In his On Being interview, poet Jericho Brown talked about his writing process: "Where am I going to say the thing I don't expect to say?"
I also wonder this while writing fiction. I plan and plan and draft many outlines, but when I ultimately sit down to write I'm looking for the thing that I didn't sit down to write.
Which reminds me of when one of my college instructors once likened putting on a play to caring for a little bird. You rehearse and rehearse and memorize lines and analyze the script, and then when you walk onstage on opening night, you try to forget it all and let the bird fly.
The preparation is important, but the preparation is only a tool to facilitate surprise.
Someone, I forget who, once wrote on Twitter that each of their tweets was an effort to run away from their previous tweet.
When someone sends something unpleasant in my family's text thread, like my sister's picture of her injured toe for example, they'll often include a string of emojis to push the image out of sight so we don't have to keep looking at it. I favor a flock of duck emojis.
Sometimes it feels like I write to push my older self further down the page, further into the past.
One of the many reasons there was such a long delay in writing the second issue of Care and Maintenance was that I didn't know how to write about George Floyd's murder.
I live in the Twin Cities. It felt wrong not to address what was happening here, but every time I sat down to write, I could think of nothing meaningful to say that hadn't already been said by people much wiser and more qualified than me.
I worked myself in knots, and then in August came across this passage in Jia Tolentino’s incisive book of essays about self-delusion, "Trick Mirror." On the intersection of the social internet and racism, she writes:
“The demonstrative celebration of black women on social media—white people tweeting ‘black women will save America’ after elections, or Mark Ruffalo tweeting that he said a prayer and God answered as a black woman—often hints at a bizarre need on the part of white people to personally participate in an ideology of equality that ostensibly requires them to chill out.”
I'm not going to take a back seat. Black lives matter, and I'm going to find other ways to contribute. But I don't think I can write about it until I find a way to chill out.
("Chill out," in my interpretation, meaning: write about it in a way that doesn't center myself and my emotional needs at the expense of Black voices.)
Well, this is fascinating.
It's like a social media account that no one will read. Perfect in every way.
One thing I have such a hard time with on social media is that when I'm on it I come up against almost zero friction to consume--to scroll though tweets for hours--and a lot of friction to create--write out a thought, post a photo, etc.
This friction is generated by everything from the user interface (Facebook looks like it could launch a rocket) to the intense and probably delusional sense of being watched to the very pull of the newsfeed, inviting me to drift away in its waves.
This has flopped that. Zero friction to create. Lots of friction to consume. No one's going to be reading this unless they have a specific interest in my writing and are willing to put in a little effort.
All of which I think strikes at something I've come to feel about myself, something others have expressed before. The space in which I consume cannot be the space in which I create.
To some extent, I need to feel alone.