Monday, April 14, 2008
Oh Look, Lint!

I came home from work tonight to find the household in a dejected mood -- the dog bolted out the door sometime tonight and hasn't been seen since. All realistic steps have been taken, but a young, fast dog can cover a lot of ground quickly and make recovery almost impossible. Even I am a little sad, and I barely knew the damn mutt. He's a fine beast, and I hope he makes his way home.

I was already feeling rather downbeat. Something that ten days ago was a major source of hope for my immediate future has probably become, I'm afraid I have to acknowledge, a rather bitter disappointment. I'm feeling discouraged and frustrated and a bit like giving up. Which isn't to say that I will; just to say that my passion is at a low ebb for the moment with no obvious relief in sight.

I've spent the last several weeks nibbling at David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, and I'm still only about two hundred pages in. It feeds into my love of big, thick, dense books that often seem to be more about the reading process than about their actual content. It's an arrogant book obviously written by a young man who knows how good he is, and I mean that in a complimentary way. These books don't always work on me -- I've basically given up on ever reading Gravity's Rainbow, not because it's not worth the effort, but because I've never enjoyed the process of reading it. Ulysses, on the other hand, is one of the few books I read (in bits and pieces) year after year, because even without moving through the arc of the whole story, chewing on a page or two is fun when you're in the right mood. Reading Ulysses aloud feels good in the same way that reading Shakespeare aloud feels good. Infinite Jest doesn't work on precisely that level (or I wouldn't say so at this point, anyway), but there's enough there on a page-by-page basis to make plowing through 1000+ pages seem bearable, even when you know it may take you months to do. And it's frankly an amazing thing for any author to have accomplished, a big, mad work of obsessive passion that must have been agony during the writing. The quality of his writing aside, I have to offer Mr. Wallace my epic respect for having the balls to write such a monster.

At moments like this, I tend to obsess over my inability to figure out what to do with myself. Why haven't I found myself a big, obsessive, undeniable project like that?

I have this thing that I've spent most of my adult life chipping away at, with considerable determination and honest love, but so far with very little to show for it. I have this other thing that many more people have suggested I pursue more vigorously, as it would appear to be the thing to which I'm more naturally suited. Making films, for me, is all upstream swimming, which is part of why I love it so much. But it's often an overwhelming psychic effort for me to embark on a project, and one that I admit I don't often face squarely. And yet year after year I refuse to entertain the idea of admitting defeat.

And then there's the writing, the idea of which I have a lot of trouble taking seriously. I can sit and I can write, and while the work can be hard (on the rare occasions when I apply myself), I understand what I'm doing on a instinctual, innate level. I understand how written language works, and I feel more comfortable and fluent with it than I do with literally anything else in my life. It comes to me naturally, such as it is. I sit, I write, the words come, the paragraphs form almost on their own, and second drafts are uncommon. 95% of what you read here is lazily, sloppily composed in an off-hand way, with no foreplanning other than a bit of intellectual mulling over and an occasional visit to the dictionary or thesaurus. I'm phoning this shit in, not even really trying. I know, you can totally tell, right? And yet I also know that it hangs together reasonably well for a bunch of barely-composed horseshit, which counts for something.

The problem is that I honestly don't know that whatever I've got is what it takes. I don't know how to realistically measure it, whatever it is, to determine whether I have any particular talent or not. I think it's entirely likely that I don't, or at least not anything special. I can slap a sentence together, so what? Are any of them good enough to pursue their construction professionally, even as a sideline? I think the thing that trips me up is that writing is so easy for me, so mundane, so well-duh obvious, that it's unreachable by doubt or question -- I can write just like I can walk or drive or boil water. It's so easy that I don't quite believe that it's not just as easy for everyone else. I'm really just waiting for someone to come along and confirm for me that all the people who tell me I'm good, even the ones who read books and understand good writing and still tell me I'm good, are just being kind and supportive and that I don't truly have anything significant to contribute. And to hear that wouldn't be a disappointment or a blow of any kind; it would only be the simple truth that I've always suspected I'd hear sooner or later.

On the other hand, if what I wri,te in a first draft at just gone midnight, after a full day at work, in a dark mood after the previous night in which I only got four hours of sleep -- if that writing is not completely, unreadably fucking dreadful, what might I produce if I actually worked at it?

My other problem is that I'm inclined to devote myself to other people's work much more than my own. My dilemma is in trying to determine whether I'm just naturally a sidekick in search of a protagonist, given to first-tier subordination to someone more aggressive and driven, and in which subordination I might in the long run be more fulfilled and satisfied. Or whether, in truth, that's just something I tell myself to avoid having to face doing my own work. I think either could be true.

And if it's my own work I need to do, do I continue the upstream swim, or should I see what happens when I turn around and try to follow the current? But if I do that, won't I be losing more ground? Or is my refusal to make the turn itself the bigger waste of time?

Regardless, at the moment I have a glut of projects that need to be finished, including both film projects and written pieces. Not until those are cleared off my plate can I really consider any bold new moves. But thoughts on things I can do to determine my best course of action in the meantime would be helpful.
12:05 AM ::
Amy :: permalink
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