Writing is Beautifully Weird

Habit blinds us. The things we do of course — in the literal sense — are the things we don’t notice. Sure, we may appreciate them. But we don’t reckon them. For once we do, things get disorienting. To wit, if you think too much about sleep, sleep becomes truly strange — and then it becomes difficult to sleep.

This is what’s happening right now with my writing. I have reckoned my own practice of writing now and again. In fact, I started this blog over 10 years ago as a way to experiment with tone, style, form, content. And I wrote a novel as a way to eject me from the precious pedantry of acadamese. But, through all that, I haven’t really reckoned writing per se. The act remained the act, even if my style and practice changed.

But the fact is writing is odd. There’s the awe-inspiring magic of it all: I inscribe these marks and thereby conjure mood and meaning, humor and belief, desire. This fact alone is enough to humble me, to make me tremble before I inscribe every word lest I summon some ill-begotten beast.

Which happens anyway, inevitably, as words refuse domestication. Every word, to a greater or lesser degree, bucks and sprawls. Words don’t want to do what they’re told; they’re always headed somewhere else. Such is their way; words are always multiple.

I just spent several minutes moving between a semi-colon, colon, and period to separate the two clauses of the previous sentence. Each choice makes a slightly different argument about the relationship between the two clauses, the two claims. And each inaugurates a different rhythm and tone. Why one and not another?

And every inscription is itself a reading. And, as we all know so well, that’s something the writer cannot control. My humor is a reader’s offense. To write is to make a mess, always. This is enough to stop a writer in her tracks. (Why do I use “her”? You tell me.)

And then there is the staggering complexity of communicating in absentia. How do I convey the nuance of my thought — all the irony, doubt, humor, passion- in these common words available to any and all sans inflection? How do I inject all this into the written word that is so stubborn and dry? (To the teachers out there, this is where rhythm and word choice come into play.)

What ethos do I assume? I, for one, am often perturbed by the casual wisdom of the day, the way bloggers and Facebook posters assume a royal we and proffer their knowing takes on life, love, politics, and tidying up. I’m sure that despite my best efforts, I am no different. Just look at the opening sentence of this essay: who is that us? I wrestled that pronoun for too long before settling on it so I could simply keep writing.

To write is always to play dress up. This is true in speaking, too. We choose our clothes, our hair style, our whole shtick so as to play this or that person in the world. So it goes with writing. Only, because I am not present, I have so much more freedom to choose whatever character I want. I usually cop some vague sense of a fancy boy ripe with outdated turns of phrase. Why? Because I can. And it’s fun. There is no way my words will ever be me. A writer may find her voice but that voice is not that of the writer. No, that voice is another, one that works for that writer. Writing will never have been a practice of perfect self-expression as there is no perfect, no self, and writing is essentially detached from the writer. There are so many possible voices a writer can assume, adopt, deploy. As the great performer, Fauxnique, might say: it’s all drag. Writing is necessarily a put on. To write is to drape, to become, to take on, to steal, to borrow, to cop, to infuse, to inflect, to inhabit.

Who am I when I write? Who is this I that is not there? This I that means all kinds of things despite its best intentions? We leak our symptoms; we are our symptoms. We communicate ourselves despite ourselves, in spite of ourselves. From the Freudian slip to the mechanics of ideological false consciousness (in which we articulate beliefs that we think are our own but are the workings of power) what we say and what we mean will never cohere at the site of our intention. And, when we write, it’s out there for all to see, a hoisting of our hidden selves — and we’re not there to defend it. (Which is why Socrates calls writing a bastard.)

Writing is enmeshed in cultural expectations. I like to curse; a good fuck adds texture, passion, tone. But there are many readers who read said fuck and recoil. They don’t hear my casual humor, my injection of the profane into heady matters, or my ethos as cool thinker (or so I like to imagine). They hear fuck and can’t continue. I receive queries all the time asking me why I curse. I’m not sure why it’s something I have to defend while a lack of profanity is never questioned. Never trust those who don’t curse.

Writing is not just a matter of conveyance. It is an event, something I do with my body and thoughts, an event of cultural manipulation. It is at once personally sensuous and culturally resonant.

I really love the sensation of sitting down to right. It’s a ritual of reckoning. We often think of writing as an expressive act — which of course it is. But it’s not just outward facing. It demands a certain openness to the world. To write is to have the world flow through you, to have images, thoughts, affects, beliefs, places enter you before being secreted as words. The writer will never have been the master of much. No, to write is closer to surfing (I say never having surfed. Who cares? Can I not invoke surfing just because I haven’t surfed? Who am I? What matters who’s speaking?). To write is to lean into the waves of the world, poised, and then to move with those waves, to cut across them or nestle into their crest (I’m guessing surfers don’t talk of nestling but I hope they do). To sit down to write is to situate oneself just so to let the world enter then inflect before shitting it out.

Writing is in fact much like shitting, the end product of a metabolism and production at once me and not-me. Many young writers have trouble actually sitting down to write and then distributing their prose much as a toddler resists sitting on the toilet only to have this once-piece of her flushed into oblivion. It’s terrifying. Whooosh! Writing, like shitting, undoes the visual limits of ourselves. Which makes the flush terrifying. To publish is to flush.

I haven’t touched on structure at all — on connecting words and ideas to each other. For now, I just want to introduce a sense of alienation about the very act of inscribing words on the page. I want writing to become alien so I, so we, can (re)discover it. (Parentheses are a great way to make words speak their multiplicity.) This, to me, is the first step in any writing pedagogy.



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