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Great Writers (2008)

All those nights I stayed up late doing nothing but biting my fingernails and watching life pass me by. All those nights where I would try to grab out for some frame of reference to hold on to—for dates, for memories, for reflections of my meager, incidental accomplishments. All those nights I found a sick kind of comfort in flickering through the Wikipedia pages of long dead authors to see what they were doing, what kind of books they were writing when they were my age. Some where in the army, some had already been married, some had written books and had government jobs. Others will still traipsing around the world without a thought for writing–drinking, loving, working—just living life. Capote and Fitzgerald had novels, Cheever was a boy genius. Thomas Wolfe didn’t do anything until he was 29, but when he finally got around to it, it was like a freight train that had long been gathering steam. I read their first novels, their early stories, weighing their early-20s talent against mine—the unplumbed depths of my talent, only to find little in the way of competition. The Heart is a lonely Hunter—couldn’t finish more than fifty pages. Other Voices, Other Rooms—juvenile, dragging, popularized by that sexy picture of Truman Capote on the back. Cheever’s early stories—achingly upper-middle-class, the kind of person that I would like to punch in the face. This Side of Paradise—boring, horrible, lacking. Dos Passos? Cather? Djuna? Hart Crane? What was I procrastinating for? Why as I obsessing over the mile markers of the dead? My talent unharnessed, I didn’t know what to do or where to start–so instead of building my own life, I just sniped at the lives of others, pointing out their mistakes that I wouldn’t make to guide me through the murky present. Most of the people who are considered in the sexist Eurocentric canon ‘greats’ didn’t write novels until they were 25. Having just recently turned 25, I can testify that that’s when the fear starts to set in. But I never thought about the passage of time as much as when I was twenty-three, standing on the cusp of something big and horrible and hoping that I would think about it less as it went on. It was like playing an online matching game—looking at the years of others and matching them with mine. This was ridiculous because everyone goes at their own pace. Some people are late-bloomers, some are busy living life, some are preserved in Cytogenesis by a long adolescent and early-20s Christianity, like my friend Josh, emerging into the world like butterfly as he approached thirty. Henry Miller says he never read a novel until he was 25, let alone wrote one. You can still start today. The problem is one of willpower that limited amount of willpower that has to be rationed through the day with respect to your artistic pursuit—the sad truth is that your willpower can be significantly depleted by work, school, and arguments with your significant other, excessive masturbation.  Without willpower, there is no drive to do your grand idea justice—you slump out over your computer, you diddle around on Facebook for five hours. There are a million little tricks and routines to maintain and steady your willpower, none of which I seem to be able to follow—Sure, you can move out of New York City and have cheap rent and an easy job that affords you plenty of time for artistic pursuit but it’s a gamble, because if you fail there’s no excuse to fall back on. You had the time, you had the space to make something great. Conversely, there’s the problem with the city, this great core of energy, but filled with so much culture that you have to beat away other people’s stuff with a stick—there’s always a reading or a party to go to, always some kind of entertainment distracting from the blank slate of your own effort—If you’re here tonight postponing what you should be doing, distracting yourself with passive entertainment, raise your hand. What are you waiting for? Also the issue of how to survive economically and preserve energy late at night or early in the morning for your creative endeavors. Once you have gathered the willpower, there’s the problem of caffeinated over exuberance to contend with, the horror of soberly looking back over what you made the night before in a sped-up frenzy only to find that 95% of it is emotional garbage, unsalvageable.

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