Monday, August 29, 2005

Do Writer's Dream of Electric Sheep?

Current mood: anxious

So I read in Entertainment Weekly a few years back that something like 89% of Americans want to write a novel.


Well, I guess you can think about this in one of three ways.

The Positive Way: 89% of Americans long to leave behind a permanent record of their lives or their imaginations or their whatever – call it the desire to let people know you were here.

The Negative Way: 89% of Americans think they have a novel in ‘em, although less than 3% of Americans make a living on writing alone, and probably only about 1% of those folks could be called across-the-board talented. And this is just further evidence of that insane sense of entitlement that most Americans have: You know that it’s every individuals right to have money, happiness and lots and lots of attention – even if you don’t deserve it.

And the Ernessa Way: 89% of Americans really don’t understand what it is to be a writer. And the 10% of Americans who said no to this question do.

Recently I wrote a bio for the press release for my play, Grown-Ups on the Playground (yes, I’m going to find a way to name-drop this production in every post until the dang thing opens). It went like this:

Ernessa T. Carter was born to Betty and Ernest Carter of St. Louis, Missouri. And she began writing soon after.

That’s the sunny version. The darker edit that wouldn’t have made it past the publicity crew would've gone like this:

Ernessa T. Carter was born to Betty and Ernest Carter of St. Louis, Missouri. Though she seemed healthy at first, it turned out she was cursed the terrible affliction of being a writer.

Because as much as I love being a writer, I hate it. I mean really, really hate it.

First of all, it’s boring. Most writers don’t get it write (ha, ha, I’m making a bad pun) on his or her first draft. That means you’re stuck with the same story, writing and rewriting and rewriting it some more.

This is sort of like sitting in a room by yourself and working on a really long, really complicated proof. Not only does it take forever to calculate, but also the chances are like one and a kajillion that you’ll solve it the first time. Then the chances are like one in a billion that you’ll solve it the second time through. Then the chances are like one in a million that you’ll solve it the third time through. Then the chances are like one in a hundred thousand – Okay, who am I kidding? Most writers will never completely solve their works to their satisfaction – unless they’re bad – and don’t know that they’re bad.

I’m really jealous of those kinds of writers. I often wish I was a bad writer who didn’t know she was bad, and sometimes I can spend a good half-hour staring into space wondering what such a life would be like. Oh, what bliss…

But that brings me to my second point:

Being a writer is a complete self-esteem fuck. I love generalizations, so I’ll just go’on ahead and say that there are only three type of writers in this world:

1. The complete neurotic
2. The complete narcissistic.
3. The completely neurotic narcissist.

I’d say most writers fall into the third category. And that’s what makes us kind of fun and terrible to date/know/be around/be. Half the time I’m really happy being me. There’s nobody else I’d rather be. In fact, I may be the second coming – or at the very least a genius for my age. The other half the time I worry that I’m not making the write (ha, ha, it never gets old . . . for me) decisions, that I’m a terrible writer, and that the life path I’ve chosen is at best misguided, and at worst, a complete waste of all the potential I was mistakenly labeled with as a kid. I’m like a new school manic depressive – except from what I can tell writers have always been like this, so it’s not exactly new, in fact it might be more appropriate to call me an continuously-unacknowledged-school manic depressive . . . anyway:

If you ever meet a writer who falls into category one or two, run. Run fast. Especially if you’re an artist, because for whatever reason these particularly beastly kinds of writers seem to have a superpower-level magnetic pull on other artists: See Woody Allen, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, and Lorraine Hansberry.

Third of all – and you’ve probably guessed this by now – writing is really stressful. Story isn’t the lovely friend it’s painted to be in certain books and movies. It’s a terrible stalker that never leaves you alone. When I go to sleep, I’m thinking story, when I wake up, I’m thinking story. When I’m eating, I’m thinking story, when I’m on the toilet…. And that’s just when I’m writing into nothing.

I don’t even want to talk about what happens when I’m actually writing something that is guaranteed to be seen by someone other than myself and whoever inherits my computer when I die. That’s when the nightmares start.

I once read in a dream book that humans have fewer and fewer nightmares the older you get. That’s been mostly true for me, too – unless I have a play going up.

Last Wednesday I had a nightmare that Los Angeles was under attack from unknown enemies. The Los Angeles Theatre Center (the place where Grown-Ups will be staged) and a bunch of other downtown business buildings were on fire, and me and Steve Connell, one of the Grown-Ups producers were trying to find his fiancĂ©e and another Grown-Ups producer, Kalimba Bennett. We found her, and as it turns out she was pregnant, but alas, the world was destroyed. There wasn’t even any paper left. So I found a pen, and began writing a story on a Steve’s and Kalimba’s bedroom sheets.

I woke up at 3am, sobbing, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. And the sad thing is this is one of the better writing-anxiety-induced disaster dreams I’ve had. There was the even scarier “Aliens take over the world through a big flood” dream of ’02 before my final reading of the year. And the still somewhat traumatizing “American Race War” series of ’03 – my busiest year in grad school.

That’s the kind of stuff 89% of Americans don’t think about when they’re having their romantic visions of writing.

Being a writer is a lonely, miserable business that no one of true talent would engage in unless s/he was “afflicted” with the absolute need to do so.

Poor Ernessa. Poor writers in general.

On the other hand, “having written” is the bomb, and somehow seems to make all the stuff mentioned above worth it. It also, has the balming/drugging effect of somehow making you think things will be different when you embark on the next project.

And perhaps more importantly, I just saved a ton of money on my car insurance with GEICO. Dudes, I’m totally serious. I got my second year renewal package in the mail, and I was soooo pleasantly surprised about my year two payment reduction.

Today I don’t really feel like a movie. The Go-Gos “Vacation” is on serious repeat in my head. Partly because of Bush, partly because of the three-day weekend coming up. So I guess I can say, I feel like a song.

Maybe I’ll move to the Cayman Islands. They have boring Accounts Payable day jobs there, too, right?

Currently reading:
Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
By Steven D. Levitt
Release date: By 12 April, 2005

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