Anybody home?

“Talent isn’t genius, and no amount of energy can make it so. I want to be great, or nothing.”
— Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

“Don’t wanna end up a cartoon,
in a cartoon graveyard –
Bonedigger, bonedigger
Lost in the moonlight…”
— Paul Simon, You Can Call Me Al

As you can see, mentally composing this entry on the trials and tribulations of a wannabe novelist has left me just a tad bemused. All I was asking my inner Self, I thought, was a very simple question: What do I have to say? And it just kept on quoting Socrates at me: “All I know for sure, is that I know nothing.”
So I pressed it for clarification, and it responded with the above pearls of. Which was an improvement inasmuch as Paul Simon is lots more hummable than Greek philosophy…but led to disturbing realizations about my own personal place in the Human Experience.

Specifically, I don’t seem to have one.

Now, let’s not get carried away here – my physical existence isn’t in question (at least not this week). I’m talking about my internal structure; the latticework of rich experiences that engender fresh ideas that form bold opinions that power universal insights that ultimately should define my unique inner Author: The Worldview of a Shoe, in Thirty-Four Chapters (Sequels Pending).

The root of the problem can basically be summed up in the following handy reference:

Number of deep, universal, life-changing or -affirming experiences read about in lifetime: Approximately 10,000,000.
Number of deep, etc. experiences actually experienced in real life over same span: 2 (possibly more; but see below.)

As you can see, being a bookworm has its downside…Even when actual interesting events were taking place all around me – mostly courtesy my dad’s family – I could be found not eagerly observing and drawing Life Lessons, but off in a corner with a copy of Little Women or somesuch novel whose characters seemed to be far more interesting. Certainly they got out a lot more than I did. They traveled more, had more friends, joined more teams, went on more dates…okay, so the March sisters didn’t play football, but you know what I mean.
They covered every facet of the human dilemma, seemingly, except the one I was currently experiencing. I can tell you more about, say, anorexia than you’ll ever need to know unless you’re Tracey Gold…but arrested social development, not so much. (In all fairness, I was a child of the late 70’s-early ’80’s, so can see where Dinky Hocker Doesn’t Want to Hang Out at the Mall! probably wouldn’t have been a mega-seller.)

Oh, sure, I could paper over the self-respect with the job at the bookstore; see, I can function in the real world real good, see? See? But over time I began to realize that the problem was more fundamental than my social skills: A writer is what I am. Not pretension, mere simple fact of existence. And this constant reading, while both intellectually and ethically impeccable, didn’t exactly allow for the type of existence that results in one-woman stage retrospectives.

By then, though, it was far, far too late. My head was crammed full of everyone else’s ideas and opinions, and most of my sentences started with ‘I read somewhere that…’ and people – most annoyingly, male people – were starting to regard me as a sort of human encyclopedia: briefly consulted, at best with a compliment on my erudition, at worst with head-shaking amusement…and then on with their rich, fulfilling lives…

Ahem. Enough with the whining already. The news from Nerdsville isn’t all bad; as you can tell from the above, I’ve developed quite the mental FiloFax of fun references for all occasions. (A word well spoken is to me as the finest of music; better, because it doesn’t need tuning and I don’t have to carry it around in a little bitty case.)

And I can’t say that in some ways my worldview hasn’t been broadened and deepened greatly beyond what it would have been had I spent more evenings sitting around the euchre table. After all, most of those ‘real-world’ teachings were set in such funky coming-of-age hotspots as Peterborough and Mississauga. It’s entirely possible that Life under these conditions would have been really boring anyway compared to, say, Joe Queenan sounding off on Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon; and I am emphatically no Douglas Coupland, either.

But it would have been mine, that’s the point. Write what you know, the universal maxim goes…only I don’t know. The only things I really want to write about I know only secondhand. I don’t even have a road map; I’m forever bumping up against vividly psyche-shattering insights that turn out to be something the general run of humanity has cross-stitched with cherubim and hung on the wall long since.
…As my subconscious so kindly pointed out, a borrowed inner life, however complex, can take you everywhere except back to your own true voice.

I would so love to create works of great, soaring genius…but truly fear that all I’ll ever be able to coax out of my muse is rehashed everybody else. (For instance, all the teenagers in my daydreams have a tendency to sound like warmed-over ‘Sweet Valley’ – aaaaaarrrrrgggggghhhh!)
I get a little panicky sometimes, realizing I may never be able to express what I want to express, creatively, without prefacing it with ‘I read somewhere that…’ Am I doomed to spend my life as a critic, working over others’ art because I can’t produce anything worth noticing of my own?
‘Cartoon in a cartoon graveyard,’ indeed.

On the other hand…there is that moment, long ago, when I turned a corner into an incredibly purple sunset and was smitten with a feeling that only a little later did I recognize as spiritual. In that moment I knew an actual Belief, strong and sure…and through that single moment I learned to be responsive to the physical world around me, if not the human.
For now, perhaps I’ll simply follow the one true scrap of advice I can give myself:

The sun is cold
And the misty hills bespeak me
Of long-ago dreams;
Not lost, only waiting
Kept alive by those who might listen –
And watch –
Over the hills to the sea.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. izhilzha
    Feb 01, 2006 @ 02:10:00

    Mmmm. This particular introspection feels familiar…I think I’ve walked some paths in this particular corner of wilderness. (Or, more appropriately, down the same library stack.)

    No insights deeper than yours, here–I usually wind up in the same place that poem you quote at the end takes me to. Not lost, only waiting/Kept alive by those who might listne–/And watch–

    I’ve started thinking that maybe the sidekick’s story, the observer’s story, isn’t told often enough. Maybe I’m desperate for materiel, but hey…one works with what one has.

    I’d just like, once at least, to be able to say what my icon says, and know that’s true.

  2. solo_1
    Feb 01, 2006 @ 14:11:47

    This made me sad …….You have such a talent and it is unique to you…regardless of the lack of earth shattering events (there is much to be said for the quiet life!) Your word is your art and the masterpiece will one day be penned…maybe it won’t be what you think it should be… but others will know……

    Don’t mind me, feeling all wimpy today….

  3. walnut_2
    Feb 01, 2006 @ 22:39:58

    I believe it was Gloria Steinem who said, “The examined life is not worth living!”

    If it were up to me, personally I’d take you, you and me would get out of here we’d go make you rich and famous in a real hurry.

  4. shoebox2
    Feb 11, 2006 @ 20:15:06

    Awwwww, thanks, Walnut – and Solo. I needed that. 🙂

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