Write what you love, the teacher says. Write what you know. That’s good advice as far as it goes.
Something can also be said about writing what you hate. Andrea Latzko went to the Great War and came back broken, physically, mentally and spiritually. His Men in War is harrowing a century later. Dalton Trumbo reached into his heart for his own hatred of war and pulled out Johnny Got His Gun.
Write about what terrifies you — all those horror tales and suspense novels and stories about living nightmares surely came from the depths of the author’s fright or some corner of her mind that is still hiding under the covers.
Find your greatest sadness and your deepest despair, put something to write with in your fingers — pen, pencil, keyboard, voice recorder — and open the tap.
Write what you don’t know, too. I didn’t know rocket science, but I wanted to write a space opera and I knew the power of the imagination is unlimited, so I wrote The Imaginary Bomb, a story where the rockets are fueled by imagination as a power source.
Write what raises your passion. Write what makes you angry or miserable or homicidal — better to pick up a pen than a weapon, better to commit figurative rather than literal.
Write from your deepest place, the place where everything wells up and you have to shout or run or scream because you’re so happy or furious or frustrated or defiant or rolling on the floor laughing.
The words need to come out so much you feel sick? Tap the wells and draw forth what ails you.
I’m guessing, at this stage, that these journals won’t end up in some literary archive to be studied at length to see the original sources and inspirations of my greatest works. Their main contributions to literature, in fact, may be if the paper is recycled and becomes the journal of some truly great writer.
But now I’m exercising false modesty, because I am (perhaps) foolish enough to imagine that these little books may actually have some historic value someday, and while I wrote that bit about recycling the paper, in my heart of hearts I was hoping someone would someday write how one day Bluhm despaired that his stuff wasn’t going to live forever and little did he know that he would be remembered as blah blah blah et cetera.
I want to “live forever,” but I’ve never put in the work at the level of a Bradbury, writing a short story every week for most of his life, or a Maugham, meeting his appointment with inspiration every morning at 9 a.m. The best I have managed is little victories like setting time aside to journal four days in a row, or finally establishing a habit of blogging every day for more than 900 days. “Do the work.” Show up every day. Learn the craft. Apply the craft.
My career has been about creating disposable words, and I yearn to set some words down that instead will live forever. I want to write some words that move the heart and change the world for the better. (No delusions of grandeur there, right?) Every person has something to say. Everybody wants to change the world, so I am no different from everyone else, except in the sense that each and every one of us is different from everyone else. It’s a paradox. We’re exactly the same but unique, every one, God bless us.
Was that them, just now? Did I write the words that will live forever and change the world? You never know what those words could be, you just keep writing what moves you and see if they move anyone else, and one day, maybe, you will and they will.
Inspire me, O Muse, Reach into my heart and pull out a song, Or a poem of great beauty and truth and such That stirs the souls of all who hear And lives forever, Or at least a few minutes, Or maybe long enough for the reader To think, “Huh. That wasn’t too bad.”
Sometimes I eye myself in the mirror and see my father looking back at me. Other times it’s one of my brothers. Silly, of course: It’s really me. But I see the family resemblance.
I’m spending quite some time today thinking about the passage of time. Time doesn’t actually pass — it’s always now. We can describe what just happened or what happened a long time ago, but the description will be filtered through now, as it has to be, because there’s only now. Any recording or recollection is necessarily not as good as in the instant.
It’s all one journey, from waking consciousness, to awareness of consciousness, to learning to walk, and moving about. We touch base with our memories and compare notes with other people, but it’s all one journey of awareness and discovery.
Oh, how profound and pretentious I sound, as if disclosing a secret of the universe newly unearthed. What fools we mortals be — and all these years later, I have a new understanding of what old Will meant when he wrote that line. I am an old dog still learning very old tricks in hopes of mastering them someday.
I know my back aches more than it used to. I know sometimes I pause in mid-sentence because I just can’t think of the right word and I know the word has come to my mind dozens if not hundreds of times before. I know I have to stop and sit more often when I am walking or doing physical work — and speaking of walking, I know I’d rather not run anymore, even if I’m in a hurry.
And yet I’m looking out at the world with the same consciousness that looked out at the world to find Spider-Man #4 in a pile of other comic books for sale in the summer of 1963. These are the same fingers and arms that held a woman for the first time in the 1970s with all the wonder and delight that can mean. I am still the young man who watched, fascinated, as stupid people hurled eggs at a stage in Oshkosh because they didn’t like what Mr. Reagan was saying about freedom and tyranny. Of course my opinions and frame of mind have changed in all these years, but it’s still me.
I look in the mirror and see the same person who looked in the mirror and saw an underweight tall drink of water, even though now I see an overweight old man with a beer belly.
All I’m trying to say is that the externals have changed and quite a few points of view have changed — although I still believe Reagan was right when he said government IS the problem — but the consciousness that powers these fingers across the page and sees and hears the world around it is still the same consciousness, even if it doesn’t see or hear as clearly as it did back in olden times.
We only get one body and one consciousness in this lifetime, and we’re stuck with them for a very long time, so it’s best we take care of them and feed them right and use them with as much wisdom as we can muster.
I rotate my head around and up and down and to the left and to the right, grasping for the next topic and the next few words to write.
My eyes come to rest on toy animals, books, the ashes of beloved pets, the gentle but firm snowfall outside, and a pile of paper on a surface that I promised would never again be covered with piles of paper. There: A goal for when this writing session ends.
We load up our lives with scraps of tasks, one on top of the other, and soon we are so piled up that we have neglected the original task — in this case, to keep it all clear of distractions. The famous aphorism may say it best: When you’re waist deep in alligators, it’s easy to forget that your plan was to drain the swamp.
I’m fortunate, this time, that the pile is not so high that I might despair of seeing the surface of my desk ever again.
Now, once I reach the surface, I need to promise myself — again — that it will stay clear. Some promises need to be renewed a few times before they stick.