market by the bride-to-be herself.
That was the good part.
I found myself seated opposite a man whose wounded eyes disclosed that he’d never once received the birthday present he’d wanted. These people are dangerous. Especially to people displaying any sign that life is good.
The bride’s father, sitting nearby, asked me how my blogging was going. “I just wrote my hundredth post,” I proudly replied. That was a mistake. You should never show signs of happiness in public. Somebody’s certain to take it the wrong way.
My enthusiasm immediately triggered a barrage of probing questions from Mr. “His-Parents-Never-Understood-His-Deepest-Desires.”
“Do you know how many people read your blog?”
“No, and I don’t want to know.” (If you know, please keep it to yourself.)
“Do you make any money from your blog?”
“Not a dime.”
“Surely, this is a part-time activity.”
“I don’t do anything else.”
My interrogator seemed to take each of my answers as a personal affront. I pretended his hostility didn’t bother me. But it did, as reflected by the fact that I put off a post I had planned to write to write this one instead.
I want to say that, in America – but it may be everyplace – you do a thing that takes time and energy and effort and infinite care for one of two reasons: One – personal advantage, usually meaning money, or Two – “You’re out of your mind.”
At the core of the man’s curiosity about my blogging – besides an irrational resentment – is a reasonable wonderment: “Why on Earth are you doing that?” If he’d asked me that directly, I’d have replied, “I love it.” But a deeper response would be the Eastern-religionly tinged,
“I do it to do it.”
“I do it to do it.” A response of that nature carries with it one of two possibilities. One of them’s I’m a crazy person.
Spending hours a day crafting something that may be read by an infinitesimally tiny…
You know. That.
I’ve had enough therapy to understand that the hostile wedding guest who, objectively, meant nothing to me, wasn’t really the person who was talking to me. Who was talking to me was me. I’d simply placed my harbored reservations in his mouth.
It's a short and surprisingly swift journey from "Why am I doing this?" to "I've lost the ability to do this." What I'm chronicling here is the spiraling descent into “Writer’s Block”.
I once told a woman at this spa I go to that I’d written a book of political commentary called Both Sides Make Me Angry to which she immediately replied,
“Why should anybody care what you have to say?”
There it is. A writer’s scariest question, parroted on a stranger’s lips. I’m sure all writers have experienced these and even greater shots to their confidence. Maybe that’s why so many of them drink. (Not me. I remember a show runner who drank once asked me what I did to manage the anxiety of our chosen career. I responded without a moment’s thought: “I suffer.”)
If you know a writer, try and keep this in mind. Writers have plenty of doubts of their own. They really don’t need any assistance in that regard.
Early in my career, whatever time I was allotted to write a script, I’d spent the first half of that time writing nothing. Two weeks to deliver a draft of an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I’d spend the first week just shaking.
“How do I do this? I can’t do this. Who said I could do this? I’ll never be able to do this. Don’t make me do this!”
Mountains of negativity. Literally, in a figurative sense. I’d make a mountain out of a molehill, and then worry myself to death that I couldn’t climb it. On some level, I was just trying to make the undertaking I was – in another section of myself – certain I could handle, seem more heroic. The opposite view lacked the requisite excitement.
“Piece o’ cake!”
Where’s the glorious achievement in that?
But unlike the magician who is clearly aware that his trick is a trick, my trick would fool me, and I would actually feel scared. I believed I had good reason. People were counting on me. I had established a level of quality I was required to live up to. If I didn’t, what I loved to do more than anything in the world – making a living in show business – would be taken away from me.
There are reasonable responses to all of those concerns, but when you’re brain is aflame with self-doubt, you’re hardly a candidate for the “Clear Thinking” award.
After a while, I got on to my own game. Instead of agonizing and writing nothing that first week, I’d just take a little trip (“…along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’”.) I’d simply take off. When I returned the second week, knowing I had no more time to waste, I’d just sit down and write the script.
In later years, the “I can’t do it” period contracted to a fleeting stab of doubt, or a troubled night’s sleep. It never totally disappeared.
I’m a writer. It comes with the territory.
And now it’s the blog. The pressure is self-imposed, but wasn’t it always?
Before it was scripts. Now, it’s five posts a week. And always trying to maintain the quality. And there it is, in the pit of my stomach. Hello Darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to block you up again.
Here, I’ll save you thousands in therapy bills. Whatever your negative tendencies – the ones that really mess you up – you can never overcome them. What you can do is this: Acknowledge your liabilities and minimize the damage. Write it down.
“Acknowledge your liabilities and minimize the damage.”
There. You’re cured.
(Digression: In my sillier moments, I like to believe that Minimize was Mickeymize’s Italian girlfriend.)
If you want to encourage me in my struggle, what would help most would be a cold-water-in-the-face dousing of the truth, along the lines of
“Stop worrying, Earl. Your quality level isn’t that great.”
I’d appreciate the support.
I want to keep doing this. But the demons are definitely lurking.
It’s a real-life cliffhanger.