Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Quitter Starts

I am a quitter.

I quit writing a few months ago. I'm not shy about many things, but I do get flustered when people ask me about my writing, and what I write, because what I was writing was an incoherent mess.

When I started writing in high school, I was doing a sort of grandiose version of journaling. Narrating myself in the third person exercised (and exorcised) certain (melodramatic) aspects of my life, minimized the humdrums, and worked out whatever emotional and philosophical crisis I may have been working out. The more I read, the more my writing changed. I have a very porous voice. When I read Proust, my emails to friends become Proustian. When I read David Foster Wallace, my sentences lengthen to paragraph length, rambling over technical details, including parenthetical references and dependent clauses nestled like Russian dolls. I read a lot.

The more I read, of course, the more I wanted to write some Thing. I do not (can not) write straight fiction. I do not like writing (or reading) much in the way of non-fiction, though some essayists are certainly fun (DFW, of course). Working constantly on bits (500-2,500 words) of semi-fictional memoir, and constantly aware that I was much too young to write memoir, I continued using writing as a way to distill memories of conversations and arguments and stories, blending them with the fantasies they had spawned in my mind. I have a very active interior life.

And so. The older I got, the more I grew into myself. I had always planned to connect all these little bits of writing into a novel of grand proportions (cf. Infinite Jest, etc.), but I noticed that I was writing less and less. I noticed months had passed without me writing anything but the occasional literary email. I tried to get a handle on this by giving myself structure - a friend began to give me weekly assignments of 1,000 words - just to encourage my mind to work in that way again. But these small duties had the opposite effect. Each sentence was a struggle, and the work that came out was overworked and stilted. So, I quit.

I also quit because of a new philosophical dilemma. Actually, it was not a dilemma so much as a realization. I was attempting to write the last assignment - a 1,000 word review of the newest James Bond film. About 750 words in, I realized that everything I was arguing so vehemently was, in fact, completely arbitrary. I realized that, in fact, ALL of my convictions were completely arbitrary. Therefore, I had no authority to write anything at all.

This may seem like a rather odd chain of reaction. Of course convictions are arbitrary (and by this I mean random and subject to one's particular past and intellectual/psychological/ spiritual/etc. development). We see proof of it daily (Sunni v. Shiite gets the Example of the Year award), but it doesn't seem to stop anyone from actually having, and living, and dying by these convictions. Getting into one of those absurd meta- spirals, even the conviction that all convictions are arbitrary is a conviction, and therefore arbitrary. (Crisis! Where's my copy of Godel, Escher, Bach?!)

I went for a nature walk with my parents around Crystal Springs Reservoir (where you walk a paved path under damp trees and hear the not-so-distant hum of freeway traffic) during my Christmastime visit home and we discussed this. My dad got tangled in a knot over the idea that convictions are arbitrary. He didn't agree with the word "arbitrary." He agreed, upon thorough discussion, that indeed our selves are subject to history - personal and world, being something of a historian himself ( - but didn't accept that this fact thereby made our selves arbitrary, as I argued. My mom was more comfortable with the idea, having, like myself, a regular yoga practice, and generally being more open (conceptually, if not emotionally) to the idea that life is random and arbitrary (she has not taken the additional step that I have - that life is therefore meaningless).

And so. Some friends have diagnosed my current "Convictions are arbitrary" plus "Life is meaningless" formula as equalling depression. But I have seen depression and I know that I do not have it. I am actually happier than I have ever been - lighter - actually. I was an (excessively) goal-oriented perfectionist as a student, and I took for granted that existence had a certain pressure. Now I feel no pressure at all. Four months ago I quit my 60+ hour a week job selling real estate, which was competitive, commission-based, goal-oriented, and caused me to sleep with my blackberry under my pillow. I took a corporate 9-5 with an unassuming title and no stress. The hardest part of the job was convincing HR at the interview that I was NOT overqualified and over educated for the position (although I certainly am). I quit. I quit trying to be rich, I quit trying to be hip, and I quit trying to be high-powered. Then, I quit writing.

All that said, I am going to start blogging. I am hoping the ephemeral nature of the medium will keep this light enough that it suits me. I still read a lot of fiction. I would like to keep a record and a sort of book review forum, and this is a good way to do that. I see a lot of movies. Ditto. I like music. Tripio? Dance. Yoga. Art. Eating and drinking. This will be a forum for my meandering and reviewing. I also have a lot of interesting conversations, and I will include those here as well. Stories about my family (semi-fictional memoir cannot be held back). I will be working out the link between opinion and conviction, and working to accept the arbitrary. And I will be writing.