Why write. I have to, I suppose. That’s what I tell people, and it sounds pretty good. I don’t really feel compelled to lumberjackery or carjackery or crackerjackery or whatever elsery anyway. Looked into haberdashery once, but it just didn’t pan out, because no one knows what that is anymore. Sophistry, though—now that I understand.
Suppose I’d paint if I could, if supposition can be supposed to mean anything, since painting is closer to the point and practice. It’s more directly unfiltered and clean, with less space, I think, between it and us, like poetry but without the need for all those troublesome words. But all the materials and the setup and the options and the styles and the choices and the such and such—where to begin and with what and how, I wouldn’t know.
And then there’s the fact that I haven’t studied it like I’ve studied those troublesome words. I’ve looked at paintings, gazed and stared and consumed them with heart as much as with eyes. But I have not examined their construction, have not leaned in close and scrutinized every little detail of their angles and choices and arrangements and then stepped back again to ponder the whole, before leaning in again to see what I might’ve missed, savoring how it all comes together (or doesn’t), how it works (or doesn’t), trying to get behind it, under it, and feel its origins, and feel what those origins ignite in me, or might, if left. Never have I ventured to do that, choosing, albeit quite subconsciously, far as I can tell, thinking about it now, to remain at a connoisseur’s distance, or something like that—ignited when there’s a proper spark, whether for a quick flash or a long, slow burn, but never really from the inside or underneath. And now that I think of it, I don’t really know why. Gives me something to write about, though.
Language has always been different, always, whether heard or read, whether spoken, sung, rhymed, seen, or written. I have an ear for it, you might say, and I will pore over a paragraph or a verse till I forget what’s around me and live it—even just a little bit, living my it, because who am I to presume to live theirs, the creators’, directly—till I go there and visit the source and my eyes well up with that salty, watery substance inspired by a wonderfully helpless, near-thoughtless joy at the tripartite acute rawness and realness of thought, presence, and performance.
Language is a thing for me, real and living, and I tend to understand it very visually and audially—the location of words on a page, the cadence of a sentence, the pace of transitions, the physical space in which it all takes place. I don’t say this as a profundity or because I presume myself unique in the so saying, but only as a matter of fact. I suppose I hear it (whether silent on the page or audible in the ears) much as musicians hear music. And painters hear paint. And photographers hear photog. And sculptors hear sculpt. It’s like that. And speaking of other mediums, there must be something to the fact that I call writers by their first names and other artists generally by surname—you’ll never find me asking what someone thought of Vincent, but I will most certainly talk about Fyodor as if we got drunk together the night before and debated our mutual inability to go talk to the pretty girl at the end of the bar.
There was an interview with Gordon Lish in The Paris Review recently and I remember him saying something about how he just knows when a piece of writing is good or not, that for all his other uncertainties, he has an interminable faith in his powers of perception in that regard. I hate to say it, I really, honestly do, I swear, because I feel like there’s no way to sound like anything but a prick in the saying, but I do too. I just know, especially when it’s not and it’s mine.
Yes, we could have the subjective-objective debate till our faces turn blue and we could argue about my ability to perceive and right to pass judgment till the cows return from their bovine rumspringa but the truth—and, like Lish, if I may be so brazen as to draw a sliver of a comparison, I am sure about very few things in regards to self and ability, very few—is that I just do. I know (whether I listen to what I know is another story). I may not immediately know why, but I know when it’s any good and how, and when it’s not. And how. Like this: Nicholas Sparks is not, while Haruki Murakami is. Sparks is insufferable, Murakami is quite good, if you’re into that sort of thing. See? It’s like magic.
I think about you every day, still. …Wait, what? How’d that get in here?
I could (and have) come up with all manner of comparably magical things to say about why I write, about evocation and provocation and consternation and conflagration and stimulation and confrontation and preservation and proclamation and denomination and ingratiation (and my propensity for lists, which you could fairly say is a matter of linguistic indecision) but the truth, again, or the other part of the same truth is that I don’t know why, I really don’t, but I do have some hunches.
I think it’s ultimately, on a practical, daily existence level, because I don’t know what else I’d do, and I have to do something, because without something, this is purely, vividly, crushingly pointless and I might as well over-eat and under-exercise and de-sensitize myself into a tv- and twitter-filled oblivion focused on our celebrity-political-athletic media machine and drift into the unquestioning adoption of bargain-basket masscult values and principles. And read Sparks (notice I don’t call him Nicholas…).
Honestly, as much as I love to reflect, it pains me a bit to even talk in this ruminative manner about what I do, so self-indulgently and explicative. Like I’m tarnishing the thing itself with analysis and explanation, talking around and through my “craft” and my “passion” and my “purpose,” albeit without those insufferable terms, omitted both for your good and mine. I gag (“purpose” is the only reasonable word of the bunch, but only when it’s more of a verb than a noun). I’ve already gone on about this far too long (again); the last thing anyone needs here is some self-justifying kitsch that, whenever I hear/read/utter it, seems to stand on par, in terms of rendering all else stated null and void, with offering an apology that includes the word “but.”
At its simplest, I think it’s like this: I write as much as I can, and all the rest of the time I think about writing, in order for writing to be what I do, and this in an all-consuming manner and to a vital, requisite degree that nothing else in my life comes close to matching, not even love. I’ve wondered if I love in order to write, to give myself more to write about. Maybe that’s true and I do. I love to read, and I admittedly read for that reason—for practice, for origins and the collection of, for exercise. I take photos for that reason, to collect feelings and senses and their sources. I live for that reason, or those reasons, for those actions and, dare I say, fuck I really shouldn’t, dammit I have to, processes (I’m sorry, so robotic, I know). What matters most in my life and to my person have arranged themselves around these reasons, and yes, I nevertheless sometimes wonder if it’s all made up. Self-sophistry, I guess I’d call it. Or self-sophistrophobia.
Maybe that wondering keeps me honest and going and trying, and maybe that’s part of remembering that I don’t have answers, only replies. Whatever, who knows—just trying to make myself feel good and fit it all snugly into the comforting theme of inquiry. Success? Close enough.
The point I wish to make/belabor is that this is not about discovering or even understanding who I am. I know who I am, believe it or not, or I know well enough, because it’s all imperfect and partial anyway and what is that quasi-artistic act of self-discovery, so tired and uninteresting and so rounded out with those gag-inducing popularized terms of self-indulgence and painfully un-ironic hyper-individualism, what is that puerile quest supposed to lead to anyway, and when? When are we supposed to be ready, whether as artists or lovers or parents or just people, and what the hell for? We’re already here. I can only imagine where I’d be right now had I not spent so much time emotionally reveling in ontological overcomplications.
Again, to the point, back to the point. I don’t do this because I want to be anyone’s salvation or guiding light or beacon of hope or shouldered angel or ray of light, not even my own. Devil’s advocate, maybe, but that’s more a matter of opening up new and different avenues than paving old ones over with gold and methamphetamines. I don’t know where that came from but you know what I mean.
I don’t do this for reassurances, for encouragements, for acceptance or understanding—really, I don’t. That’s not what this is about. What is it about? Fuck if I know. How about this, this should sound good: I write stories and, through them, through the writing of them, creating them, I love—myself, you, them, us, this, life, the world (even Sparks?). It is that simple. The stories and prosetry I write, more so than my essays, remind me that I do love and I’m not ready to go just yet. My essays, however, as benefited as I am by getting them out, tend to make me want to pack it up and in and call it a day.
Maybe that’s it, writing is my way of saying—to myself, to you, to anyone willing to or interested (or needing to) listen—not only that I’m not done, but we’re not; it’s my best way of reaching out and doing the whole human thing, beyond physical touch and presence, that is, although it may even be better. And that’s probably as far as the analysis of impetus need ever go, as it is only very loosely and incidentally about me and the who, but completely about me and we as the why. I want something out of this, though, to be sure. I’m not that full of shit. What I want to know is if it moves, if it strikes, if it matters, if it works. Not because of what that then says about me, but because of what it says about it. And I want cash.
The it is this: to write from feelings and for them, almost to them. To (re)create them and describe them and memorialize them. If I had to put it in three words they’d be sustenance, maintenance, and creation (probably give you three different ones tomorrow). And that helpless, near-thoughtless joy I mentioned? That’s what I want to give back, what the good stuff does and what I need my stuff to evoke. Whether it’s the joy of fear, the joy of sadness, the joy of love, the joy of destruction, the joy of humor, the joy of irony, the joy of madness, the joy of joy. There is some manner of almost animalistic elation behind truly good art, a primal sense of connectedness and unscientific communication that we would be next to nothing without, just parasitic ants with complex, resource-draining hills and bad tempers. And there, that, my friends and my not-friends alike, is both my great fear and greatest motivation, in the shell of a nut. Probably a peanut, because it has two chambers, one for fear and …. Ok, just saying.
I’ll tell you one more thing while we’re at it, now that I’ve told you a few dozen others: If I am ever again wedded, it will be to an editor. A beautiful, brilliant editor, who can sing like Lisa Hannigan and write like … Lisa Hannigan. How about Lisa Hannigan. Or, I don’t know, Nora Arnezeder. She’s probably a great editor, certainly looks it. That’s what I’ll do. And it will be a union to serve and improve us both, through love and parallelism and appreciation, deep, enduring appreciation. She will write and sing and perform her beautiful stuff and I will listen and help her, and she can help me sing mine as well, silently, however, of course, the only way I know to sing, the only meaningful way I know to perform.
 What if my purposemissioncallingtruth is, in fact, little more than contrivance which I’ve developed a certain ability to affect, like a kid with a pilot father who has come, through exposure and idolatry to believe he was born for aviation (that was actually me too, for a while)? What if all I have is an eye for wordsmithery and narrative, without the ability to create something, even if it’s just one thing, truly and indisputably great? What if I don’t make it out of this amateurish, cyber-street performance state of blogtopia and the occasional story and essay submission to magazines and contests and journals of which I had never heard or cared to until I found out they might not only print my shit but actually pay me for it? What if I never publish a thing?
Or, worse, what if I publish a few small things in a few small nothing periodicals and make about $175 and this lifepassiondream never becomes much more than a cute little hobby and every so often my friends and relatives ask hey how’s the writing going because they’re nice people and they know how much it means to me to build my little linguistic model train sets in the basement on the weekends but they also know I don’t have and can’t find what it takes to be better than a perpetual, slightly less than half-decent hack? What then? Well, it would be much like now, although without the hope of potential. Then I’d be just another semi-glorified typist, idolizing and slapdashedly emulating his fathers and mothers, washed up and out before he could even get started. There’s a marvelous line in a Lumineers song that goes “I hold on to a hope in my fate.” Just depends what that fate is. And yes, I know, there’s only one way to find out, find out if I’ll remain basking in the quiet creature comforts and middling glory afforded me by the as yet very small but very golden horde of strangers near and complete who’ve felt it prudent to give me a follow (thank you for that), or if there’s to be more, beyond and bigger and different.
 Even if you eventually reject me as a man, LisaNora, that’s fine, honestly. You can turn me down or turn away because I won’t let you get close anymore, because I’m difficult and sarcastic and sensitive and sometimes very, very distant, because my drummer will deliberately change his tempo to remain distinct from most anyone else’s, because I’m often indecisive and occasionally fickle, because I’m forgetful, because I’m absentminded, because I digress and regress and parenthesize and footnote and write things like this and suffer from bouts of overconfident self-doubt.
But please, just listen to what I make, really listen. Not for me, again—I don’t know how many more ways to put this—but because it’s worth listening to. And if it’s not, don’t, and for the love of god and beautiful Irish songstresses and tremendously alluring French actresses of mixed heritage I need you to tell me why you think so. If you know what you’re talking about, I’ll listen, I promise. If not, well, I probably won’t—so there’s that. But I need you to try, and so will I. This is how I know love and show it, and I do it here, I have to do it here, because I can’t be trusted out there. If it’s anything other than this, if we do anything less than this, it’ll tire me beyond comprehension and change me beyond recognition, that daily charade, and all I’ll feel is alone. Or want to be. And then we’ll both be. And then I’ll go write about it. And nobody wants that—yet.
3 thoughts on “what for”
Writing, a career with death benefits. Just ask Poe or Dickinson. I don’t know about Lisa, but I hear you. Happy Easter.
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If I had to choose another way, it would be singing. I wish I could sing my words in a way that could make them felt, viscerally, in the chest and gut.
Your piece made me think about whom we write for— lost loves, imagined future ones, an ideal reader/editor, a muse, or a bigger audience, and how these imaginary people influence what we say.
The what for, for me, is not for being heard, it’s for hearing myself, which is simultaneously solipsistic and satisfying.
But I too wish I had a Lish to help with the bigger picture. It’s a rare thing to have one’s brilliance seen through the muck. He has a knack for that. Usually, we see what’s wrong, not what’s right.
Thank you for writing, Mischa! Beautiful words.
Thank you for these thoughts.
Viscerally in the chest and gut—yes, exactly that. There’s nothing quite like a good one-two punch from a song. And perhaps that explains why I seem to have such a schoolboy thing for Ms. Hannigan. She could sing me to sleep with paragraphs from Nick Sparks, I do believe.
And yes, for the hearing of self, absolutely, and for all those other selves to hear, as well, selves imagined and real, within and without. I’ve been thinking lately that I want to take myself out of it and just let it be about the stuff, thinking maybe I could hear myself differently, maybe even hear a different self. And thinking, now that you mention audience and influence, maybe that different self will be differently influenced by its (different?) audience. And thinking maybe I think too much. And definitely see too much of what’s wrong and too little of what’s right. A Lish could help with that. If I find one, I’ll send him/her your way.
Wishing you the best.