You’d think I’d be happy, living as I am in the age of the personal essay. After all, this is the form of writing I do best. It’s the form of writing I’ve always done best (though this next little bit is hardly a representative sample).
The novel is a form on whose shores I’ve broken the hull of several ships (including my gift for metaphor apparently). Poetry is a form whose beauty I find attractive but whose depth either eludes my grasp or in fact never had it to begin with (or perhaps lost it somewhere along the line). The short story is probably the closest of all narrative forms to my true calling which is not in fact my true calling. I like the idea of a small, self-contained nugget of fiction. That building towards a single emotion or meaning. The tightly bound prose that must also allow for the freedom of wistful glances at the landscape, a dream in 5,000 words or less.
But alas, in all of these ventures I have failed. Failed miserably too.
All is not lost though. No, not at all. In fact, all is won when a writer realizes that they cannot compete at a form they once believed to be their destiny. Lawrence Durrell once believed himself to be a poet, and in fact some of his verse is not half bad. However, like T.S. Eliot said, “it’s good but the scale, you know, is rather small.” In other words, a poet you are not Larry, old bean. Best be moving on to some other form. And so he did. He gave up poetry for the most part and set about writing novels…
A quick glance at my shelves reveals a nice slate of authors who struggled with their forms. Hemingway is certainly chief among the failures. In fact, he shot himself in the head because he got it all wrong. As any reader of Hemingway will tell you, he got it best in the short stories. The novels, except for the first one and the last, were all failures. And, those two novels that worked were more novellas and could probably find their way to the editing floor as short stories and been made even greater still.
I am partial to A Moveable Feast, but then that is far less of a novel than it is a long essay (well, actually it’s a memoir). There are certain fabrications in the text no doubt, but I think it is fair to say that it is first and foremost non-fiction. Hemingway was good at that. I’ll bet that was one of the things he struggled with his whole life (fiction vs. non-fiction).
Unlike Hemingway, I have neither the time nor the inclination to struggle this way. It is highly unproductive as well as damaging.
Just this weekend, I thought to myself that I might give up writing altogether again. Not in the way that I have in the past though, but in a more resigned mode. I felt that there was just simply no way that I could possibly continue flogging myself at the keyboard. Yet, for me, writing is like a disease. It is an obsession, too strong to be called a passion. It must be done. Even if I stopped writing, I would continue writing. I see something, a bit of landscape or the way a person stands and I have to write it down. I have to record it. If nowhere else than just in my head. It is who I am and what I do.
I made some fairly unintelligible notes in my diary today. Basically a bit of a rehash of what appears above.
I’ve tried my hand at the novel, twice now, and failed. Hundreds of poems – all rot (for one must affect a British accent when speaking of poetry). I’m too Irish for poetry, which sounds strange until you accept that the Irish are lyricists not poets. This is likely the reason for my failure as a novelist and a storyteller in general (at least in print).
In Ireland, historically speaking, the people are well known as storytellers and humorists. But as Joyce liked to note, this is an oral tradition not a written one, hence the layman’s difference between poetry (as written) and lyrics (as she is spoken).
I trace my own failures to a simple case of genetics.
Unfortunately or not, I have an unstoppable urge to write. It is not something that is easily described, except to say that quite often it pisses me off.
Ok, so there is a lot of bullshit in that bit of nonsense, but give me a break. I hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee. Besides, it isn’t as simple as I would make it seem. I’m only as Irish as I am German (which opens up a second can of worms and explains why I spend so much time analyzing myself).
Yesterday, I spent a little time writing about fear and security. The fear of an essayist is that they will write something that is personal and true and that others will read it.
This isn’t as terrifying as it seems until one considers that the personal thing that is written often involves someone else, someone who is real and who has feelings too. The personal thing might be lust or love, might be hate or anger. It might even be a simple and amusing tale where the author or the subject is the butt of a gentle joke. Either way, an essayist is bound to feel some sense of obligation, some sense of propriety, a responsibility to maintain confidence.
Of course, all of these restraints will be overruled by the unremitting desire to write it all down and tell the world (regardless of how stupid it makes me look).