Ahoy. And so carrying on with the discussion from yesterday, I was saying that there is a new project underway. I’ve been looking for ways to relate differently to my writing practice, and this is what I’ve come up with. It’s hilarious, really. Blogging. I know, right? It’s 2021. Did I miss the boat or something? Blogging is out. People hate websites, and social media platforms took over the internet about a decade ago. But this is different, because the blogging that I did in the past was often oblique, infrequent, tangential, obtuse, and incomprehensible. Only one person has called it “genius,” and he and I are not speaking right now. (Don’t worry, all, it’s just a mental health hiatus…)
Speaking of mental health, I love what has been going on in sport, led it seems by Naomi Osaka’s retirement from Roland Garros a few months ago, and continuing into many candid admissions of exhaustion and unbearable stress. My favorite was the quote from Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin, who left training camp in January to clear his head, saying he was finding it “very difficult for me to know how to find my way as Tom Dumoulin the cyclist.” (Thanks, Associated Press.)
It’s about the illusion of invincibility. It’s about integrating our vulnerable selves and our most precious selves. Dropping the illusions, and not buying into the healthy reality that we are all really tender and capable of being broken. Literature has a lot to learn from sport. I mean, Michael Stipe sang so beautifully that Everybody Hurts over 30 years ago, and here we are.
But I digress with meaningless musical allusions.
See, for me, like these athletes, I have tried to present myself to the world as an accomplished, talented writer—the consummate literary artist. Now it’s true that I have in fact developed my craft considerably and wrote some entertaining stuff, and have a lot to be proud of. But frankly the pandemic and all that has ensued has kicked my ass as well, and things cannot go on as before.
I think it’s only natural, really, that when 1.7 million acres burn, and the land is blanketed in haze, and people are literally telling you “calm down,” that we get riled and go bonkers. I’m hoping that having a place where I can confess to my struggles as well as share whatever perspectives and wisdom I might have…might just save me from abandoning a hobby and an industry that I have devoted my life to.
And here we insert so many illusions to tragedies and injustices throughout American history—the countless atrocities—and hopefully arrive in agreement that we all suffer, that it’s OK to not be OK is not something that only certain types can adopt.
Maybe what it boils down to is that as the end times draw down upon us like a shade, I just want one last chance to make myself seen. Or maybe I really lamely just want to leave a legacy. Who knows? Because I can say for a fact that notoriety, going big-time as a novelist, is what I have longed for most as a writer. Most of my life. It grew unhealthy for a time, and this, more than anything, is the thing that I wanted to change when the pandemic happened. In 2021, I’m still looking for ways to undo the mental systems, the beliefs around myself as an artist, and what it means if I write and what it means if I don’t.
I know a lot of writers know what I’m talking about. It’s core curriculum.
Over the winter, I had success in a tennis league using some techniques wherein I focused not on “winning,” but just enjoying and doing my best, regardless of outcome. I thought, “This is it. I can write about how awesome I am to have done that.” Did I want to share? Was it altruism? Not as much as I just wanted to be seen as accomplished.
Writing had become synonymous with seeking acceptance. I dropped a big essay about it on Medium. One person commented with some heartfelt sympathy and encouragement, so I knew that I had been right to share it. I’m not not being tongue-in-cheek; that literally is my guideline, because reaching someone is the most gratifying part of writing. Anyway, I know the optics on a white guy who lives in a nice big house in the Catskills blogging about his artistic suffering really is enough to draw outrage. But I’ve been willing to make the mistake of being myself on the page before, so what the hell. Let ’em say what they want.
Now. What I’ve realized in the last 2 weeks, since I pulled the plug on the SquareSpace site and put WordPress back is just the sheer volume of basic things about me as a writer that I’ve never shared in a comprehensive or helpful way to readers of any of my blogs, whether this one or its heir, BenObler.com. I’ve been very candid with students of my workshops. Hundreds of students have gotten to hear the tales from the publishing trenches and all that, including my disappointments and embarrassments. But I’ve never felt the same comfort in my blogs and social. I’m not sure exactly how that happened. To some extent, it just seems to be going around.
So, clearly it was time for subhead, as things were getting pretty heavy.
Story. I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with my 13-year-old nephew, Josh, this summer, and with my niece Eva (pronounced “Ava”; meet her here, at my wife’s radio show & Podcast, I Want What She Has, Episode #182, Life Hacks with Eva and Theresa). Both Josh and Eva are sporty, and very capable. With Josh, we played catch with a baseball and gloves; we canoed across a lake; we did “hold your breath” contests and rock-throwing contests (distance). He likes to win. Same with Eva, whether in volleyball, HORSE (basketball), or cards, she’s enthused (gleeful, giddy, electric) when on top, when winning, and despairing (cranky, sullen, sleepy) when she’s trailing on the scoresheet of the family favorite card game “3 to 13.”
Since March I’ve been working with a writer in Barbados, advising on the development of a novel, about the traumatized son of a “winning is everything” former pro golfer, who thankfully ends up getting defbrilated on the smooth grass of the 18th green of his local country club.
I would love it if pro athletes hanging it up in the late stages of their tournaments were just the start of people breaking out of their roles, hanging up their costumes, stopping believing what they’ve been told and what they told themselves about what they deserve and what they must do.
This summer I noticed my brother’s tendency to frame his chores with the phrase “I gotta.” I gotta take two bags of mulch down to the shoreline. I gotta go to the hardware store and buy the whatever.
No, you don’t, I want to say. You’ve chosen that. You think you gotta because you think it means something important if …. well, I’m not going to make an ugly analyses here. I’m not trying to be provocative. But language is often the key, and ideas create actions, etc.
Every day I think of launching this thing, of making this change to my blog, and now I’m doing it. I think it will takes months of it for it to really feel natural. For me to really figure out how to do it. I’ll leave you, like I did last time, with the song that’s come on Spotify at a certain point. This one is interesting, because I’m also a big student of Ram Dass, and believe strongly in the importance of being nobody. Yet the groove of this one brings a wonderfully freeing power to the phrase that may be nevertheless be a major fallacy: “I Am Somebody.”