Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Call Ishmael Crazy

Writers always say that any self-respecting writer is also a voracious reader. To call me voracious might be an understatement. The doormen at my office building have nicknamed me "Joey Books," in their Bronx accents, often yelling it as I walk by them, my nose buried in some tome. In gayer, less Bronxian circles I have been compared to Belle from Beauty and The Beast, minus the good singing voice and the desire to sleep with extremely hirsute men.

But what happens when a writer reads about writing? Well, it is both meta and potentially damaging. Take, for instance, the current book I am about to wrap up. A gift from the boy, it is called The Midnight Disease, which sounds like the biography for the werewolf that Taylor Lautner plays in the Twilight saga.

Written by Alice Weaver Flaherty, who is both a writer and a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, this book listens to all those folks who have howled that writers are insane, and applies some science to prove it. Yep, them's the breaks, folks. If you're a writer, or, really, creative whatsoever, there is a good chance that you are also insane.

The book liberally serves up psychological patients, famous quotes, and historical knowledge on every page. It is an arresting read; I have basically finished it in 5 days. I've learned that so many writers I grew up reading were certifiable crazies. I thought they were just alcoholics and drug addicts, but this isn't giving them their full due. I also have learned a lot about the brain, split-hemisphere surgery, and Flaherty's personal life, including the death of twin boys that led to her being hospitalized and doped up to the point of no creative return.

The best thing about this book is that it doesn't FEEL like you're learning. This should be mandatory reading for any writing class. Flaherty's humor, anecdotes, and general composition make something as daunting as brain science not only digestible, but tasty as well.

I also have learned a term for people who claim they have to write: Hypergraphics. Am I a hypergraphic? I wonder. I'm going to say probably. Look at this blog. My other blogs. My novels. My ten million projects. It seems as though my resting state occurs only in front of my computer with music pumping in my ears and words flowing out of me.

Another big part of this book is figuring out WHY and HOW we write. Talk of the muse, of sadness and happiness, of hallucinations and a genuine human need to be heard and verified as actually existing. In reading, I have found myself thinking about this same big old "Why Do I Write?" question that most authors like to tackle at least once in their lives, usually during graduation speeches.

Why do I write? Well, I don't quite know. It's not from pain or pleasure that my desire to write comes about. Rather, I feel, sometimes, like my brain is a free-roam, cage-less chicken coop. Inside, the birds flying around are ideas and words. Sitting down and writing is like I'm opening up the door and allowing whatever birds are quickest to escape. This probably also explains the level of crap I produce - some chickens have the capacity to lay bad eggs.

But even writing this right now feels natural - putting fingers to keys and creating a direct pathway from the vague and non-committal commotion of my mind to the solid, cemented space of this (digital) page. Am I writing for me? I think so. But I'm also writing for others. When asked what my goal in life was, I said "to make others have a good time." And it's true. I'm at my happiest when I play a direct part in the enjoyment or entertainment of others. It is an ego boost - that I may be funny or smart in this particular situation. It is also a direct vampire-like suckjob of the happiness others are experiencing.

Does writing hurt? For sure. Sometimes it burns like a mother. I've stared at the midway point of a chapter in a book I'm writing, feeling like I'm at the doctor and he's unsuccessfully trying to stab a vein in my arm with a needle. It's frustrating. Anonymous comments here and there from folks who tell me I have no voice, that my subject matter is pedestrian (or worse: offensive) also work wonders. When the voices outside of my head join in a raging chorus with the one inside to serenade me about my suckitude, well, it sucks.

But still, I write. Why? Because it's almost kind of like being a God. "It's like you're writing fan fiction for youself," my boy has said to me on a few occasions. And this, too, is true. My characters are financially well off, often with impeccable bodies and Abercrombie model faces. They live in the hottest neighborhoods and have adventures I'd never have on my own. For that reason, I write because I can create a better place and better situation on a blank page than I probably could with actual people and locations.

And finally, I write for money. The prostitute excuse. I am putting my body of work on the chopping block and selling it to the highest bidder (or, has been the case for the past few years, to no bidders and posting it online and promoting the crap out of it.) So maybe I'm more of a whore than I am a prostitute. I need to improve my business plan. I would love to become a published writer who sells a few books for production in Hollywood, which then become chart topping blockbusters, which then get turned into Broadway musicals that then go on tour, inspiring more merchandise than is necessary. And the checks will keep rolling in. And I'll be able to tour the world, signing my books, sipping drinks and smoking with other writers as I pretend to know how it is I got to that level of fame and riches in the first place.

I feel like there are many more reasons for why I write. But, I can comfortably say (at least for now) that the psychotic explanations mentioned in The Midnight Disease aren't them. Maybe someday I'll end up epileptic or bipolar or this or that. But right now, based on what I've read, I seem to have a normal functioning brain (which probably explains why I often have to wrestle with myself to come up with tasty metaphors and similes).

Why do I write? I guess I could best sum up my answer as: because it really sucks when I'm not writing. It may not be much, but I guess it's all I've got!

Write or Wrong,

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