One Day

One day, I will not be afraid. One day, I’ll be successful. One day, I will write a beautifully crafted novel in three drafts. One day, I’ll be able to justify the time I spend on this endeavour in a way that no one can question, including me. One day, it will not take so much time. One day, I will have a reason for writing that doesn’t sound pretentious or selfish or like something other people would laugh at. One day, I will not feel like a fraud. One day, I will believe I am a writer all the time. One day, I will not be surprised and puzzled when other people think of me as a writer. One day, I will sit at my desk to write and not be tempted to check Facebook first. One day, I won’t have doubts. One day, I’ll have more publication credits than my nemesis. One day, I won’t feel like I am wasting time. One day, I won’t feel like the opportunities have passed me by. One day, this won’t take so long.

One day, this will be easy.

That’s what it all comes down to, really. Why isn’t this easy? And then convincing yourself that if you make the next milestone, you get this one story published, you finish the draft, you get an agent, you win a contest–if you can do that, afterwards, it will be easy. That particular one thing is the only thing stopping you.

But eventually, you get past the one thing, and it’s still not easy. It’s still hard. Not coal mining-hard, but harder than you can admit to most people. You still have no idea what you’re doing or if any of it is working. You still have no idea if this is worthwhile in any concrete sense. You use up huge reserves on this giant act of faith that is just doing it, and then afterwards you wonder why it’s always so daunting to start.

This is your hobby, your dream, your profession, that one thing that satisfies your soul and makes you feel like your you-est self, and you keep shying away from doing it, and then kicking yourself, because it’s not easy. You chastise yourself for complaining that it’s not easy since it’s not coal mining.

But you know it’s not easy. You talk with other writers about how it’s not easy. Even for the ones that make it look easy. But somehow you think it should be different for you. That it’s supposed to be easy for you, and you get worn down because it isn’t easy.

You scorn the people who think it’s easy–they aren’t writers–and yet, you wish it wasn’t so damn hard all the time. Or worse, not all the time. Because those days when it goes well trick you into thinking that maybe on all those other days you did something wrong.

You start thinking, one day, I can quit. I will do this one thing, and I am done. Forever. I would like to do easier things. At least when I clean the floor, at the end of the day I will have a clean floor.

In your heart of hearts, you know you can quit right now. You don’t have to wait for one day. One day can be today. And maybe you do, for a little while.

And then one day you think, I had something. Maybe it could really be something. One day.

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Is this Cultural Appropriation?

I follow a lot of writers on Twitter who are much more activist than I am (this is a low bar; I’m not really an activist at all) and I have to admit that sometimes a controversy or issue flares up, and I am totally confused about what the problem is. So most of the time, I don’t feel like I know anything about racism or cultural appropriation or the many related issues that gets Twitter a-tweeting.

But then I see someone saying something truly boneheaded about these things, and I realize that maybe I know a little bit of something. Like, possibly enough to not make a complete ass of myself, although granted, I have such a limited platform that any ass-making I do is not likely to be noticed.

So I’m going to say some things here, and maybe make an ass of myself doing it, because frankly, it happens. These days, I think we all have to get comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes, and it’s okay to have people publicly point that out.

The problem I see is that people are looking for simple rules. Tell me what to do and say, and I will follow that to a tee, because I am a Good Person(tm) and then I will carry on with my life and never have to think about any of this again.

I still remember when people could declare themselves a Good Person(tm) because they used certain words instead of others. Don’t say cripple, say physically challenged. Don’t say chink, say Asian. (Don’t say short, say vertically challenged, as the joke went.) So people did a quick substitution of words, patted themselves on the back, carried on.

And now people are confused, because there’s this “Cultural Appropriation” notion out there, and they want simple rules again. “So am I never allowed to make curry? Do I quit yoga?” Or they relate it to their own cultures. “How is drinking beer on St. Patrick’s Day cultural appropriation? Everyone likes to drink beer!” Or they wonder what will become of anything creative. “What about fusion cooking? What about that bhartnatyam-hiphop dance video, is that wrong now? Can’t we all get along?”

The crux of the matter is, it’s not simple. The point is that it never was simple. There’s no singular set of rules you can mindlessly follow to ensure that you are a Good Person(tm).

You need to be mindful. You need to think about your intentions. You need to think about the effect of your choices. You need to think about the power structures underlying all this.

You need to think about who does not get a voice because you are talking over them.

You need to realize that you can love a culture and have nothing but the best intentions, and still appropriate it. Your desire to make art doesn’t give you special exemptions.

You need to consider these questions with respect to each different culture. Wearing a bindi isn’t the exactly the same as wearing a feathered headdress.

Does this sound like a powerful amount of overthinking that will paralyze you and prevent you from writing? Yes, possibly. I know a lot of writers who have been so paralyzed.

So what do you do about that?

Start with writing. Then start thinking. Then revise. Get feedback if you can find people willing and capable of reading for cultural sensitivity. Think and revise some more.

And then if you put it out there, be prepared for the possibility that you may make an ass of yourself. Get comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay for people to publicly point that out. Should that happen, do you best to listen and learn, even if what you hear makes you uncomfortable.

There are no easy mindless rules.