Writing is weird.
It’s other things, too, but it’s weird.
Writers are weird.
We’re other things, too, but weird covers a lot of it. Our search history covers the rest of it.
We’re in our heads but also very much in the world. We take all of it in, and some of it sticks and some slides onto the paper. We’re social and we’re introverted. We’re curious and stubborn. We gaze at stars and at our own navels. Our characters are everyone and they are only us. We’re bold and terrified. We’re fun and we’re tedious. We talk to ourselves and we try to speak to the world.
It’s me. I’m Writers.
I am also weird in the base case. Mostly in that I haven’t learned to restrain all the strange gremlins boogying in all of our brains. Whereas yours probably know when to stay put, mine do not. BLURTING and TRIPPING and FUNNY and INTENSITY and CURIOSITY gremlins, all doing the hustle and mating to create new little weird gremlins that also like to be in society.
Being weird is just great for stuff like joining the PTA, going through security checkpoints, and impressing your future in-laws, but it’s a hard way to write.
I try to capture that weirdness on the page, because writing weirdly about weird things is the most honest writing I do and it best connects with folks.
And yet, my writing disobeys. It wants to be tame. It wants to take my metaphors and mix them up before tossing them out. It wants to be liked and normal and beautiful.
I don’t write beautifully. Words don’t flow out of me with the lush expressiveness, sweeping fluidity, or graceful alignment of a ballerina. My writing is more of a squat-bodied vaulter. Sometimes my early attempts result in a face plant and my writing unitard creeps into places it’s not supposed to go and…you know what? Let’s just end this metaphor right there.
The goal is excellence, though. Excellence is fleet of foot and well worth the pursuit through thickets and other scratchy places.
In pursuit of excellence – and purpose, place, and meaning – I joined some writing friends to revisit goals for the year: Guard my time, finish the book, return to short pieces, research getting my Ph.D., honor my weirdness, and read the greats who paved paths of weirdness. Trails of peculiarity. Routes of oddity. Lanes of abnormality, even.
Oh, and get nachos. Thus far manifesting them has been unsuccessful.
January/February’s attempts at excellence meant tackling things I’d shoved into a “do that later/figure this out/ooh, here’s a tender spot in your writing life to be explored” pile. Did I take gentle care of those? Of course not. I poked at them like they were an eyeball. An eyeball belonging to a bear. A hungry, cocaine-addled, hibernating bear who doesn’t like having his eyeball poked.
This is to say these things in my writing/process curled up into a ball and told me to piss off.
Worse, I didn’t read as much as I would have liked, although I had some great reads.
However, between not reading enough and poking figurative ursine eyeballs, I got to poke fun things, too. Metaphorical bubble wrap, if you will. Or Jell-O. Do we still poke Jell-O? Is that a thing? Let’s make that a thing again if it isn’t. Once and Future Jell-O Poking!
(Let’s congratulate me for not turning “poking” jokes into sex jokes. This time.)
So the metaphorical Jell-O (WE POKES IT) and bubble wrap of February? Quincy Jones’s 12 Notes: On Life and Creativity and The Good Place.
Quincy Jones! Relentlessly optimistic, fierce, profound, sage. He suggests that if you’re veering towards excellence, ask yourself some questions: To what do you bestow value? To whom? How? What kind of person are you?
Jones’ pearls of wisdom are individually nothing new but in concert merit attention. This is a theme of the book so I will take a bow now, thank you.
While there are many sweet spots in 12 Notes, I spent a lot noodling over “Note E: The Power of Being Underestimated.” In that section, Jones encourages reframing times of no-or-low external expectations/harsh criticism (i.e., bears with eyeballs) and embracing them as “the freedom to create without scrutiny.” Excellence, creation, and even good weirdness cannot flourish under scrutiny, so please continue to expect the absolute least from me (see: My Twitter). You might not be disappointed. But you might be. (see: My Twitter)
And for the other fun poke, my daughter and I watched the entirety of The Good Place (yes, welcome to 2016). This show gave me both existential angst and also whatever the opposite of that is. Contentment? A craving for Frozen Yogurt? A desire to play (Disco) Janet? Probably that. Threaded through this surprisingly profound show is the idea that no matter how many times we reboot, at the core is our goodness and our ability to improve. There’s a metaphor about writing in there if you’re weird enough to look for it.
And I am. Right after I go out for nachos.
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