“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.” Emilie Autumn
By Maria Amir
I am a writer who cannot write.
This is a hard admission to make considering the fact that words are pretty much my only currency and comfort in this world. It is words that have saved me time and again from both myself and my feelings by opening up a sidelong segue into a blind alley of thought. And yet, it appears that words are the very things that fail me now. I find myself cornered by people who can manage and manipulate words far more efficiently and proactively than I, rendering my efficacy rather redundant.
I am, however, rediscovering my relationship with words as I catch myself exploring newer kitsch schemes to motivate my students with their writing. I find myself writing under the influence quite often. Currently I am writing under the influence of oranges, post-run adrenaline rushes, Sunday morning sidewalks and lingering guilt. Such alchemy forms a jittery, jarring sort of high that is rather difficult to navigate with any sort of clarity.
I am living on a university campus again, though this time not as a student. This distinction is important, I find, because it is one I often need to remind myself of. I feel I am finally at a stage in my life where I could let myself succeed at something. Ironically, as it happens, being surrounded by perpetually positive and self-assured people is proving to be a good thing. I have often been told that, whereas most people suffer from high or low self-esteem, I suffer unequivocally from what can only be described as ‘no self esteem’. Often enough, I find it a gift. I used to think that it allowed me to take a microscope rather than a mere magnifying glass to things because I never feared the collapse of my own ego. Sadly, it also means that the things I am searching for seldom come to light. They live in a sad little laboratory, neatly labeled and bottled away from light, dust and… life.
The realization that I have been living most of my life on tomorrows and yesterdays is hankering. I suppose, in some way most people do this to some extent – live amid the flimsy glands of postponement and atonement. But I seem to have mastered it: my mind is riddled with masterful schemes and plans of my future. All doable ideas but irrevocably marked with one lowest common denominator: tomorrow. I can almost never meet deadlines unless they are work-related, and this is why my writing perpetually suffers. I can never consider it work, even though a part of me recognizes, as Cohen says, ‘that I needed to go to work at it everyday’.
Currently, I am enjoying the long-forgotten sensation of having a crush. It is rather refreshing because amid all my confusion and paranoia it has allowed me to construct a fantasy around someone else other than myself for a change. I enjoy crushes, mostly because I am acutely aware of their limitations. I never get involved and religiously avoid the subject of the crush because it destroys the illusion, which is the whole point of having a crush, really. I am spending a disproportionate amount of my evenings at the LUMS Jammin Java café reading David Foster Wallace and subtly spying on someone else reading something else. It is comfortable. I always maintain that the easiest way to cure a crush is to speak with the subject. The same is often true of relationships as well.
I suppose my downward spiral began three days after shifting to my new apartment. At the time, I was alone and neither of my flatmates had arrived. I was perfectly giddy about all my New Year changes, and suddenly one silly, Saturday evening, I found myself overestimating my ability to cope. I decided to Google my ex. Suffice it to say, that Googling your ex is always, always, always a bad idea. We all tend to operate on myths of closure, and then we construct waiting periods, coping periods, healing periods and getting-back-out-there periods purely because we need all experiences to be time-bound. This allows us a construct to move in and on from. In truth, there is no real science to moving on and how one does it, but I can unequivocally say that discovering how much better your former half is doing without you is not one of them. Even if the same is equally true for you.
One of my friends recently told me that perhaps I needed to ‘start at the beginning’.
Burning bridges and looking back. I have never really ‘looked back’; it’s not how I’m… built. And yet, for the past few days, the temptation has been alarmingly great. Perhaps it’s because there are no good films to watch and I can’t seem to read at the same pace I once could. So at present, I am merely letting my fingers clap at keys with my mind numb. According to Sean Connery in Finding Forrester, it sometimes serves the purpose of beginning an actual thought. Just… typing. I am working – surprisingly hard – at creating a present moment and I have never had to work at it before. The music selection is sublime for scaring up some sentiment: unhealthy dealings of Dylan, Cohen and the occasional Joni Mitchell. There are also culinary conduits: cheese and wine, no going wrong there. I’ve even painted after years. I’ve scribbled thoughts, and yet, for a change, I want to be nakedly honest and I am afraid that is too scary. I want to write out something that isn’t pretty, poised and poignant, or forever attempting to be. I want to write something visceral, brutal, hurtful – to lash out at all the fucking assholes who have stomped over me simply because I was stupidly considerate enough to not stop them from doing so. It is no life-altering recognition acknowledging that one is a pushover after 30 years or having been one; however, it is alarming to discover that one has lost the ability to sidestep the default position one has carved out.
It’s a cruel fallacy folded in flawed familiarity.
Sometimes I wish it were still a noble aspiration to be a librarian. To be satisfied with merely being a keeper of books without needing to be a great reader or writer. Do you ever feel that? Watching some garish, sappy romantic comedy where a single, happy, healthy female protagonist lives in some ridiculously romantic setting running a book store… isn’t it sublime? Until she recognizes her life still isn’t complete because she’s single. Sadly, I can’t even aspire to being a bookstore manager in Pakistan, because my education dooms me to far loftier aspirations, but I wish I could move away and live in a rinky-dink town someday running a bookstore. Not one of those Barnes & Noble or Borders-like behemoths, but a tiny nook of a shop, with old musty smells and tight corners one could hide away into. With just enough customers to keep you going but not enough to keep you well.
I wish I had just enough ambition to allow me to write one book and no more. I have been told that it is only the first book that belongs to an author; everything that follows is tainted by someone else’s expectation. I now know that my book will be about the books I have read and the person they have made me. My only consistent companions in life and my only solace, the only geniuses who do not judge me and in whose company I feel secure and not stunted. Each chapter an homage to a novel shaping a person into another person, and searching for all the ‘something missings’ to fill that layer of a character.
I have my first sentences:
This is a book about… other books. Better books. This is a book that will shamelessly borrow and covert the best turns of phrases, plagiarize the most sibilant philosophies and romanticize the unromantic. This book is borrowed from all the books that have written it because She borrowed from all that she read.
They say write what you know. Well I am a reader – that is really all I know. I am hoping, once again, that it will be words that will bring me out of this mess if only I could have the courage, conviction and dedication to keep writing them. I am perversely inspired by DT Max’s eulogy for Wallace in The New Yorker, published a few years after his death: “[…]What all these residua of his life have in common is that they are testaments to Wallace’s belief in the power of words. Even when things were at their worst, as, sadly, they often were for him, David was writing; if not poems, then fiction. If not fiction, then letters. He used words to wound, words to heal, words to persuade, words to enchant. But in the end, despite their potency—never more compelling than in his hands—these symbolic representations of thought and feeling couldn’t save David: not from his mental disease or from his ambition to be more than just another remarkable writer… So today, on the anniversary of his death, on September 12, 2008, it seems right to echo the narrator of his late, brilliant suicide story, “Good Old Neon,” on a copy of which he annotated, “Ghosts talking to us all the time—but we think their voices are our own thoughts,” and end, as he did, with:“Not another word.”
Wallace once said, “The purpose of fiction is to combat loneliness” and yet it has been ages since I have read a novel. It used to be the only thing I was capable of doing. I would even dream in voiceovers because the words were always prettier than people. Come to think of it, that still hasn’t changed. And I am lonely. Comfortably lonely.
That is finally beginning to scare me.
Maria Amir is Features Editor for the magazine.