Sunday, November 18, 2007

Writer's Block.

For the first time in a long time, I'm having trouble writing- everything. Blog posts. A paper for something. A confusing letter to a celebrity I'm obsessed with. Emails to friends...

I think I may blame Christopher Hitchens. Probably not. But I may.

Christopher Hitchens wrote an article for last month's Vanity Fair about an American soldier who died in Iraq. This soldier was inspired to go to Iraq because of Christpher Hitchens' writing. The article was really well done; sensitive, even. Not in the new-age-guy sense; I don't think that Christopher Hitchens will ever don a lavender sweatervest and earnestly consider his feminine side, then decide to give people the benefit of the doubt and look on the world with winsome tenderness. Sensitive in the it-was-written-with-near-tactile-awareness-of-the-people-and-issues-at-hand sense. Hitchens quotes Yeats, a poet that once found that a play of his was quoted by dying revolutionaries-

We learn to write in elementary school, as a speech substitute. It's clumsy. Little kids don't have the fine motor control to write with the facility they speak. They can't spell words that they can easily pronounce. Punctuation is imposed where pauses and tone changes have already become instinctual. Writing is acquired first as a laborious superfluety. If you want to know what a seven year old knows, don't ask him to write it down for you; it's almost cruel.

Then, as we get older, writing, splits into compulsory and voluntary. We are compelled to write five paragraph essays on the French and Indian War, letters to dead Presidents and imaginary Quebecois penpals. (Dear President Lincoln. I hope you are well. Thank you for emancipating the slaves. Je m'appelle Therese, et J'ai dix ans...) We take notes. We forge notes. We pass notes. It's at this time, some begin to imagine that writing is- something that, someday, or now, they can do and be and enjoy. It's at this time we're most vulnerable to writing endless fantasy novels starring ourselves with cooler hair and a better first name and mysteriously absent parents, or greasy swooning romances, again, starring ourselves with cooler hair, etc.

These vulnerabilities persist until death or fulfilling employment end them.

College. College is where you learn to write. Occasionally. Sometimes in class, sometimes after. Sometimes after getting your ass handed to you on your way out the door. You'll figure out how to write nonfiction thingies that aren't assigned and fiction thingies that are more than a congealed mass of self-revelatory fantasy and masturbatory optimism....maybe. (I'm not sure I did. That's why I don't write fiction anymore)

And through all of this...

From the first time you took a purple crayon in your fist and wrote "by ST EV i E," to your breathless, middle-school epic "The Mysts of the Dragyns of LothynDwaryn," to the first time you really felt, turning in a paper, that you'd said something no one ever said before,

nothing really happened afterward. The writing stayed in its world. Papery. Pixelly. Talky. Red-pen-satisfying, semi-colon misplacing, world.

I just completed my first long legal internship. Eleven weeks, full time. I worked in a legal services office in a large city in the Northeast. I haven't been blogging a lot because of confidentiality issues; my work has been incredibly interesting, and absorbing, but I can't talk directly about much of it.

For one of the cases I was working on, I did a great deal of investigation. Turns out I'm very good at it. I'm the Dr. Gregory House of semi-competant lawthings. One of the last things I wrote at work was a document for this case; it was a document which is useful in the beginning of a specific type of legal situation. And I loved writing it. I felt as if my canine teeth should be long enough to see when I caught my reflection in the monitor. It was writing as consumation of investigation; confirmation that my chosen profession was the right choice; and beyond that, there was this sense that I was competent and right and potent...

And then I realized.

This document was the first step towards bad things happening to the people I investigated. The people had done bad things to deserve the bad things that were/are about to happen- but this document will be the first thing that happens to them when their lives come crashing down. And I've learned enough about these people to picture those lives.

It was nauseating.

And until I read the Hitchens article, I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I have no ethical problem with the legal process that has been set in motion. This time, I even had the luxury of being on the right side. Justice, even.

I'm 25 (very old). I've been using written communication, and composing various types of works in writing, for twenty years. And I refuse to find it absurd to clump "If I had a dog" in with my notoriously failed screenplay, by claiming twenty years of writing. But until a few weeks ago, when I wrote, I was always safe. I couldn't fuck anybody but myself. Now the safety's off, and I wonder if it was ever on.

For Yeats it was a play. For Hitchens it was an essay. Journalism and theater are not immune, and it's absurd to think that they would be. Even the most ridiculously masturbatory academic writing has some potential to reach outside of itself, if someone actually picks it up. The only safe writing is writing which isn't read; writing lost in the clamor. Otherwise, it's all a question of degree.

And yes, I did write this instead of writing my paper on Faulkner.

And no, I won't tell you why I should be writing about Faulkner, as a lawthing.

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