A.k.a The writer’s condition is a nervous condition
Written while listening to: “#80” — Lo-Fang
Back when I was a theatre kid, there was one play I kept going back to: The Seagull by Anton Chekhov.
I’ll be honest, I know nothing about this play. I mean hell, as far as I know, Anton Chekhov is a navigator on the Star Ship Enterprise (that was a Star Trek joke, ya normals).
But there was one monologue in the play that I kept going back to and kept using. Not because I’d had it memorized since high school, but rather because it’s one of the truest descriptions of a writer I’ve ever heard.
Day and night I am held in the grip of one besetting thought: I must write, I must write, I must write! Hardly have I finished one book than something urges me to write another, and then a third, and then a fourth — I write ceaselessly…Even now, thrilled as I am by talking to you, I do not forget for an instant that an unfinished story is awaiting me. My eye falls on that cloud there, which has the shape of a grand piano — I instantly make a mental note that I must remember to mention [it] in my story…
I’ve never come across a piece that so perfectly sums up what it is to be a writer — an addiction.
Wherever I go, whatever I do, I can’t help but think, “this would make a great story.” When I’m with my friends, all I can think is “I can’t wait to get home so I can write about this.” Even now, I write this from my living room, surrounded by my family, while I type away (in my defense — they’re watching football, which I know even less about than I do The Seagull.)
I live to write, but at the same time, I suppose I write to live.
Writing it what drives me. It’s what keeps me in the house, but also what gets me out of it, lest I miss out on experiences. You wanna know FOMO? Try the cognitive dissonance that is wanting to stay in and write while also feeling the pull to be social both for fun and for inspiration.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has a particular quote in the introduction of Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth” that always jumps out at me:
“The condition of ‘Native’ is a nervous condition.”
But whenever I think of it, I re-quote it to say, “The writer’s condition is a nervous condition.” Because from the moment you conceive an idea, your writing is being judged — by you, by readers, etc. And when a piece of your writing is judged, it’s as if an extension of yourself is being put on display for all to evaluate.
We’re nervous about how those will perceive our writing.
We’re nervous for how we as the creator will judge our writing.
We’re nervous that writing will make us miss out on things…
…but also nervous that if we miss out on things, it will affect our writing.
Why would any sane person put themselves through this self-effacing torture?
Well, that’s the thing — writer’s aren’t sane. Addicts never are.
We’re addicted to the creative zone — that mental slipstream we catapult down when inspiration strikes, addicted to the product that comes from the stressful process, like a mother post-childbirth. The positive feedback (amongst inevitable criticism) serves as the high that drives us back to the pencil and paper and screen as soon as that high wears off. Addicted to the unhealthy external validation we get, even when we write something that was meant just for us. The lows hit hard, but those highs…we’re insatiable for them.
I am a writer because I love it…but I am also a writer because I have no choice. I am addicted — in this case, with no hope of ever recovering.
I sit alone by a dying fire, the room in which my family sat now empty, all of them throughout the house. I’m alone. And once again, I regret not being more present, more here when they were…even if it was over a football game.
So I suppose, in this case…my nervous writer condition regards the fear that while I will be fulfilled with writing…it will result in my being alone.
I should probably write about that.