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.

The Great Risk of Truly Being

The Great Risk of Truly Being

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my Buddhist spiritual path and also I’ve been rereading Children of Dune by Frank Herbert. This is because the Dune movie comes out in October 2021 and I wanted to be reminded of why I love that universe. This quote in particular stuck with me today in thinking about my own spiritual path and the way I live my life.

“You, Priest in your mufti, you are a chaplain to the self-satisfied. I come not to challenge Muad’Dib but to challenge you! Is your religion real when it costs you nothing and carries no risk? Is your religion real when you fatten upon it? Is your religion real when you commit atrocities in its name? Whence comes your downward degeneration from the original revelation? Answer me, Priest!” – Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert: 9780593201749 | PenguinRandomHouse.com:  Books

Now understand, if you haven’t read the Dune series, it is fundamentally about the nature and dangers of power and of messiahs/heroes. Paul Atreides, the main character in the first book, knows because of his ability to see the future, that a holy war will be waged in his name and there is little he can do about it. The book, and the series as a whole, asks us to consider what we believe, who we have mythologized, and what that says about humanity, power, love, compassion and asks what it means to be human. There is a reason that the book is considered a masterpiece by both the literary community and many sci-fi lovers. Dune is also the best-selling Sci-fi Novel of all time. Even if it’s not for you (because every great work has people who don’t like or understand it and there is nothing wrong with that), it has lots of powerful things to say about the way humans do things.

Stop right now, and think about your life path. Is your path about self-satisfaction? It is about serving your interests? Is it about the arrogance of being right above all others? Or, is your way of knowing the world about self-reflection? Is there a space for growth and change, the transformation into the best version of yourself? Are you taking the risk to truly be or are you buried in a series of identity markers and worried about defining who you are to everyone you meet? Do you focus on comparison? We all fall into these traps, I know I do sometimes and have to catch myself.

So many religious and non-religious people seek a philosophy not out of transformation and growth, but for comfort and safety. They like things that make their life feel cozy and warm. And while the benefits of community (notice the word unity at the end of the word) are important and worthwhile, I want you to sincerely ask yourself, what have you done to grow lately? Have you acknowledged the ways in which you are wrong or at least entertained the idea that you might be wrong? It can be powerful to look at your ideas and consider that you might be wrong about everything (even if you end up being correct) once in a while. Are you doing the work to be a better version of yourself or are you feeding the beast of arrogance and certainty?

You might be thinking, well isn’t a better version of myself a self-serving principle? It is not. Why? Because a better version of yourself will have better daily interactions. It will be less angry, less selfish/greedy. A better version of yourself will listen with patience to others rather than jumping to conclusions and is much more likely to help those in need. A better version will not only suffer less, but cause others to suffer less. A better version of yourself means that your part of the world, and potentially the whole world, is a little better. It might not add up to much, but imagine if everyone was doing this kind of work on at least a semi-regular basis.

So if your religion or ideology or philosophy (secular or non) is about what you can gain personally from others no matter the cost, then you might need to stop and reflect. What do you serve? Some of you might simply say God or Country, but if your service is exclusive only to those who believe what you do, or conditional on whether or not they will act and behave in the way you want them to, then you only serve an idol of the self and arrogance.

Another quote to consider from verse 8 of the Tao Te Ching:

“The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.”

If you are Christian, you can see a similar attitude in The Sermon on the Mount and a number of other places in the bible. If you’re Muslim, there are words like this in the Koran, or the Hindu Vedas, in many Buddhist Sutras, and so on. The teachings of many religious philosophies overlap in the idea of personal growth is vital, and yet, somehow the worship of the myth structure becomes far more important than the actual practice of working toward being a better person. We often view these ideas as a panacea for the poisons of living in a difficult world and forget that nothing comes without work.

Instead, we see so many religions (and secular ideologies) restrict people’s actions out of a false sense of morality or limited black and white thinking. But the world is full of shades of grey. Even really good people do terrible things. Really bad people sometimes show amazing acts of kindness and compassion. It is so easy to pin a group of people or a culture to a certain standard or ideology, rather than accepting the fact, that no matter where you go, people are just people and all are equally complex.

So ask yourself sincerely, what purpose does your religion or ideology serve? Is it about the betterment of yourself and humanity? If not, it’s just another object to be possessed, a kind of materialism, a limit to the way you think and approach the world. If your heart is closed because of what you subscribe to, then you very likely have missed the entire point.

The work is not comfortable. The work is not easy. The work isn’t about serving the self. The work is risky and sometimes dangerous to your identity. If you have summed up your identity in a few key terms (be it a religious identity, a political affiliation, a gender, a mental state, really anything), then you have forgotten that we are an ever-changing, ever-moving entity. You are not the same person you were when you started reading this short essay, even if you reject all of my ideas.

Personal growth, in my view, is the most important thing we can do. After all, using this life, this precious moment (no matter if you believe in one life or countless lives) seems to me, to be the reason why humans are on this planet. Let your spirituality or philosophy open you up to the wonders of the universe. After all, there is endless beauty and joy to be discovered both out there, and within. You need only take off the veils or masks that we all wear and look honestly.