Talking About Shit
June 9, 2014 § 23 Comments
Nine mornings out of 10, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write in this space. The mere fact that I’m writing about not having a clue about what I’m going to write should be plentiful evidence that, yet again, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to write in this space. The funny thing is, the vast majority of posts that have garnered the most praise were among this 90%. The central conceit was unplanned, the structure was unplanned. The sentences and how they fit together were unplanned. In other words, the whole damn thing was a surprise. It just… happened.
I’ve heard artists talk about how their best work doesn’t come from them; it comes through them and to be honest, I always thought it was a bunch of pretentious bullshit. Or – and embarrassingly, this is just occurring to me – maybe it’s exactly the opposite: A way to deflect attention from the fact that there’s actually a certain amount of talent at play.
Still, I can sense when I’m “on” and when I’m not. When I’m on, I hardly ever delete a word I’ve just written. When I’m on, I don’t have to think about what the next word or sentence is going to be. When I’m on, I suffer exactly zero self-consciousness about what I’m writing. I don’t think “is this going to get Sandra worked up?” I don’t think “is someone going to think I’m weird or immature, or judgmental, or too sensitive, or not sensitive enough?” I don’t think any of that unhelpful shit. I just write.
See? Like right there, I second-guessed using the word shit. Because I know some of my readers might not appreciate that sort of language. But the truth is, I say “shit” in real life all the time. Pretty frequently, actually, although in my defense it’s often in reference to the real thing. In farm country, shit isn’t profanity; it’s just something you deal with every day and because you deal with it every day, you talk about it every day. You don’t say “I’m spreading manure today.” You say “I’m spreading shit today.” You don’t say “I slipped in manure.” You say “I fell on my ass in a pile of shit.” No one thinks you’re swearing. They just think you’re talking about shit.
Right now, I’m not on, but I’m not totally off, either. Already, I’ve gotten over caring what anyone’s gonna think about shit. I need to do that more often, I think. Recently, someone who was reviewing a piece of my written work suggested I loosen up a bit. “Make it more like your blog,” he said. “It’s easier for your editors to dial you back than turn you up.” And on Friday night, at end of a talk I did down in MA, a kindly fellow piped up from the audience: “Since you’re obviously not going to do it, I’d like to plug your blog,” he said. “I’ve read your books and I liked them, but I think your blog is even better.”
It’s sort of hard for me to admit it, but both these guys were probably right. I think often the stuff I write here is better than my print work, and I think the reason for that is the lack of expectation. The lack of an agenda or even a plan.
Of course, that doesn’t work all the time. I can’t tell an editor I’m going to write him a story about, say, how technology is changing the culture of maple sugaring and then write something totally different because that’s what, you know, came through me, and I suspect if I did, I’d hear a whole awful lot about shit. And not the stuff that makes your garden grow.
I’m a professional writer, which means that even when I’m not “on,” I’ve got to produce. I can’t just say “sorry I missed my deadline, I wasn’t in the zone” and go have a cup of chamomile tea and a foot bath. It doesn’t work like that. Instead, I’ve gotta pound a quart of coffee and get my ass in the zone. Or close enough to the zone that no one can tell I’m not there but me. Honestly, that’s the hardest part of this job: Faking it.
Which I guess means it’s just like life.