During college I had a pretty specific ritual. It wasn’t unique, nor particularly interesting, but as is most important with rituals it accomplished something. During the required months I would throw myself into my school work, engage with its ideas, chew on them with my classmates and friends and during lectures I would write down any stray thoughts or piece of writing that would or would not fit with the novel. Then in the space of holidays I would dedicate myself wholly to implementing and expanding the book in progress. A week, two, it didn’t matter, I knew it, knew what it needed to be and the words came with a relative (and certainly comparative) ease. When the break would end, the word document would close and school would take me back into its arms to poke and prod me into a sort of creatively deprived madness.
It was like building a storm inside a bottle. Theory, novel, novel, theory, paper, novel, theory, paper. It was an incantation, a pressurized microcosm where stray thoughts managed to wind up on scrapped pieces of paper while the creative side of me rested and the one seeking truth fed and nourished itself until—exhausted and bloated—it stepped aside and the repressed creative impulse exploded into an endless stream of words, the chapters, however imperfect, accomplished in their own respect, escaped and laid comfortably across white pages and computer screens.
During this time I knew exactly where I was where I was heading, both in the story and in life. I had an outline, however vague, and had you asked me I would have told you a tale of something akin to hope.
I was going to be a writer. A damn good one. This book would see to that. I just needed a few months after graduation to push my way through the last of it and it would all come together. The authorial dream I’d carried with me since the age of 7 would be completed, to be published and see my name emblazoned on some finely bound hardcover book would be realized and I would finally be back on track to spend my brief existence slogging through the writer’s madness in the name of creating something that could out last me, if even for a decade.
But that’s not what happened. See, the ritual had changed. One faucet of life had been declared complete. The piece of me—both social and intellectual—was, by the law of graduation, done. Which left one half of me open, dripping life and time and confidence, and the other atrophying into brain death.
Following that came that horrid realization that survival has its own demands. Just as the affluent had only ever had the time and luxury of wealth to spend their lives creating, the needs of life and limber suffering that I had spent my entire life swearing I would find a way around.
I panicked. I begged for time, said, “Months. Just give me months, I can get this done. I can- I can DO THIS. Dammit. I can do this. I can…I can…I can.”
And the months went, disappearing into afternoons, evenings, and mornings spent in sweaty panic, feeling the spiked ceiling slowly descending upon me, and when that time ended I was little if any way closer to where I had told myself I would be. Devoid of the stimulants that had kept my brain fed over the last several years, I was relegated to the company of snoring cats and tediously pale rooms filled with the silently echoing demands of what I must accomplish inside them.
So I had to find a job. It would only be for a while. A small thing, finding a job. I had a degree, I was charismatic, and smart enough to know not to overplay my hand in any situation involving employment.
Now, I don’t want to scare anyone here, but it turns out that, unless you have a degree that associates itself lovingly in the arms of some sort of established industry, all it means is you’ve got $100,000 to pay back and no skills to alleviate that particular burden. “I can word good” is apparently not good enough to get a job at Target, or Lowes, or Home Depot, or Autozone, or even, it seems, the public library.
And then a year had past. A year marked in that public serenade of personal failure, broken confidence raining over the floor like shattered porcelain dishes. Suddenly sitting down in a chair to write was a judgment against myself. A soul binding horror that I had once again decided that the dream hadn’t died from malnourishment or escaped out the window in the dead of night to rest contentedly in the dreams of some more worthy mind. Every word, every sentence became a judgment for or against my very existence as a human being.
I was my defense, my judge, and far too often, my executioner.
And it only got worse. Soon, in order to even pick up my pen I had to have a shot of liquid courage, just to dull the cacophony of judges railing against every preposition and adjective. It turns out in my case that an excess of courage leads to an absence of focus. The words that could be accomplished were scattered, impossible to relate to the book I had spent years working on.
But the voices were quieter, pushed behind liquid curtains of the enticing luxury of “fuck it”. It became clear that somewhere in my life I had overestimated myself, bought into those little fairy tales our parents and occasionally teachers give us that let us think the world cares what we want to make of ourselves.
Somewhere between there and here the muse died. The confidence, hope, and positivity it takes to sit in front of a computer and fight against yourself left me and life has faltered and stumbled into something exactly like that thing I refused to let myself fall into as a child.
There have been upswings, brief moments of breakthrough that—sometime two years ago—resulted in what can generously be called a first draft being completed, riddled as it was with enough dullness and plot holes as to be unshareable with the world in which I so desperately wish to find value.
But life is like that.
In the meantime I’ve collected a handful of jobs. Each numbing, each absent whatever magic combination instills in me that hope and sense of wonder and passion that grabbed hold of me so hard just five years ago. I wonder if another such combinations of forces exist in the world.
I suppose I’ll find out eventually. I can no more stop writing than a drunk can cut himself off at the bar. It’s a compulsion, a reaction to the world and its strangenesses, engrained in the soul deeper than any memory.
Perhaps the muse isn’t dead. Perhaps it’s only sleeping, malnourished and hungover in a locked and forgotten room, waiting for someone to find the key I misplaced in my ill-prepared transition to adulthood.
If you find it, do let me know. I’ll be here, typing words until they stick together appropriately, intermittently taking breaks to stare into the ruined white space of the notebook, wondering just how sorry I should be for the tree that found its way in front of me.