What it Means to Try

These introspection pages began with a virtual Camino during the lock-down. My formal participation in the group didn’t end well. The host didn’t believe that alternative perspectives were admissible in discussions. I disagreed with her declaration that no one could disagree with her. I was blocked, which was an easily foreseen consequence. And a reminder that all prophets are fragile – regardless of gender or denomination – because they are human. And even when it’s undertaken unintentionally, without conscious ambition, it’s a rickety climb upward, prodded on by people holding the ladder, proclaiming their trust in you.

I learned a lot. But maybe not enough.

It is one thing to have a healthy skepticism of the map. It is another to toss it out entirely. One winds up walking in circles.

Using one’s own memory of experience as a guide to find something novel is absurd. It’s, in affect, an exercise in solipsism masquerading as therapeutic “work”. At least, this has been a thought adding to the pulp that is sealing me off from the world, like regurgitating the plug that seals the entrance to a potter-wasp’s nest. But in this metaphor I am both the egg and the caterpillar. And yeah, no, believe me, this inside-out stuff looks nothing like an ouroboros.

I am going to archive these blog entries and start again.

There is a terrible catch-22 in all of this ambition: wanting to write means wanting to be read, seen. Self monitoring, self-flagellating, self-loathing, self-aggrandizing. But no one wants all that to be seen. This is what I need today, is not the same as This is who I am.

When I was a teen I kept a diary full of poems. I would write, knowing my mother would sneak in and read them when she got the chance. I would write. I would leave it there one day, two days, then rip out the pages. Gambling with fate. But really only adding to the cloud of uncertainty. What did she really know? What did she really care about?

This morning I listened to a New Yorker article about a writer whose entire life was fiction. I think he traded one fear for another. But at least now I understand better the allure of writing novels. And understanding that maybe that that is a truly braver endeavor. How often is authenticity used as a cloak to repel criticism? But look at all the stories sticky with patronizing reviews.

One fear for another.

I started a Medium project. I shut it down. I started a Substack project. I shut it down. What begins as something avocational and creative. An attempt at something Catherine Price calls “true fun” (marked by the presence of playfulness, flow, and community), always seems to soak up thoughts around “entrepreneurship” and the zeitgeist of virtual influence and status. I feel like a farmer whose every crop becomes infested.

The community element of writing is a puzzle for most of us, I think.

Yesterday I watched the final episode of The Last of Us, wondering how it would end, needing to see the end, but consciously considering how the end was just a choice made by a writer (or writers), not a real thing. But I wanted the story so badly. I wanted to know the true ending. I believe this desire/belief is a form of and a recognition of community. We need the truth from one another. We need a truth from one another.

I got an email yesterday for a workshop conference held by a respected publication. Of course the question of whether MFA programs or any kind of writing program belongs in the university system has always been up for discussion. But this time, this kind of workshopping struck me as something deadly. Let us teach you how to write the kind of work we want to publish. This isn’t about assuming there will be readers listening. It is about organizations securing their branding (which began long before branding was jargon for the masses.) This seems like a closed loop. A single story. A petrified truth.

Rebecca Solnit has offered 10 tips for writers. One of them is about finding your vocation. Hardly shocking: this iteration of “find your why”. But here is my woo woo rising again – the words come when we need to read them.

I would be lying – and convincing no one – if I said that I didn’t write to be seen. That every one of my poems wasn’t me waving as drowning. But it is also true that wanting to be seen is the first step towards belonging. Which is still an ego-centered (not necessarily egocentric) motive, but sounds better.

When I read, I’m moved by poems that open me to the world that is not me. Show me you and weave your story into the world somehow so I know it to be true. Show me mermaids where we never dreamed there were mermaids. Show me all the monsters.

I don’t think any of us begin with an urge to create something for dissection. But everything that comes together falls apart as we try to make sense of it. And it is in the fragmenting that we find the whole.

If I have a vocation as a writer, I wonder if it is a branch of the same passion that I have as a reader: a passion to uncover everything. Everything belongs and deserves attention.

“Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” he was so excited that he said, “Both,” and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, “but don’t bother about the bread, please.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

At some point we choose to see the expression unchecked desires as either comically charming or terrifying, depending on the safety of our current position in the pecking order.

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Maybe I just want to say that while something may be undesirable, unpalatable, ugly – it is not unnatural. We can’t handle the natural world – to make a pop culture allusion. It terrifies us, as it should.

Maybe the truth is always in our blind spot. A shadow on the periphery. Best told at a slant, as she said.


I think I remember someone telling how to drive in the proper lane, by eyeing the corner of the car’s hood with the solid white line instead of looking straight ahead to try to center the car on the road. He said something about not trusting perspectives.

It was terrifying.

Hell. I have no idea what I am trying to say.

2 Replies to “What it Means to Try”


%d bloggers like this: