Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reflection, inspiration, forgiveness, hope and a last line quoting Coldplay, sorry Kate (Kate hates Coldplay)

I took vacation last week and it accomplished exactly what I hoped. It was more than a pit stop. I turned a corner.

I didn't get as much done as I hoped, but I achieved momentum. I'm writing. I'm writing the novel that I've allowed to live lonely in my head for years. For a few nights I've added to the novel. For now my rule is I need to write at least 4 pages every day. I was delightfully surprised last night when I realized I'd finished 5 pages without meaning to go beyond my minimum. It's just a page, I know, but I've been so terrified to fail utterly at so little as a paragraph that an extra page means so much more than the time the keystrokes took.

I've grown flexible. Even if you've never tried to wrestle writer's block or anything like it, if you've ever dieted or tried to quit smoking, then you probably know the danger of being so rigid that you're self-defeating. For example, you decide to eat healthier. You're good for a few days and then you break down and shove a bag of Doritos in your face. Discouraged by your weakness while desperately seeking an excuse to stop denying yourself at the same time, you think, "Oh well, I screwed up. Eating all these Doritos messed up my diet. I guess I have to quit it entirely." I've done the same thing with writing. When I've tried to get back to a regular writing schedule, I make plans. I make ambitious and complex schedules. All it took was one cog in my spiffy new construct to not do what it was supposed to do - one day when I didn't have enough time to read or write as much as I wanted - and I huffed and puffed and just pushed the big, steaming monster off a cliff. This time, I started off mindful of overburdening myself. Already I've made plans that I've needed to scrap. But rather than scrap everything, I just scrap the plans. And then I make new ones. I accept that I don't know everything and do my best to adapt.

One of the most important things I accomplished last week was turning the idea of living as a writer from a lofty goal into a living, breathing possibility. I read and wrote all day. I researched. I learned. And sometime around Wednesday or Thursday as I drove to Albany to pick up Maryann from work, it occurred to me that I was not thinking of myself as a guy on vacation. I was thinking of myself as a writer who was working. You know the way cliché seems like nothing more than cliché until somehow it becomes viscerally real to you - until you don't just know it's true, but you fucking know it's true - and you shake your head at all the times you dismissed it? Well there's a whole host of self-helpy sayings that go along the lines of "Make your dreams reality." I felt that. It wasn't abstract. It was tangible. I saw it. I see it.

But I think I learned the most important lesson so far yesterday. Yesterday was my first day back at work and it felt good. It was relatively low stress. Then towards the end of the work day I saw the news that Dwayne McDuffie died.

I did not know McDuffie's work well though I remember being surprisingly impressed with how much he made me like Deathlok (a comic I probably would've avoided otherwise), and of course the Justice League cartoons he wrote were some of the best animated adaptations of superhero comics in years.

I was strangely affected by the response to the news. All it took was a quick scroll down my twitter feed to see that McDuffie commanded tremendous respect and love among his colleagues. Almost everyone in the long list of comics pros I follow on twitter seemed genuinely sad, shocked, and as if they'd lost something precious. It wasn't long before tribute posts appeared, listing McDuffie's accomplishments and expressing the impact he'd had on bloggers, writers, artists, and other readers.

Yesterday when I waited for Maryann to leave her office, I thought of everything I'd read about McDuffie, how much he accomplished and how young he was (his age had still not been posted but there were plenty of pictures of him on the Internet and he didn't look he could've left his 40s yet). While I did not know McDuffie and do not know his struggles, reading about his life made me want to go home and write that much more. It made me want to stay up all night and deal with the physical and mental consequences, so I could make sure that before whoever took McDuffie took me, I could be lucky. And I knew it wasn't envy for fame or respect or money that I felt. I knew that I just wanted, upon my death, for people to say I loved doing what I spent my life doing. In that way if no other, McDuffie's life seemed to have been a good one, and I wanted a good life too.

It will seem strange then when I say that I am happy that - inspired, rededicated and re-energized - the first thing I did when I got home was fire up the XBox 360 and play Borderlands for an hour.

When you want to be something and you spend so much time not doing the things you need to do to be that thing, something happens. You get angry. You get frustrated. You feel guilty for denying yourself your dreams. Those emotions do not motivate you. They freeze you. They convince you that you are worthless for not doing as much as you could. They convince you that you never wanted to be what you said you wanted to be in the first place, and that you never could have achieved it anyway. It becomes a vicious cycle and the easiest way to deal with it is simply to not deal.

Last week, when I finally built up momentum, when I started writing, when things started seeming possible, it occurred to me how many years had gone by when I could have been doing exactly what I was doing then and there. I could have built a better life for myself doing exactly what I always knew I wanted to do. I could have been making a living as a writer.

But yesterday, in spite of the momentum I made during my vacation, in spite of the inspiration of Dwayne McDuffie's example, when I got home I was just plain tired. I had a post-work rhythm and my writing plans did not fit. I got up in the morning, I went to work, I worked, I got home, and then I chilled. To go to work and then to go home to do more work felt wrong. It felt dumb. It felt like I was being mean to myself.

That's something I'll just have to deal with. I have habits that are in the way of regular writing. I need to build new ones. I'll work at it. I'll stumble and fall and get back up again. That's not the point.

The reason I'm thankful for my momentary lapse is that it taught me to do something I never thought I could do. I looked back at the many years when I did not do what I should've been doing. I acknowledged the possibility that if I had allowed myself fewer distractions, my life could be much different. I acknowledged that life is hard - mine and yours and everybody's - and that I didn't do what I should've because it was hard to do. And I forgave myself. I forgave myself for all my dumb years - dumb in more ways than one - because it really is okay. It's not over yet and, like the man sings, everything's not lost.

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