I haven’t had a lot of success in my life building my own family. Both my marriages ended childless, which saved a lot of paperwork on the divorce, I must say, but that’s not a huge consolation. I’m deeply envious of people who’ve managed to select their mates wisely and raise children. It is, I think, one of the highest possible achievements of any human to launch a child safely and securely into adulthood.
Still, while my romantic entanglements have always been something of a mess, I’ve been much luckier in friendship. I have a wide circle of friends, including some I would count as true friends. As the old joke goes, a fried will help you move… a true friend will help you move a body. Fortunately I haven’t had to put these friendships to the body test yet, but I know in my heart who I’d make the first call to if the situation arose, and I know that not only would he help, he’d probably have the foresight to bring power tools. Of course his car isn’t very big… luckily I have another friend with a pickup truck, and I’m certain she would loan me a tarp, and I know she won’t rat me out.
I fear I’m veering off topic.
What I meant to get at when I sat down to write this post was that I think I have stumbled on to a key element to being a writer worth reading: the writer must always possess an essential loneliness.
Having a successful marriage and family won’t necessarily preclude this loneliness. Having good friends can’t truly cure this loneliness either. A writer, or any other artist, must always possess a sense that he is an outsider. Place him in the middle of a crowd, and he can never truly think of himself as part of that crowd. He is, instead, an observer of the crowd. If he’s participating in whatever the crowd is doing (cheering a rock band, for instance, or walking through a crowded mall the weekend before Christmas), he’ll still feel like he’s only pretending to be part of the group; on a deep level, he’ll never truly fit in.
It may be that everyone feels this way. It’s certainly a common theme in movies, books, and song lyrics. Far more likely, feeling this way may be a motivator to write movies, books, and song lyrics. Because one of the things that keeps me writing, day after day, year after year, is this never ending quest to explain myself. I am forever crafting small homunculi of myself and sending them out into the world via fiction, hoping they’ll find acceptance.
Writing has a way of weeding out a lot of lesser motivations. If you’re writing seeking fame and fortune, this might keep you going for a book or two, but you’re going to realize fairly quickly that fame as a writer means that in any random crowd, nobody is going to have a clue who you are. As for fortune… I suspect panhandling would probably provide a more steady income, and would keep you out in the fresh air and sunshine to boot. Most writers I know are pale people deficient in Vitamin D.
The one thing that kept me typing year after year, until I had committed a million words and then some to paper, was this quest to ease my loneliness by revealing hidden aspects of myself in fiction. When I first started writing, I used to have a fear that people would see too much of me in my writing. One reason I think I have found the modest success I have as a writer is that at some point I stopped being afraid that people would discover my dark secrets and started to embrace this as a hope. The stories that receive the greatest reaction are stories where I confess the things I least want the world to know about me. Admittedly, I do this obliquely… I place my hate into the character of Bitterwood. I place my more sadistic thoughts into Blasphet. My sleazier, cheesier elements find voice in Pet. In Nobody Gets the Girl, I confess my sense of being an outsider rather nakedly in the form of Richard Rogers, AKA Nobody, a man moving through the world as an unremembered ghost, invisible, intangible, hungry for the simplest human connections.
It is possible, of course, to write stories that don’t have this confessional element. I’ve certainly done so many times, and with some success… “Final Flight of the Blue Bee” will soon see publication for a third time, and I’m hard pressed to say that a reader would learn much about me reading it… except, perhaps, in the last moments of the story, when Stinger is falling to his death, and he yells out his final message to the Blue Bee. His voice is drowned out by the drone of the millions of bees that surround him. The most important words he’ll ever say go unheard. I think this moment captures my fundamental belief that, in the crucial moments, the things we most want to communicate are almost always missed somehow.
In the end, the feeling that I’ve never truly said what I most wanted to say is what keeps me coming back to blank pages again and again. I am forever tapping keys to fill the empty space with words, in a desperate attempt to keep myself from fading from this world, unknown, unremembered, a nobody.