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Why I write

I’m sure this is a title that many a great writer has put at the top of the page but in all instances, anybody who writes for a living (even the worst of us) should examine their motives and come up with some kind of sensible answer — if only to themselves. If anything, for me at least, it should have been titled ‘Why I don’t write’ but that would be a subject for another blog (talk to my wife).

And while we are talking about great artists, the ones who inevitably attract critics like shaggy dogs attract fleas, here’s a brief but otherwise entertaining anecdote, albeit about a different medium:

An aspiring artist exhibits his work for the first time, and a well know art critic is in attendance.

The critic says to the young artist: “Would you like to hear my opinion of your work?”

“Yes”, the artist replies.

It’s completely worthless,” the critic says.

“I know,” the artist replies, but tell me anyway.”

For most people that write on platforms like Medium, the democratic nature of blogging means that anyone with a keyboard, and a net connection can put their set up in the air, even if it is to an audience of nobody — the writing equivalent of a saddo home karaoke kit (aka playing to the empty orchestra).

And if your audience is sparse (even if the potential is huge), your worst critic, the one you should agree to listen to, but not to heed (since the criticism is always personal) is yourself. And for most people, hearing criticism from others over something which is generally so personal in nature — revealing the inner workings of your mind, comes with a price.

It’s nothing quite as brutal as the open mic where aspiring comedians stand up to be assaulted and abused by their audience before they tune into what works and tune out the material that bombs. Comedians, I would wager, are made of much stronger stuff. Even ice pick stand ups like Anthony Jeselnik have admitted to early panic attacks on stage before they were famous.

Which brings me to fame — do people write for fame and fortune or is it just a cheap form of self-therapy (or is that just too binary to have any relevance as a question? (thanks, inner critic). Traumatized people are often encouraged to write it out, and also presumably paint or draw, as they do in the forced confinement of prisons and old people’s homes. Between boredom, the bedpan and the existential threat of a shank or a dose of covid-19 or the clap, I guess there’s time for creativity.

I certainly don’t do it for fame and my levels of trauma are entirely manageable, so I have to figure out why it is I write these words and all the others I have collected on this site so far. This evening, in an idle moment (i.e. when my wife was out of the house for a couple of hours) I decided to re-read some of my posts. It’s the literary equivalent of smelling your own farts, which as many of you will guiltily testify, are quite palatable. But these are like farts in a jar — you did them a long time ago and have forgotten largely about their composition and general direction and you wonder if they might have gone stale in the meantime.

Going back to fame, I realize that I am indeed the saddo playing to a generally empty orchestra. Unlike the literary prisoner or care home prisoner I would welcome the clap from a stranger, but rarely get one. Now that’s not me begging you, the reader to grace me with one — I neither wish nor plead for your sympathy.

I would love some feedback though — a few requests from the audience to write on a subject of their choosing. Re-reading my stuff, I found myself examining the themes that rotate through my posts and it goes along the lines of:

Environmental catastrophe
Consciousness and writing
Stupidity (related category)
Personal tribute
Diatribes against greed
Illustrative anecdotes

Since I don’t write all that often, I realize that I often end up riding these same hobby horses of mine, albeit from slightly different angles in different posts. That suggests an obsessive mind or a general level of tone deafness.

There is always the danger that no matter how nice you think your fart smells, other people who have smelled it before will do a 180 on you before the title gets processed ( and causing offence or disgust is not my intention).

So, what would my intention be then? Giving it some thought, I conclude that to entertain and to educate are high on the list — a mixture of lighthearted observation that does not bore. One of my favourite comedians, George Carlin often talked about the big world and small world:

“The small world is what’s in your refrigerator, how you drive, your pet’s behavior, your stuff. Those are things we share, that we all agree on. The large world is the big issues that will never be solved — race, politics, government, religion, business, culture. That’s where I’ve headed more.”

I tend to agree with George and gravitate towards the big stuff, which unless you are a rabbi or a gifted comedian (or both) means you can easily come across as a terrible bore. Nevertheless, these are important subjects that need to be talked about since we are drowning in triviality while the ship sinks (there goes the Titanic again).

I do actually make a living from writing — albeit as a corporate hack but also variously as a journalist and copywriter in previous lives. My excuse for not writing creatively more (is this?) are the needs of family (another favourite writer of mine, Raymond Carver explained that he wrote working under the assumption that the chair he was sitting upon might be whisked away at any minute). He also worked as a janitor. Another favourite writer, Charles Bukowski said it best on his gravestone: ‘Don’t even try’ but made a very passable life as a writer while boozing in flophouses, whoring and working dead end jobs.

So, you see, there’s a pattern forming here — writing is possible because literacy allows us to share our thoughts. I write because I can. For some, like me, that itch is really too irresistible not to scratch. Some scratch an itch that others feel too and can bring a sense of connection that breaks through the invisible wall between them and their readers.

If this, or any of my other brain farts in this collection have touched you, I am happy. If you can think of a subject that needs some personal scratching, I am at your service — it might be worthless to some, but it means a lot to me.



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Making piece with absurdity and cognitive dissonance