Sunday, June 29, 2014

Redefining Myself as Writer: When I Was Young(er) - June 19, 2013

Despite the constant reminders of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that I still have youth on my side, I don’t often feel young anymore. Going to school and working as close to full time at two jobs as that endeavor allows seems to suck away much of my youthful vitality, leaving me feeling mostly exhausted, cranky, and just this side of sane (maybe).

These are all first world problems, of course. I have two jobs while many are unemployed and with a spectacular blend of dumb luck and sheer bitter spite I have managed to thus far avoid the crushing tuition debts which many of my friends are already enduring. Nonetheless, there is a certain spunk which I once had that is no longer with me and which I sometimes find myself missing pretty intensely.

What is this spunk of which I speak? It’s hard to identify, because I wasn’t aware of it at the time, or even after it left. I only became aware that it had ever existed in the past year, when I heard a song on the radio that took me back to a dance party in the basement of a hotel in Washington D.C. It came on the radio as I was pulling into the parking lot at the art center where I work, and I found myself sitting out there in the dark bawling in the most pathetic fashion. I didn’t know why I was crying exactly, but I knew it had something to do with no longer being the person I used to be.

The person I used to be went to D.C. and fell in love. On that first night she walked with her classmates against the frigid freaking D.C. wind to the Vietnam memorial and she stood at the foot of Lincoln’s statue and cried because her country’s history is so brief, bloody, and horrific but once in a rare while great. She wore a lot of gaudy, vibrant colors and her fingers were decked out in an array of silver rings that clicked together when she gestured. She had a passion for music, especially classic rock, and she’d spent many a sleepless night writing through hours of The Beatles. She felt things – everything – with the kind of abandon that me as I am now can only dream about.

I’m not entirely sure what happened to that adventurous zest for life which was once my defining feature, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s just exhausting to make it through this world, with everything that’s happening in it, sustaining that kind of optimistic enthusiasm. In the face of all of the ugliness, all of the ignorance and blatant, unabashed cruelty so often sanctioned by governments and religions around the world, I feel very small and impotent. I know I’m not the only one – I’m one of an entire generation of people who have been repeatedly made to feel disposable and then shat upon for being lazy and narcissistic.*

Before the spunk left me, I cranked out a lot of work. Hundreds of pages of short stories, novellas, and novels, and in a very short span of time. Looking back now I see that most of it was, to be quite blunt, sloppy bullshit (everyone has to write the sloppy bullshit out before they figure out what it takes to be good, I guess). Early on it was pointed out to me that I had (still sometimes do) a tendency to drift into melodrama. I had a lot of things to say about a lot of subjects, damn it, and not enough time to write a different story for each thing! Who has time for such things? Bah. But at the time I was writing and figuring out how to write and I loved it, and I suppose that’s all that mattered.

Even amid all of that hurried, self-confident (maybe even arrogant) melodrama I can see some pretty solid nuggets of good ideas. I would love to revisit some of those things – the first story I wrote about cancer (why does cancer pop up in so many of my stories?) a story very loosely inspired by a number of events in the life of my favorite artist, Vincent van Gogh. I’m not terribly concerned with the certain something lacking in my old works (like I said, pretty much all writers must write the bad writing out before they can turn out something truly, beautifully meaningful). I am, however, rather intimidated by the horrible execution of those ideas when it comes to the possibility of revisiting them. How does one go about revising something like that?

Now that I’m attempting to recollect some of that spunk, I think it’s worth considering that I may not be able to revise what I wrote then…but I could rewrite. Within a (hopefully) more mature and grounded framework I might be able to reclaim some of those ideas and run with them.

It might be an adventure – a new quest line, you could say. The accompanying side quest? Reclaim some of my younger self’s enthusiasm, hope and energy and bring them into the now. Maybe I could use them to help drive away some of the self-conscious uncertainty and the near crippling fear that has crept in to fill the void they left.

Yeah…an adventure.

That sounds good.

This is a wonderful video in response to the negative things people say about millennials. It paints in broad strokes, like any generalization about a whole group of people, so for that should be taken with a grain of salt, but I think it communicates the point quite well.

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