4/22/05

Flipped Off By A Missionary

I am a fantastic writer. I'm the best there ever was; the best there ever will be. Man, if I'd just sit down and write my novel, it'd be WAY better than Hemingway's, or Faulkner's, or any of those other authors I've never bothered to read.

Mine is the untapped voice of a generation, the mind that can speak the soul of a people and illuminate the collective experience we all share, all of us who are alive on this Earth right now.

Leatherbound in libraries, I tell you - that's where my writing will rightfully belong, just as soon as I actually write it.

Are you convinced yet?

Me neither.

But I just spoke with a guy who actually did make sense - a reasonable fellow who is passionate about his life. We were introduced yesterday - he's been working across the hall from me - and just as I was turning away to go sit back at my desk, go back about my business, he started asking questions.

"So, you're a writer?"

"Uh, yeah. Sort of."

"What do you write?"

"Well," I replied with a laugh, "lately it's been a lot of billboards, to tell you the truth."

"Oh," he says, smiling but not looking away. "Do you write any books, screenplays, that sort of thing?"

"Mmm, not really," I admit.

"Why not?"

"Oh, I should, but, you know..." I smiled, swiveling back toward my desk, trailing off and putting my fingers back on the keyboard.

"But what?"

I glanced over to him, and he was fiddling with his editing equipment, dragging the mouse around and tapping at the keyboard, but still not looking away. I started feeling a little uneasy, trapped in my office. I tried to explain it quickly.

"I do a lot of copywriting, you know? I'm good at crafting words and phrasing messages, but it's hard for me to... tell stories."

He sat across the hall, waiting for me to continue.

"I *want* to try writing more fiction, but I just have trouble figuring out where to start, or how to go about revealing the, uh... you know, the story."

By now I was squirming in my seat, uncomfortable revealing so much. I generally prefer to let people assume I am confident and all-capable. I figured out a way to end the conversation, and continued my day of work.

*****

This morning when I came in he was sitting in my chair. He and a guy I work with were talking, seeming comfortable, joking that they'd been here all night. I pulled up another chair and joined the conversation.

After a little while, the other guy left and it was just me and Mr. Inquisitive. We got to talking about art, but soon enough I just quieted down and listened.

He told me he thinks I don't write because I'm scared to. He said that doing art-like work for your job is good, and difficult, but not enough. Doing assignments. Meeting deadlines. Paying bills. You can use up a whole life like that.

Art is tougher. It's tougher because it's *you*, it's all you, and nobody's telling you to do it. It's admitting to liking something; it's choosing in public. It's pointing at something - something outside you or inside you - and saying out loud, "That is beautiful/funny/sad/wrong/right/good/bad... whatever." You're committing to an opinion without waiting to hear what everybody else thinks first.

And it's hard - maybe the hardest thing - because it's the most personal expression of the most difficult human interaction: Actually Saying Something. Not reacting, not musing, not being cute or clever or diligent or useful or even smart - just standing up and saying something.

That's what I'm so scared of.

And why wouldn't I be? It *is* scary, especially compared to the alternative: Finding good ways to say what other people want said; making them money; making myself money. Being thought of as smart; being thought of as responsible. Taking two weeks of vacation each year to relax and unwind and make it easier to go back to doing what I do, well, for people who want me to do it. Why would I give that up?

I wouldn't - not unless I had to. But now I think I do have to. I have to make myself uncomfortable and try to do things I'm not good at. I have to write stories, even if they aren't very good. I have to get better. Jeesh - you'd think with my wife around setting an example, I'd have figured this out by now.

*****

Luke - that's his name - told me what it takes to do art. "To make art," he said, "you have to do this:" And then he flipped me the bird. He said that the world is full of critics and apathetic people and they won't necessarily praise you or your art. They may prefer to see cleverness, or similarity, or just plain advice that's relevant to their needs. And he said that to do your art, the art you have to do, you have to be able to look those people in the face and displease them. You have to be able not to care whether they accept or celebrate - or pay - you for what you have done.

If they like it, great, but there's no point in living your whole life just to fit in or please others, because if that's what it's all about, then what are *they* here for? Everyone has something within him that is unique and amazing, even if only to himself. The only question is whether or not that something will ever come out.

*****

Luke told me about his time in Haiti. He lived there, in a village, for a few weeks or months, I can't remember. He said he saw people who were too busy trying to put food in their mouths, and in their childrens' mouths, to think about things like intellectual stimulation or artistic expression. He talked about the village, and the hungry people, rotting, wasting away.

One morning, as he was talking to some of the people outside his hut, he began drawing with a stick in the sand. No one had ever done that before. Quietly, people started to notice. They didn't ask about it, or bring it up, but they saw him doing it. They watched the drawings forming in the dirt by their feet.

The next day, Luke came out of his hut and saw people drawing on the ground with sticks. Mostly kids, but some adults too, just making shapes and symbols with the objects that were lying around them. It was a new thing to them.

*****

Now I will try to learn to tell a story. Whether I'm any good at it or not, that's what I'm going to do. I love stories, and I would love to be able to tell them. I think I have something to say, something that can only come from me. And it should be said.

At first I'll be bad at it, I know, and I will be honest and admit that I'm not very experienced with flipping people off. Maybe I'll ease into that part of it. But you have to start somewhere, and here's as good as anywhere.

So I will begin. I will write a story. Even though nobody asked me to, even though it's not my job, even though fame and glory do not await me at the finish.

I will write the first sentence and I will continue. I will draw the first line in the sand.


*****
Here's Luke's website.
And here's my wife Penelope's.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Colin Dullaghan. I am so in love with you. Flip em off with both hands. Feels good...

-penelope

Luke said...

Colin, what you just wrote... that was freaking amazing! As I reflect, it seemed like a story to me. A good story. And when I say good, I mean well-told. I have no doubt that you have what it takes.

I'm gonna keep checking back on you.
Now you've gotten me all excited!

Cheers!
Luke

Katrina said...

You totally rock. Make sure I remember to shake your hand when I meet you in July to congratulate you on this kick-ass post.