A throwaway line in a campy movie I love reads thusly:
“Character is what you are in the dark.”
Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am and what I do. I haven’t written a word of fiction in over two months, but the stories are still in my head, jostling for position.
Am I in fact still a writer?
The answer of course, is yes. I will never stop being a writer, despite periods of low productivity. I think about Stanley Kubrick and Terence Malick, universally acclaimed directors who worked only when they felt like working. While I make no claim to their level of talent, I feel connected to them in this way.
It’s not about the money, and never has been. It’s not about the word count. It’s really not even about the content, though WHAT I write really tells me a lot about WHY I write it. I am actually more prolific than many of my peers in terms of both content and output, but very few people reading this have ever experienced a world of my creation.
I write because I have to. It’s who I am. A part of my soul I can neither identify or ignore.
At night, when I lie down the last thing I see before the light goes out is a book. It’s the first thing I see in the morning when I wake up, and when preparing for my day I think to myself, “do I have room in my bag for a book” or “what am I reading today.”
My characters are like my cats. They need feeding periodically, but they really don’t care what I do as long as I provide them a place to live and the occasional attention. I’d like to promise that I’ll write more, but those are just words. And the cats don’t care anyway, it’s time for their food.
In a room with thousands of dollars of computer hardware, with the lights on and cats circling. I am surrounded on all sides by books, some of which are the fruits of my labor. I can reach out my hand and touch almost everything I have ever created.
And still there are no words ready to write.
In September and October I revised (read rewrote) nearly 200000 words of text, a complete rework of two novels and three short pieces. A stark look at both who I am and who I was. One of those volumes is in the hands of a friend, and the other is waiting for me to feed it. Three stories went out into the world, and one has come back home with the nicest and most informative rejection letter ever.
And then I stopped writing.
I carry a bag containing needed items. Or rather, I carried it daily for the better part of three years. In the mornings when I prepare for my day, the question of what belongs in that bag is always asked, but since I stopped writing the question of whether to carry it at all is more important. As long as it is no, I feel I won’t write.
I can point more or less exactly to the moment when I stopped carrying it. It’s when I took my computer out to help a friend with some technological woes. I never repacked the bag, never carefully arranged my life so that the technology I “need” to be a writer is at hand and paired with the brown notebook containing the things I “have” to write. In a week when I considered buying two completely new computers, this feels like an active betrayal of self.
I’m not sure how to resolve this. I continue to type here, instead of rising to repack the bag. I did get up earlier to feed the cats, but instead of feeding myself at the same time, I returned to the words.
Perhaps I am still a writer after all.