Writing is living

Writing is Living

It’s been two years now since I released the last book in my sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Great Migration. And though I am coming close to finishing the book now… today, I had a conversation with a stranger that, despite the fact it had nothing to do with what I am working on in the novel, it inspired me to consider one of my characters in a new light.

Because… Writing is living.

We live in a world where indie authors tout rapid release. We are pushed to write quickly and publish quickly. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce. Produce.

For those of you who don’t know there are even algorithms in place that, if we don’t publish quickly, our work stops being as visible on places like Amazon. We writers find ourselves on the factory floor, the assembly line in this algorithmic revolution.

But… Writing is living.

There’s a lot of pressure to write quickly. And, I am, honestly, a starving artist in the traditional sense. I hold multiple jobs to try and maintain my life. I want to write faster. I want to publish more often, but life has a way of intruding on art and art, in turn, life.

Because… Writing is living

I’m not here to argue that writing and publishing quickly is wrong.

I don’t think it is.

There have always been writers who can write and publish very quickly. The Romance Genre has always been that way, and a lot of the pulp novels throughout time are that way as well.

I am far from perfect with my writing habit. I wish I was writing every day. But mostly I write a few times a week and on weeks when money is tight, and I need to drive Doordash for 20 or 30 hours on top of teaching and parenting… writing falls away completely. It seems to slide into the shadows away from my vision and passes from memory.

Almost none of my income comes from writing currently, so I must prioritize.

But… Writing is living?

So, I put a lot of pressure on myself to write this series quickly. I tell myself… you want your dream of being a full-time writer don’t you?

Because… Writing is living.

When I don’t write, I feel guilt.

When I don’t write, I feel shame.

When I don’t write, I feel like I am not being true to myself.

When I don’t write I am miserable.

But then, it’s far more miserable when you can’t keep the power on, or food in your fridge, or you can’t go to the doctor when you are sick. Or you struggle to buy your kids a birthday present because you may have to skip meals. And you hate that there aren’t more hours in the day. If only there was more time…

Because… Writing is living.  

And then, there are moments like today. When I realize that my book will be better because it’s been a long road. That the time between sentences is only as long as it takes to start typing again, even as the setting sun marks the passing of another day.

Because… Writing is living.

When, a conversation, an experience, a thought, triggers this revelation about your characters or your world or your own perception of what is… and you think to yourself, gods, if I had been more consistent with my writing, I may have never had this revelation and my story would have been poorer for it.

Because… Writing is living.

There are plenty of things I can write fast. I wrote what became the first novel of the series, Mimi of the Nowhere in 10 days. But at that time, I was only working one job and, I had only thought it was going to be a short story and it just all hit me at once. Mimi possessed me. She took hold of me for those ten days and I could not stop thinking of her. Two of those nights I didn’t sleep. It was like love.

Because… Writing is living.

Upon Stilted cities, which was originally the first book and was so long, it was split because of length, took me the better part of two years of effort to finish. But the first pages were originally started when I was in graduate school over a decade ago. And then it sat, for 6 years, waiting to be remembered. Then, one day, it called out my name, and demanded my attention. And so, I sat again, pouring on to the page.

Because… Writing is living.

What does all this mean? It’s a good question. Part of me is writing this is to understand the question. At the moment of writing this, I don’t even know if I will ever publish this essay or not. Sometimes I write to discover something about myself or to understand my thoughts. Sometimes I just open a document and begin typing, with no idea what will come. If you’re reading this… that’s what you are reading.

Because… Writing is living.

I have a relationship with my keyboard, where my fingers come to life and I stop thinking and just let words flow, in the same way, a faucet doesn’t think about the water that spills from the nozzle, it just does what it does when the path is open.

Because… Writing is living.

I think maybe I want to say, don’t judge your pace or your speed of writing or sculpting or painting. I think maybe want I want to say is that all that pressure you put on yourself is unnecessary.

That Writing is living.

They aren’t separate.  

Life happens to you, and you reflect, and think about it and feel it out and then it transforms you. And with it, your art. When the caterpillar enters the chrysalis it rearranges everything before it can emerge. But all you see is the final product, we do not bear witness to transformation. We live it.

Because… Writing is living.

That doesn’t mean you don’t need a habit, a time and space dedicated to the act of creation, but if you had a hard week and you couldn’t paint, or photograph or write or compose that song, don’t hate yourself for it. Perhaps, instead, reflect on the lessons you learned about that time, about that space, about the intersection of your knowledge and experience, and draw on it. Let it flow through you so that when you do have a moment to turn on the faucet, so much flows that your cup of joy spills all over and makes such a mess, that you are forever changed. Don’t even bother to breathe… this paragraph didn’t.

Because… Writing is living.

And expectations are the death of joy.

I know so many authors, myself included, want that big break, those huge sale numbers, that perfect agent who will sell your novels for a huge advance, or that fanbase that just can’t get enough of your work, so that your cup runneth over, with great abundance. So you can just write, just create. Just… be. And life will be perfect… won’t it?

But… Writing is living.

That’s the danger of our culture. That we, in fact, mark success by the dollars attached to it. That if you aren’t contributing to the myth of this… supposed American dream… with your everyday actions, you fail as a human. If you can’t commodify what you create, what’s it good for? You have no value without productivity. And so we measure our art, our living, on our ability to produce, to… capitalize on what we have created.

And we think that is living. This… bootstraps mythology. Have you realized yet, you can’t lift yourself by your own bootstraps? Physics doesn’t allow it.

But… Writing is living.

We forget what art, in whatever form, is for.

Writing is living.

Sculpting is living.

Painting is living.

Singing, dancing, running, loving, crying, laughing, fright, anger, pain, they are all living. Maybe nothing gets in the way of art. Maybe our only real enemy is our doubt and anxiety. But then… doubt and anxiety are living too.

We are strange creatures. We have so much potential and yet we evaluate success by the smallest of measures. Greed is so small… so impermanent. But sharing another way of knowing, an experience, a thought, an image, these are great treasures.

Writing is living.

Simple words. But the truth is, we are all just stories, flashlights illuminating dark corridors, but never able to see the bigger picture. At least not alone.

Many lights, many stories, light up the night… together.

Writing is not a lonely act. It is a profoundly social one.

Writing is living.

Writing is walking to the edge of town, beyond the limits of what you have always known, and peering beyond. It is meeting a stranger and eliminating your differences, to discover your similarities.

Writing is living.

It has a time and a place.

Trust life to write your story.

Because… Writing is living.

A Final Frontier

We are, each of us, a little universe. — Neil deGrasse Tyson

Photo by Roberto Nickson from Pexels

I have always gazed at the stars, longing with the beating of my heart for some greater connection to our cosmos. My childhood was filled with science fiction, astronomy, and glow in the dark stickers of constellations on my bedroom ceiling that I spent hours arranging. Even as an adult, I yearn to see our planet from above.

Space is potential and possibility, a garden of infinity. It is a great treasure of wonder and knowledge. The Universe is mostly space, and yet at our scale, it appears to be so crammed with life, and stuff, and objects that we can often feel claustrophobic, especially in our cities. Everywhere you go, there you are, bumping into things and people. Then, you scale up, and even the distances from here to the next nearest star system, are vast and unimaginable. And what’s in that space between the Stars?

Nothing?

No, not nothing. Potential.

In the last several years, I’ve been asking myself. Why do I desire the stars so desperately? Is it my curiosity of the unknown? Am I hungry to see with my own eyes, the grandeur shown to us by instruments like the Hubble telescope? Maybe it’s just too many hours consuming Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, the Expanse and countless other favorite sci-if films, shows, and books.

Is it that final frontier I crave? Is it an escape from the present and difficult state of humanity? Am I running away? Am I a coward?

What is it?

And then, I remember this quote from one of my favorite books, The Tao Te Ching,

“Do you want to improve the world?

I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.

It can’t be improved.

If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.

If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.”

I always pushed back against that quote, especially during my time as an activist, but what I have come to understand is that quote is about space. It is about potential and possibility, about the desperate need to turn inward and consider the space between thoughts and emotions. We run around trying to fix things in our lives for the wrong reasons. Our rush to change things, is a kind of running away, a distraction from what we really need.

Many of us run our lives ragged. This culture, this American drive for more, tells us that if we work hard, that if we grind and grind and grind, somehow we will come out on top. But it’s not true. Most people will stay in the same position they are born in and in fact, according to the research of American Economist Raj Chetty, social mobility is far more limited in this country than we think.

It is so easy to get lost in the hustle, the desire to improve our space in this place. We are gig workers chasing a way to eek out a living on top of our full time jobs. Though we may do everything right, we still fail. It feels, overwhelming and sometimes pointless. We drown in our desire, filled to the brim with a hunger that can never be satisfied.

Why can’t we just breathe and be?

Why do we chase the American dream? Why do we idolize those who have so much? Why do so many of us play the lottery and fantasize about what we would do with all that money? How do millions of people get sucked into Multi-Level Marketing schemes? Why do books like The Secret or Think and Grow Rich sell so well to those dispossessed in this capitalist system?

The answer is, that what we really crave is freedom and potential.

We feel that if we had the economic resources, the space, and time, we could become our best selves. But we don’t have to go anywhere to be our best selves. If we want to change the world, the best place to begin is within. We only become our best selves by making space in our minds and hearts, by contemplation and learning from our mistakes.

What comes from working on ourselves, from engaging in that final frontier within? If we look at history, at the great periods of science and learning, we see that diversity, contemplation, exploring our humanity, and questioning everything, lead to the illumination of the human experience. We made progress when we were allowed to play with knowledge and people who were different than us.

When I read about the International Space Station, and the cooperation between many countries that it requires, all in the name of something bigger, I feel hope for our species. Here, in space, is another place for great human questions and the power of diverse thinking. Space within, and space out there, are both necessary for humanity to grow beyond the shackles of materialism and empty promises in ad campaigns.

What I really want from this world most is the opportunity to explore beyond the bounds of greed and the lust for more. Space to me, represents everything wonderful about what it means to be human. Exploration, discovery, research and the pursuit of knowledge are, in my mind, the greatest of goals.

On our planet, and in particular in the United States, there is so little space for poetry, sculpture, theater, and other wondrous explorations of our inner lives. If it cannot easily be commodified and turn a tidy profit, it’s considered to have little importance. We see the demoralization of artists, writers, poets, and scientists. People who dedicate their lives to trying to understand the big questions, rather than the pursuit of a stock portfolio, are dismissed as idealists at best, and unproductive leaches on society at worst. We have become the dispossessed of our humanity. What happened to the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake?

Yet, what did you consume during quarantine? What treasures did you find in isolation? All were the spark of space and being, the talent of so many creators and the fruit of the research of scientists.

We, as a civilization have lost ourselves in the pursuit of the temporary high, the cult of happiness, instant gratification, gifted to us by the propaganda on endless commercial breaks and targeted algorithmic ads. Where do we have space to be human? I believe it’s out in the Stars but also within. After all, we are made of star stuff. We are a mirror to the wider universe, a fractal of knowing.

We need room for our imaginations and wonder in order to grow again. We need to value those who help us create the space for curiosity and creativity. There is so much space in the nature of our own existence, so much to the nature of our own magnificent mind. Space is everywhere.

I don’t know if sending more people into space will solve these issues, but I do know that exploration drives human ingenuity. We must however be careful of the mistakes of the past, and remember the horrors and wrongs we committed when exploring our own world, and the endless suffering that we caused to indigenous people. If we let greed be our guide again, we will continue the cycle among the stars.

I believe we can do better. We are worlds, within worlds, within worlds. Not only is our planet full of life, death, growth, and change, so too are our bodies, our minds, our hearts and even our perception. We ourselves are an epic tale of triumph and failure. I believe that we are at a turning point in our species. We can choose to continue down the path of greed and selfishness, or we can turn in, recognize the meaningless that we have created though our missteps, shift our goals, and then explore the final frontier within and without.