Friday, March 06, 2009

Writer's Block and the Dizzying Distractions: Breaking the Three Golden Rules of Blogging

(First I break the second golden rule of blogging: I write about my lack of blogging. One should never do what I'm about to do.)

I've been trying to figure out the reason for my recent extended blog-writer's block. My posts, though generally longer, have been appearing in steadily declining numbers since mid-2007:

Look to the right and you'll see:
  • Posts in 2007: 171
  • Posts in 2008: 98
  • Posts in 2009 so far: 16 (if I maintain the same pace, I'll reach 91)
What could explain this decline? Facebook? Wellbutrin? Age? An uneventful life? Well, let's rule out the final two reasons listed - once you pass the age of, say, 36, nothing really changes. Until you hit 52. And my life has actually been rather eventful over the past 18 months. Let's rule out Facebook because its linking feature actually gives me a reason to post more, with my captive audience and all. So we're left with the anti-anxiety/depression medication Wellbutrin which I started taking in mid-2007 and partially blame for my lack of writing output and maybe some other changes. At the same time, it has had a lot of benefits (e.g., I'm happier. Probably.)

(There, I broke the third golden rule of blogging: I wrote about a relatively personal medication I have been taking. No one needs to know that.)

I debate friends about the romantic notion of the "tortured (depressed) artist," that it's mostly a myth and if Van Gogh hadn't chopped off his goddamn ear and if Cobain hadn't pulled out his gun, there would be no reason for debate. But I actually think the anti-depressant-as-creativity-suppressant argument has some merit in my case. My writing - on this blog but especially in my fiction and poetry - is rather dependant on the idiosyncratic way (that I think) my brain works: thoughts stir around like crazy; random or unexpected connections are made; memories clash with reality; the past is a cloud that gives us shade, and so on. No, I'm not the only human with neural connectors. But there was something going on in my head to make me write this in 2005, from my short story Demolition:
There are buildings ugly as war, their spotlighted hallways showing nothing but a dust trail - their jig is up and out the window. There are buildings beautiful as a split pea, uncovered and cleaved and asking for trouble. These buildings are museums and toy factories and fractions of an earth's material and memory and the weaving in of texts and spoken story. These buildings make the misfits one step closer to the fire, the black water, the eerie joy.
I could deconstruct the meaning here if I could remember (or decipher) it. And standing alone the paragraph isn't much more than a (likely over-caffeinated) brain spilling out language and structure without remorse or a plan from the corner table of the Literati Cafe in West L.A. But in the context of the full story I think it's pretty amazing. These days those words wouldn't come out. Maybe I need to embrace the way they do come out - smaller, more contained. But the true and fictional stories I write now tend end too soon. And I want them to go on.

Between 1996 and 2007, I wrote almost exclusively in the cafes of Minneapolis and Los Angeles. I hardly ever wrote at home or anywhere else. I still go to those cafes. I still drink the coffee. In fact, this morning I drank a $4 coffee ($4 - not for espresso - but coffee) at the Intelligentsia coffeehouse in Silverlake. But now when I sit and try to write in these public places, I get through one page before being distracted by something - an annoying conversation, a need to check my email on my iPhone, a desire to read a page or two from a book that I likely won't finish. In the past, the annoying conversation would become its own short story, the email would trigger a poen, and reading a book would lead to a longer short story. These days, that doesn't happen.

(Could part of the problem be that I go to places with awful names like Literati and Intelligentsia? What name will they think of next? The Algonquin? The Bloomsbury? The Insufferable Elite?)

No these days, I can only write like I used to in the confined quarters of an airplane. I fill notebooks on airplanes. I wrote the only story I've written in the last two years that I'm really proud of on an airplane. What is it about airplanes? I'm still taking the Wellbutrin. I'm using the same pen-and-notebook or Macbook. I'm still me. Is it that I have nowhere to go? Is it that I can't pack up my things and leave the scene, walking back to my car a little disappointed in what I didn't accomplish? Yes, that's exactly it. My wandering, roving mind cannot go anywhere else.

Before Wellbutrin (or before the divorce, or before 40, whatever explanation you like), I was content with my mind racing and my fingers writing it down. Now, my mind moves and my hand reaches for a distraction (iPhone, book, crossword) or just gets up and walks away. I need to go back to that place/time where I was not afraid of my runaway thoughts. How do I do this? Do I move back to Minneapolis or Santa Monica? No, that would be a cop-out, although it may have other benefits. Do I try harder to find a girlfriend or true love or a life's meaning? No, trying too hard to is like love is like oxygen - you can't do too much.

No, the solutions are simple: Keep working on the writing. Have some discipline. Try some new things. Go on more airplane trips. Read more books/see more movies/listen to more music - all the stuff that's always inspired me.

Take today, for example. It's an impossibly beautiful 60-degree day in Los Angeles. The sky is clear and the air is pure. When I drive home later, I will see snow-capped mountains beyond the glorious (underrated) downtown L.A. skyline. I should write about buildings. I should write about the shapes of distances between people. I should write about how things look different from hills. Yes, I'll do that.

(And there I broke the first golden rule of blogging: Never, never, never, ever write about the weather.)


obscurapersona said...

This is a GREAT entry! I always write about my lack of blogging, I always write about the weather... they are great topics for us medicated, tortured artists. Really. Impressed.

Jason B. said...

Have you tried the coffee at the Nosehair of the Blueblood or Cafe Louis XVI or Thus Drank Zarathustra?