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Sod the Requiem

Trigger Warning: the following discusses the counterproductive, unsustainable, and altogether really stupid promotion of metaphorical and not-so-metaphorical suicide.


Ever seen this quote?


Writing is easy; you just open a vein and bleed.


Substantial debate exists on who actually coined this phrase (Hemingway? Nietzsche?) but that’s not what interests me here. I’m looking at the phrase itself. I have several problems with this statement. For one thing, I’ve had to fight, quite literally, for my life. I’ll spare you (for now, at least) a lengthy account of The Things That Are Hard To Write About. The short version is I have not come all this way just to commit suicide, literally or metaphorically, for any reason. For another thing, I object to the belief that creativity requires deadly sacrifice in the first place. Emphasis there is on the word “deadly.” I’m adding a tag to the blog that reads “Writing isn’t crazy,” because I suspect I’ll return to this idea. Yes, I’m actually saying that writing, any form of creativity, can be part of a functional existence, a healthy breakfast, a sane world view, a life well lived. Yeah, I know I’m no fun.  


I’ve been working on my will lately. Not just my will, but also “end of life” (yeesh) medical instructions and Power of Attorney and all that jazz. Gentle Reader, it’s wearing me out. There are sections in the documents involved that read “WHEN I AM TERMINALLY ILL” and “WHEN MY DEATH IS IMMINENT.” It’s legal stuff so it’s in ALL CAPS SO YOU REALLY HAVE TO READ IT. The only way I’ve making it through is by watching the opening song from the musical version of Beetlejuice at least twice a day.

Like any bully, this whole process has been punching me repeatedly in all sorts of places that are already well-punched. All those unrequited loves/dreams/plans? Yeah, they’re all in there. All those embarrassing details. Not only do I have to reveal them to people, a lot of them are getting codified in writing. Writing. There’s that word again. When not humming about “the whole being dead thing,” I’ve been musing back to that incredible scene in Milos Forman’s Amadeus where Mozart and Salieri are creating something beautiful, but they might as well be sucking it directly out of Mozart’s veins. I’m with Constanza, Mozart’s wife. Wolfie never should have been working on that damn Requiem in the first place. But, it’s beautiful! some of you object. You know what else is beautiful? All the other stuff Mozart could have written if he’d laid off the drugs and booze and all other things addictis, eaten a vegetable once in a while, and learned to take health-promoting breaks instead of destructive ones. I’d much rather we all, including Mozart himself, get to enjoy all the wonderful things he would have come up with instead of that damn Requiem.


Mozart would have loved Beetlejuice.

Most of the time, writing is like tending a garden or cooking a meal for company; under the best of circumstances, you not only provide sustenance for others but are able also to enjoy it yourself. And, gardening, cooking, harvesting, chowing down all provide their own special joys. Writing, much of the time, can be a joy all the way through if we let it, and much more a gift than any sort of sacrifice.


Wait a second, you ask. Didn’t you in your last blog post say that sometimes stuff that isn’t fun or pretty or safe still needs to be expressed?


Yeah, I did.


But, even when the work is not joyful, it doesn’t have to destroy us. We can write Hard Things without drugs, without exhaustion, without despair. There is a way to write Hard Things without getting hemoglobin all over your keyboard. We need a better metaphor.


Instead of self-destruction, how about generosity? Instead of the creative process tearing out parts of ourselves, how about we give them away, carefully, sustainably, in ways that we can recover from. Instead of bleeding all over the keyboard, why not make a donation? Why not deposit a pint into life’s blood bank?


If you’ve ever given blood, you know that the best part of the process is at the end. You’re reclining there on the ergonomically designed chair thing. You’ve given your pint and now are holding your arm up in the air. You’re putting a little bit of pressure on the cheerfully colored bandage the phlebotomist just put on your arm after pulling the needle from your vein. Then, the magic happens. A bunch of medical folk in white coats and their volunteer helpers all tell you to “Take it easy for the rest of the day and be sure to eat a good meal when you get home.” Then, they give you free doughnuts. Altogether one of life’s most easily followed set of medical instructions.

So, when we’re writing Hard Things, how about taking it easy afterward, having a good meal, maybe a treat. How about we take a break that restores the life force we’ve just given away in the writing. I’ll let you in on a secret: there is an unlimited supply of life force. The trick is taking it inside. This means, of course, that we won’t be able to use writing, even the writing of Hard Things, as an excuse for indulging addictions or flaking out on responsibilities or generally letting the rest of life go to hell. That’s the good news.


Anybody can open a vein and bleed. It takes humility, self-respect, discipline (and perhaps some help from a good literal or metaphorical phlebotomist) to bleed in a way that, rather than destroying life, fosters and sustains it. Don’t forget to put a little pressure on your bandage. And, grab a doughnut on your way out.


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