on writing

Is a voice really that important? If I don’t write them down, will these thoughts still have mattered? Will they be recorded in some great divine volume? Will anyone read them? Will they amount to anything? Should I even bother typing them out?

These are the questions that largely prohibit any writing from taking place. Not the divine volume bit, but everything else. I continue to struggle to write because it probably doesn’t mean anything, and but fail to experience the liberating effects of that meaninglessness — if there are no consequences to writing, if it can simply happen and not matter, then what’s the harm? Rather than feel anxious over its potential worth, why not simply go for it and delight in its potential worthlessness?

And yet words mean something! They mean a great deal in fact. One might even argue that the world is made of words, and without them we’d merely have shapes and rocks and grunting and smashing of stones and skulls.

The responsibility of writing weighs me down. If words do indeed make the world, it’s a tremendous task to choose them, to select them carefully, to place them in the correct order so as to convey a precise meaning. Sometimes if you’re lucky you can get those bonus points that clever writers are so good at, using prose and alliteration and imagery and that whole bit and condensing it all into a perfectly crystalized thought that doesn’t just convey meaning but creates a kind of delight when read. At its worst you create a muddled mess in other people’s heads, and then they think that that mess is what’s in your head, and heck they might be right, and you just thought it looked nice and you didn’t know any better because you never took art history.

Yes, it is a responsibility, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time or make them dumber for having read the words I happened to have printed. But while this great soul-searching over meaning and precision occurs, everybody else is building the world with the words all the time, and for the most part it’s nice and sometimes a bit odd to happen upon the worlds others have built. Some, however, possess a great power to build with their words, and the worlds they build are bigly terrible, just tremendously bad, really the best of the best of the worst, fantastically terrible. They can build worlds that other people are forced to live in, as if a great wall were built that others must pay for.

So the responsibility bit comes along again, but this time as a responsibility to act, to intervene, to counter. This is worse than the initial responsibility of choosing your world-building materials carefully; this now summons the entirety of my Catholic guilt, in which I was blessed with literacy with a reason and I had better not waste the gifts God gave me. This is not just about me but about the people around me, people whom I both love and often cannot stand and whom I wish would think more and whose easy-ticket rides to comfort and wealth I often envy. Yes even the ones that say completely reprehensible things, I owe it to them to at the very least articulate the thing that they never bothered to think, so that they have at the very least the opportunity to think it through.

Then there’s the completely psychoanalytic level at which to think this through, in which it really becomes eye-rollingly embarrassing to point out that oh sure isn’t it nice to think of writing, of expressing yourself, of enforcing a kind of world-building on your surroundings, as this noble mission, a burdensome task! Wow, what a hardship that must be! How do you even do it Joel? You must be soooo smart. People everywhere have to slap together words and give themselves emergency-shelter worlds all the time just so that they can exist, and here you are griping about the luxury of a library at your disposal. Give me a fucking break!

In effect it’s a round-about way of having an ego, which is really what you need when you’re writing. The premise behind the whole activity is that your thoughts are important enough that other people should read them and probably agree with them too. I mean, who does that? Really though. The majority of people who engage in this activity say some completely dumb, absolutely terrible shit, for terrible reasons, using terrible reasoning, in some terrible paper or terrible website that is paid for by terrible people that I don’t want anything to do with.

There’s good writing too though. There’s writing that has actually blown my mind, writing that I’ve escaped to, writing that has explained the world I live in in marvellously complex ways, writing that has made me put the book down and say out loud “holy fucking shit.” The real fear, the real danger, is that in trying to build worlds with words like these mind-blowing ones, I end up creating dog shit, stringing together countless words, all with the potential and promise of some emancipatory vista, while really ending up just smelling bad and sticking to your shoe in an unfortunately unforgettable way.

tl;dr: I should write more but instead of pretending it’s some responsibility I should just make sure it’s not shit.


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