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The Agony I Crave

Notes on the difficulty of writing.

09/02/2017 9:40 PM IST | Updated 12/02/2017 10:12 AM IST
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The resistance to picking up the pen is frustrating. I wake up late, skip yoga, eat a burned breakfast, watch a television show, and before I know it the sun is setting and I haven't written a word. One thing goes and then everything goes. Maintaining discipline is a habit that never gets easier. But once I have a pen in hand, writing is like getting warmed up, like stretching the part of the brain involved with creation. Once I start, once the blood begins to flow, I am a potter, and my wheel is in motion, gradually picking up momentum. There is something that changes, that shifts inside me. The gears turn, they groan, and it is work. So much work.

Writing is like having a conversation with a single person. That's why I don't mind being social in one-on-one situations. Regardless of topic, a connection—some connection—is bound to form. It's ideas bouncing from one side to the other. Bing. Bong. Bing. Bong. Bing.

Maybe what I write tomorrow will be better, but this? It is ordinary and ordinary is dull, and because I have nothing interesting to say I am dull.

This is what I feel like when I write. That ideas are dancing merrily from my mind to the page, then to my eyes then again to my mind, then they make a detour for the window, hit the glass, fly out through the door then gently float back to me. Bing. Bong. Bing. This is the kind of conversation I look forward to, the kind that I don't fumble in or rattle off pretentious phrases in to impress another. Here, there is no "other," no judgement, not in the beginning at least.

The ridicule begins after I re-read the first sentence, then the second. By the time I get to the third, the worst kind of mockery has begun, a silent laughter whose origins are unknown. It may arise from the words, or it could come from the reader who hasn't yet read what I see. It could just as well come from me, and in that moment, my ego cracks into a dry, crusty mess. What was a masterpiece a moment ago now resembles mediocrity, the worst kind of production. It doesn't go away, but still, a sliver of hope fills the cracks. I cross out words, then phrases. If I'm feeling particularly hopeful, paragraphs disappear. With deletion of the old comes creation of the new.

What am I saying that hasn't been said before? How original can I project my borrowed thoughts to be? Is that what my goal is, the creation of an illusion? Am I simply turning into a better con artist? I don't know, I have my doubts. That seed, once sown, grows deceptively fast, building a forest of insecurity and comparison and failure. I don't like being in that space, but being in it is the only way to get out of it. In this mental battle, no matter which answer I try to convince myself of, deep down, in the parts of me that cannot lie, I confess. It's shit. Maybe what I write tomorrow will be better, but this? Any ten-year-old can do this. It is ordinary and ordinary is dull, and because I have nothing interesting to say I am dull. There is plenty of self-deprecation involved. Way too much.

There are times when the pen wanders. It stops. It pauses to reflect on its aimlessness. And then, through its inked straw, through my fingers, up my arm, across my shoulder, into my neck and swimming into my brain, the pen sends me a message.

When I feel this agony, I am at my most content. It is a comforting agony, a teacher of the best kind, because it encourages failure.

It's okay to wander. In fact, wandering is all you've got. You can't know where you're going, but that doesn't mean you stop moving. You keep wandering, right into the dead-ends and forking paths and dense underbrush. You keep wandering through the bits where it's too dark to see, so you wander and stumble and try to grab something, anything. It's only when you explore the unknown that you can begin to see if what you have can be turned into something beautiful, something you want to hold on to. My pen sends me this message. It is a wise pen.

Now, the real work begins. The labour of shaping and sifting and slicing and sanding is not as emotionally fluctuating. It is tedium of the worst kind. I consider myself a selfish being, so I write for myself. I haven't learned how to do it for others. Writing is a narcissistic indulgence, like eating a whole bar of chocolate. Like the chocolate, I want to savour the taste of my words with all my senses, but I also want others to feel something, to desire my words as sensually as I do. Unlike the chocolate, writing offers no immediate gratification. There is only agony, in the beginning and in the middle and also in the end. There is sadism in me, because I crave the agony. I want to float in a cesspool of this agony, because that life, a life where I shape and sift and slice and sand, is the one I most prefer. When I feel this agony, I am at my most content. It is a comforting agony, a teacher of the best kind, because it encourages failure.

When I am done— really done—I am exhausted. Spent. There is no motivation, no celebration. There is only relief. This relief breathes into the calloused knuckle of my middle finger, the point where the pen presses most strongly. And then, very quickly, the relief engulfs me, transforming into some iteration of giddiness, and in that moment, I am content. It is fleeting, until the itch of creation irks me once again, and I cannot bring myself to pick up the pen, knowing precisely the misery if I don't and the agony if I do. So I do.

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