Friday, February 14, 2014

Literary Discomfort

I guess as far as things go my literary experience so far has been pretty mellow.
People have been nice about my writing, I have gotten a few minor publications, I haven't had to lose my house or anything so I could keep writing. Up till this point the worse thing that has happened, honestly, was a sort of low simmering bout of laziness that struck around last summer and has--more or less--stuck around since then. Even the rejection letters that trickle in aren't that bad. After reading so much about successful writer's early careers I have come to expect the rejection letters. For the first time--really--last night I had this wash of feeling like 'what if you aren't a writer, you probably aren't a writer' on a six hour flight from New York to Seattle. It lasted for a while and has set its claws into me. This has all been precipitated by reading Donna Tartt's A Secret History, a book which saw a huge amount of critical and popular acclaim and then sort of sank into the background when Tartt when these decade long hiatuses.

The book itself is, admittedly, solid but probably not a masterpiece. A very good book which got very good press and sort of rode a wave. If anyone will remember  'A Secret History' one hundred or even twenty years from now remains to be seen. What really shakes me when I read the book is that it is essentially the exact book I set out to write two or three years ago and which I attempted to write last year except vastly more skilled. If I had had the chance to read 'A Secret History' even so much as a year ago I could have saved a considerable amount of time (and money for the contests I entered) by working on something else.

This feeling that 'someone has already written that' has haunted me for years. Almost every time I put pencil to paper (this feeling was stronger a few years ago but it still exists now) I had this intense feeling that my ideas were plagarized, oftentimes just under or beyond the limits of my memory. In spite of 'Reality Hunger' or Jonathan Lethem 'essay' I am pretty uninterested in reusing ideas. I finally got over this fear (which essentially crippled my writing for a number of years) around the time I wrote 'Basic Analysis' last year and it was pretty liberating. I remember being so excited to not give a fuck about what other people wrote (I think this, at heart had something to do with these semi-clinical delusions of grandeur that I get from time to time about various things, often about my writing) and just pound out whatever is in my head. And now here I am, a year later, confronted by what is essentially my worst artistic nightmare staring me right in the face. I can just see the editors putting down my manuscript after the first few pages, balling it up and Kobe-ing it into the enormous bin labeled 'Poorly executed Tartt Rip-offs'.

I have been, for some time before I visited, convinced that New York was not an actual place but--considering the sheer amount of art that mentions, worships, damns, revels or takes place in New York--a sort of expertly executed and enormous performance art piece where filmmakers, writers, musicians and poets all refer to and document this magical--and nonexistant--city in the rediculous place between New England and New Jersey. I was sort of disappointed that it was an actual place. I found the city itself to alternate between over- and underwhelming. People there seemed nice and a bit more 'focused' than people here. But overall I don't get why the dominant topic of conversation needs to be 'New York' and why people feel compelled to wear shit that says 'Brooklyn' and why it is anything more that a dot on a map this is slightly larger and more full of people than other dots on a map.

I will admit the literary offerings there were particularly lush. I visited Mellow Pages, Molasses books and Unnamable books as well as the apartment of a writer I have admired and corresponded with for a few months. The literary world there seemed at once somehow smaller and yet more intense than I had imagined. Book stores are very tiny, Elliott Bay is cavernous in comparison, yet I visited three places that specifically catered to the out-of-mainstream-literary-tastes, including book that would probably be hard to find in Seattle at even one store. The literary types seemed fairly jaded on literature, and maybe this was just a result of the harsh weather or the late nights or something totally different altogether but a lot of people seemed more interested in talking about the social scene or themselves than books or writers. This had its exceptions of course.

I accomplished very little writing on the trip which was not much of a surprise. I guess I was hoping for a bit of a boost while I was there, a bit of a bump in my writing or my drive or whatever. This too did not come. This might be a good thing though, as it lends evidence to my ability to write about the same everywhere. I guess really it means that moving to New York (or anywhere else for that matter) will not necessarily allow me a better environment to write or work.

I just want to move somewhere rural
where I can watch the rain slick down
on slanted roofs
on any given
Tuesday morning
and spend all my time
just listening to jazz
and blaming
my writers block
on outside factors

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