Until recently, I’d been hamstrung by a leaden, pointless philosophy—a philosophy designed with one goal in mind: avoiding the discomfort of taking responsibility and making real choices.
But this has been changing. I’ve made movement in a positive direction. I’ve been eating well and have quit smoking. I’ve been playing tennis and writing. I’ve left the 40 hour workweek, and I’ve even started writing a book—a work of fiction—with an actual plot, and a sketched out plan for how I’ll tell the story.
But, in the spirit of Are We There Yet, I’d like to adjust my own rearview mirror and glance back at the road just traveled for a moment—not to dwell, but to reflect and gain perspective on the road ahead.
Mirror adjusted. Here we go.
In the past, when I would sit down to write a piece of fiction, which was rare, I would freeze when it came time to think about plot—about what would actually happen in the story.
What will I have my characters do? I’d say to myself. I’d say, well, listen, man, it has to be character-driven. I don’t, like, just want to write some boring plot and have all the characters go from planned-point-A to planned-point-B… and then have this, like, fake resolution where everything neatly ties in a bow… because that’ll be math, man… And I don’t do math.
This little inner monologue would often be followed by a cigarette, like a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence.
I would sit at the desk—without any sense of where the story would go—armed only with the vague but unwavering principle that in order for the work to be good—in order for it to be pure—I’d have to abandon plot entirely. It has to be this way, I’d say to myself. You can’t sketch out a plot. You can’t plan to take the characters places. That’s not how inspiration works.
The result of this thinking: one bloated overwritten short story after another where characters talked the whole time, and never left the living room. There was some action: in the form of furniture moving, smoking, and drinking. There were deep conversations about broken childhoods. There were hurt feelings. There was storming in and out and slamming doors.
But there wasn’t movement, or resolution—because I hadn’t allowed enough to happen to the characters.
They, like me, hadn’t experienced enough to change.
One particular story went on like this for a full 65 single spaced pages. I thought, well, this is great. I’ve got half a novel almost! I’ll just beef it up and be on my way!
Then I set about embellishing every interaction in the story—layering over every paragraph with needless detail—elaborate descriptions of lampshades, and beer bottles. I tortured this small-framed story—this small container—good for about a 20 page piece—into a strained, buckling mess of detail.
It got larger and larger, but it didn’t grow. It only swelled.
My life, until recently, had followed a similar course—refusal to sketch out plans—refusal to take responsibility for my goals—refusal to allow myself to take control and make choices.
So, I ate. I chain smoked. I ate some more. I drank heavily and I didn’t write. I didn’t hike or play tennis or swim or any of the other things that would have made me feel good. There was no action, no movement.
I sat in the same scene, doing the same stuff over and over—just like the characters in my story.
Even the dialogue was similar—about broken childhood, regrets and missed opportunities. There was lots of storming in and out and slamming doors—all pointless furniture moving that took the place of real action.
My body, like the story, swelled. My lungs blackened and my liver fattened up. My body became heavy and uncomfortable.
I was swallowed up by a philosophy that from the beginning was designed to keep me from making decisions and choices—in my life and in my writing. There can be no plot—no movement—no plan! Inspiration must fall out of the sky whole and complete!
I had duped myself into being cocooned in the romance of the bitter, unknown writer with great potential, but not enough time or energy to write. There was money that had to be made. There were restaurants I would have to eat at, and clothes I’d have to buy. The real world required concessions.
I got nourishment from this for a while.
Except, none of this was true. I wasn’t not writing because I was too tired or too busy, or because I had to work and make a living. The truth is I wasn’t writing because I was terrified. I was completely terrified that my choices—the ones I’d have to make to tell a real story—where to take the characters, what to have them say and do—wouldn’t be right.
They wouldn’t live up to the secret wish of the false ego to be stellar, brilliant, and amazing. Nothing I could actually produce would live up to the hype my false ego convinced me I was capable of. It was safer to be a fake. It was safer to identify as a writer but not to actually write.
And those things I did write—those few pieces I wrote were written to keep the lie going—to keep the false identity in tact. They reflected the lie. In these pieces, as in my life, very little happened, no choices were made. They were heavy, brooding and dull.
I’d settled for potential over achievement—for hypothetical grandiosity over real accomplishment.
Looking away from the rearview, and focusing on the road ahead.
Now I don’t feel so burdened by this old way of thinking. I’ve marked it off as a point in the past and I’m moving on from it. There is always the chance that I could return to this old place, but there is less threat of my sticking around because now I know what’s beyond it, and how to get there: by having the courage to be imperfect and to make my own choices and tell the story anyway I choose.
So, Am I there, yet? No. But, I definitely like the look of where I’m headed.
(Announcer Voice) “What will happen to our Spiritual Spelunker Next?... Will he write the next chapter of his book...? Can he detox his liver, effectively? Will he be happy with his decision not to work 40 hours a week for THE MAN... Will he still be able to afford his fancy organic raisin bran?... Stay Tuned...”