it feels like a gun

I’d like to say I don’t write just because I’m lazy, I’m apathetic, I don’t care anymore and sometimes I’m not sure if I ever did. It’s not important, it doesn’t matter, nobody is listening. I’ve got a little kid and when she’s up I can’t work more than a few minutes without her running in and demanding up on my lap. My photos and their sites always require a ton of work. I’m way behind on email. There’s way too much good TV on. Maybe also there’s a touch of depression, a smidge of melancholy, a dash of self-loathing and a cup of self-doubt. (Or is that a dash of self-doubt and a pound of self-loathing?) Almost always when I sit down to write, I either distract myself with the web, with coding for the web, with preparing photos for the web, or free porn on the web. (Arguments can and probably should be made that if anything turns on your brain at all – reading, politics, comedy, academic discussion, trivia, even academic reading of comedic political trivia, the entire internet is in fact free porn.)

I should pull out the ethernet cord, or use my laptop with the wireless card turned off, or just a pen and a notebook. I know that won’t completely get me writing — I am lazy, I am probably depressed, and it’s a pound each of self-loathing and self-doubt. Every time I face a screen waiting to be filled I get extremely tired, no matter what the time of day. The very thought of accomplishing something writing-related causes shutdown. I’ve been unable to understand this even though it’s been going on a while. For the most part I am able to make leaps of faith in my photo work and get the job done even when the goal seems impossible. (Or at least, give it a try, no matter what the odds.) There are things I worry about, certainly, but somehow I’ve managed to mostly separate the process from the outcome. I’ll let myself be in the moment, take the picture, do the job, and let others sort out later if they like them or not. I’m not really any happier with my photography than I am with my writing; perhaps, even less so: I’ve probably taken about 80,000 or so photos in my life and I think I’m really happy with maybe fifteen of them, if that. It could be that it’s less of an investment: I am wherever I am with the camera, I see something, and I try to capture a flat, framed sixtieth of a second or so of what I see. I certainly do go places just to take photographs – once when driving across the United States I went through Montana and North Dakota, perhaps a full day or more out of my way, just because I’d never been there – but I consider that part of living. If I’d not gotten any photographs I liked, well, at least I’d have been to two more states. (I did get a photo I like – the diner photo in the header of this site was taken in Montana.) And if you don’t like the picture, well, it was only a fraction of a second. I’ll get over it.

I also know it’s reasonably accurate for what it is: flat, framed, a moment. I don’t tend to do a lot of the types of post-production work that would try to rewrite the moment. Anyone viewing one of my images would most likely have seen hundreds of thousands of photographs before, and have a clear sense of what a picture can and cannot do. I also think it’s common to to think just about the photograph – a physical image of a physical moment, taken with a physical object – and not so common to think about the photographer, and on the rare occasion you do, you think of them as simply a photographer, a craftsman, and not so much as a person, a private individual. The work can stand on its own, and I can stay in the shadow, just some person holding some camera. Maybe I’m kidding myself with that philosophy, but it comforts me and I do manage to mostly get my work done.

But writing…

One thing you might notice if you know my photographs is while I photograph a lot of people working on stage performing music, I take almost no photographs of people just being people. Landscapes, lights, signs, buildings, roads – lots of roads. But very few people. The landscapes and roads are desolate, the lights abstract, the signs and buildings details of human patterns only. I am uncomfortable turning the lens on myself, telling my own particular story, being in the spotlight. I also don’t feel right turning it on others; seems hardly fair to expose them when I won’t do it to myself.

I say you might notice that fact, but I did not really notice it myself until very recently. They were only fractions of a second, then on to the next. Are they really representative of my life? Do I connect only with empty roads and absurd signs, or are there in fact human connections in my life and I simply choose not to share them?

That question is too big for tonight and I really should revisit it later. Regardless of the answer, I clearly don’t go there in my photography. And… I clearly don’t want to go there in my writing, since, well, I really don’t write. We’ll assume for now I do have those human connections. Do I not want to share them? Do I want to keep them for myself? Am I too private to write about anything in my life? Do I feel people’s stories belong to them, even if I am in the story too? Why don’t I just write fiction then, just emotional truths but new facts? And for nonfiction why don’t I stick to commentary, comedy, trivially academic politics?

The answers to the questions in the last paragraph are: I don’t know. I don’t know. I hope not. Yes even though I know that’s sort of stupid; I rationalize by thinking it’s just polite. I don’t know, although that’s why I started the fiction site. Because everyone else has better educated commentary than I could possibly have. So, stumped, I surf, code, get lost in nothing, and I don’t write. (And just now the iTunes randomly picked out Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.” That, I think, is pure comedy.)

The other day a friend and I were discussing a diagnosis on something concerning my young daughter. The details are for another post, but in short she’s not talking like she should be for her age. (There’s irony for you – I know all the words but I won’t write; she knows all the words but won’t talk. Or is that just coincidence? Damn that Alanis song, I can’t tell anymore.) It’s something I shouldn’t really be afraid of, is probably absolutely nothing serious and she’s just taking her time, but I admitted that having the diagnosis done scared me a bit. “Of course it does,” was the reply, “because words have power.”

I have an abandoned half-entry around here somewhere about how writing – especially in the spotlight of being public, even if there are only three of you reading – feels like a gun. I had to pull one of the current reading links off my site because someone said too much, hurt the wrong people with their writing, and yanked their entire site down. And this was a long established journalist who should have known better. There are others who used to be on my reading list but aren’t anymore for similar reasons – said something that went too far, someone got hurt, posts got removed, future writing was defanged or ceased altogether. I already know I’m a bit of a loudmouth and I don’t like to hurt anyone, and I know how easy it is to do. I’ve done it; with not even a sentence but a phrase I once put the appearance of a thought into the head of a friend, and I think it bothered them in a way that hurt things between us for a while. It could be arrogance and hubris to assume it’s me or anything I wrote that did that – people grow up, lives go their own direction – but better safe than sorry seems proper somehow. Even if it doesn’t leave a physical mark, with just a momentary flash the spotlight can easily burn and embarrass. It’s safer if I don’t examine my own life, and if anyone else wants theirs examined, well, they’ll do it themselves.

Writing feels like a gun, and I’m afraid of the power of it.

I will also concede it could be arrogance and hubris to assume anything I write has any sort of power. I know I’ve once or twice written things that carried some emotional weight for others, as I’ve gotten some feedback along those lines. But I probably overestimate how much anyone else gives a shit. But that just makes the argument worse – if nobody cares, why risk the damage of writing? Why not just live and let it alone?

Because not writing scares me more than writing. I don’t know why, and that too would be a question for later; it’s after 2am now and I should try to sleep. Tomorrow there is web coding to do, a full Sunday paper to read, the weather should be fantastic, the porn will still be free and there is a ton of good TV on Sunday nights. The baby will be up about 8.30 and trying hard to make sure I’m up, too. Plus I’m going to post this without rereading it and I’m sure if I look at it tomorrow I’ll be horrified, wonder what I was thinking, and have to spend some time editing. (Any way I can keep me from reading my own site?)

But even though I get tired when I think about writing, when I think about not writing I get restless and angry and frustrated and and and so forth. My shoulders get tense, my stomach hurts, I have trouble sleeping without putting Food Network on sleep timer. Somehow I feel it’s something I must do. I feel compelled to explore, to map my own head and my own heart, and I am paralyzed by the contradiction. One fear pushes me on and the other holds me back.

Maybe there is a solution. If I am afraid of the power of writing, if it feels like a gun, I should aim it at some very specific things: Laziness. Apathy. Depression. Melancholy. Self-loathing. Self-doubt. If there is power, then I can defeat those things, or at least run them off into hiding. Hubris and arrogance to assume it could work and that it would matter, but I might as well try. Of course, if I do it successfully, I’ll have to find new excuses for not writing.


This was published on 27 Feb 2005.
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