I never know what it is about the month of July that seems to plague me with inaction.
The astrologically-inclined are likely to point to the celestial bodies for reason of my mental (not to mention physical) block. Indeed, it is easy to see why the Gloucesters of the world may be so quick to justify their own (mis)behavior. But as Edmund so infamously says, “This is the excellent foppery of the world” (1.2.58).
I may, of course, blame my illness. No one could fault me for saying my incapacitation incapacitated me. But, dear reader, I shall let you in on a secret, and that is while I struggled to write three pages of one assignment, I did produce hundreds of another––some drivel which I shall never show to anyone, nor even peruse myself.
No, I must admit to myself that there is something larger at play. A bug lies deep in my psyche that makes me incapable of producing work the moment in which it is expected of me. It is as if I am damaging myself by refusing to meet the demands of others––or even my own demands. The moment I vow to write something, my hands no longer excite to produce it, no matter how greatly it enthused me before it became mandatory.
October of last year (2018), I wrote an entire play in under an hour. My only inspiration lay in the line from the excellent essay prefacing Anne Carson’s Grief Lessons, “Tragedy: A Curious Art Form” that reads, “Do you want to go down to the pits of yourself all alone? Not much. What if an actor could do it for you? Isn’t that why they are called actors? They act for you. You sacrifice them to action.”
I thought about what grief I could make an actor sacrifice. And then I wrote a comedy. I did not know it was a comedy at the time. I thought it was all terribly sad. As it turns out, I wrote something so trenchant, the audience was incapable of not recognizing in it something funny. I did not write this play with an intention of as to how it would hit. In fact, had I, I probably never would have written it at all. I had intended, at the time, you see, to keep it to myself––to drawer it because I did not believe it was something anyone could ever read, could ever want to read, could ever bear to read. I believed it unshowable.
And yet, this April I was able to witness it performed. I was able to feel the energy in the room as the audience listened to my words being spoken by actors sacrificing their grief to me. I could hear which jokes landed, others which fell on deaf ears, and some which were not intended to be jokes at all. I could listen to my actors take my characters and shape them into something new.
Throughout the process, the choice of actors plagued me. This play was one which dealt greatly with how one wears the skin of race and gender. It involves three white men, one white-ish man, and an Asian woman. Funnily enough, the names had been the only thing that had come to me before I actually sat down to write the thing. The names informed the story and its structure. But, and excuse me for sounding prejudiced, I did not wish to work with that many men. Men cannot follow directions as a rule; they are the narcissistic sex, and they do not sacrifice their griefs as much as they perform them selfishly. And reader, the wave of relief that washed over me as I said, “Screw it, I’m just gonna cast women,” was so great, it may as well have been by Hokusai.
This is all to say that it has occurred to me that I can only write when I have no audience. If I were to know that people expected something from me, my immediate instinct would be to rebel against it. I suppose I just find misery in expectation. It feels a rebellious act every time I write something that I know I shall never know anyone. It feels exciting in a way that writing with the approval of others in mind does not. Of course, I intend to show this to you. Which is likely why I have been suffering this mental block, producing less and less content by the day.
The more positive feedback I receive, the less encouraged I am to continue. You see, my whole life, I have been motivated by spite. To be praised, then, for my talents is to put a standard on me which I then feel pressured to maintain. Say, “You’re not a good writer,” and I’ll say, “Fuck you! You’re wrong!” but the moment I’m told that I am good, I fall into stasis.
Of course, this is unhealthy. Of course, this is not a productive way in which to navigate the world. Of course, other’s expectations of me should not matter, whether positive or negative. Of course, external factors should not dictate what I feel. Of course, we do not live in a perfect, insular little bubble inside our own minds (for if we did, I would surely live there and never leave). It is unrealistic of me to expect that my inherent attitude against authority and proclivity to run on spite wouldn’t lead my obligations to grind to a halt. But it is also unrealistic for me to expect to live like this.
There is a satisfaction in completing a task that was expected of you that there is not when performing a hobby. Perhaps that is capitalism’s watchful eye, expecting me always to find value in what I do, not simply for my own enjoyment. There is also a satisfaction in creating art for yourself, that you know you will never show anyone. At the end of the day, we must, instead, find a way to, at least in our own minds, undifferentiate between the two. Easier said than done, of course, as the moment I task myself with doing anything, even if it is only for myself, I immediately lose interest. I know, I know, this trait is concerning, and diagnosable.
Reader, I’m working on it.