I have not yet emerged and you don’t know my name. On October 2017 I joined a freelancing platform to try and earn some money but they said no. They were ever so sorry to inform me that the platform was saturated with writing services and that I should try and get skilled in something more sought-after, like rocket science, and return when I’ve mastered the skill.
Sure enough, I have considered taking six months to learn basics in Java and re-introduce myself to the world as a sought-after specimen. As a programmer, I would be able to eat takeaway Chinese every day and, in the privacy of my own bathroom, take shits that, in the marketplace, are worth infinitely more than 20 freelance writers and all their experience combined. You bet I want to know how that feels.
Similar thoughts have probably crept into your reality if you have writing aspirations. Some of you might even have gone with them and now have actual marketable skills. If that’s the case, there are a few things I would like to ask:
How do you feel?
Are you satisfied?
True to yourself?
Is the existential crisis finding a pathway to your dreams?
I’m asking for a friend.
Because I have come to believe that the excitement of shitting gold wears off quickly.
There were many things that I couldn’t imagine myself doing just a year ago. One of those things was learning Java. The other was writing and sending out the most personal of essays to publications. In those writings I was giving myself in ways I did not think possible – but there’s a difference between these particular difficulties- between learning programming and learning how to give myself.
If you have writing aspirations, you are equipped to fight off the demons that programmers aren’t. If you are a programmer, you are equipped to fight off the ghastly creatures that writers can’t even look in the eye.
If you are a writer, you know where those demons lie – and it’s not in the lines upon lines of a Java code. They lie in the endless rejection letters and e-mails, blank pages, clunky syntax, and abstract rules about the appropriate levels of verbosity. You know this. You’ve known it ever since you could read, ever since you could write. You’ve had this confirmed every time the classroom clapped when you’ve read your essay, every time you’ve won a writing contest in school, every time you got an assignment and disappeared for hours into a state of otherworldly concentration where you forgot to breathe.
In maths, so much attention was placed on the rules. They were carefully laid out, you were given tasks upon tasks to ensure you understood them, and yet, you understood nothing. In your free essay subjects, however, you had no rules. You learned next to nothing about where the topic sentences go, what a thesis statement is, what a leading idea is, what an outline is and yet – you somehow knew.
There was this entire etherial world you were connected to without being taught a thing. Like a wizard, you were communicating with a source of information unavailable to other humans. And that’s a clue. If it wasn’t then, it should be now. Abandoning that world that has unselfishly chosen you, that is throwing itself at you, is a waste. It’s a travesty. It’s alienation from self. And it’s a recipe for a disastrous life.
Much of what I do is confusing and ends in failure. I burn lunch. I can’t do accounting. I get lost in a town I’ve lived in since birth. I freeze during conversations. Java makes no sense. Marketing makes no sense whatsoever. But somehow, somehow when I write about all those things I fail to understand, everything falls into place. When I arrange argument after argument and elaborate on them – I begin to understand them. When information is stacked so neatly the world is a cohesive place. And when I fail to explain the world to myself like that – everything falls apart.
I’m not saying abandon everything in order to write. Hey, homelessness is a rational fear to have after all. But losing your grip on the world is too. Because, some people think in numbers, some in images, and you know full well that you think in topic sentences and character arcs and plot points. And once you’ve denied yourself this mode of thinking, this mode of making the world a cohesive place to inhabit, the next stage, I fear, is what Joan Didion calls the final turn of the screw, where one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.
Because, I feel, the world stops making sense once you’ve abandoned the only thing that ever made sense to you.