Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Writing: Output ≥ Input

Tonstant Weader writes:

Hey, Horvendile?  WTF, dude?  You’re blogging
like an EmEff and then suddenly nothing.
Break your fingers at the day job?
(Hah! I wish! If I did that, I might actually get to live off an insurance check for the rest of my life.)

Actually, TW? It’s not that I’ve stopped writing, as those of you who have been getting rewrites (and rewrites) (and rewrites) of Countrie Matters in your in-boxes can attest to. No, it’s that I’ve been doing so much of a certain kind of writing that there isn’t enough gas left in the tank to take any side trips. It’s destination ho. And by the time I get there, I’m usually driving on fumes. Why? Because Output is always greater than or equal to Input.

If I can quote one of my favorite exchanges written by George Bernard Shaw (it’s from Heartbreak House):

Ellie: A soul is a very expensive thing to keep: much more so than a motor car.

Captain Shotover: Really? How much does your soul eat?

Ellie: Oh, a lot. It eats music and pictures and books and mountains and lakes and beautiful things to wear and nice people to be with. In this country you can't have them without lots of money: that is why our souls are so horribly starved.

Every piece of soul food Ellie describes is what I think of as input. Reading books, seeing movies, having conversations with other people instead of the voice in my head –- anything that gets me out of myself and turns my attention to something different –- is like a combination of filling up the gas tank, exercising a flabby muscle, and recharging a battery. Only when I’m full, fit and energized do I have enough inside me to put the foot to the creative pedal and make tire tracks on an empty piece of paper (or a blank word processing screen). Which does not happen when I’m starving, flabby and drained (the 8th, 9th and 10th dwarfs).

And sometimes I need a particular kind of input, just like sometimes my body craves protein instead of junk food. Which, sadly, describes a lot of what’s out there creatively these days. I haven’t seen a movie in a theatre in over three weeks (which is like a starvation diet), I haven’t been able to read more than 20 or 30 pages of any book I pick up (my brain can literally feel the words sliding away against its grasp, like melted M&M’s), and when I’m socializing I’m nodding and saying “Uh huh, uh huh” a lot, rather than actually contributing.

This is what I call a funk, or The Blahs, or The Machine’s Revenge, or Dain Bread (which is Spoonerism for Brain Dead). It usually happens when I’ve pushed my body past its limits and dipped into so much saved-up energy to pay for all the creative output that I’m draining everything and living off the credit card. Which means three things: I need to (a) stop spending, (b) start saving, and (c) take a lot of Zantac, ‘cause I’m probably going to wind up getting sick. Which (cough) (sniffle) (sneeze) happened yesterday, like kucking flockwork. (There's that Spoonerism again. God, what a come ducking funt I am.)

Isn’t it nice to know how your body works? When it breaks down, you always know exactly what you did wrong. Not like you can ever prevent yourself from doing that wrong thing in the first place. Or at least I can’t.

Which brings us to the real question behind all this: if you know what you do to yourself, and what it does to you, then why do you keep doing it? Is it the way you’re wired? Or the way you re-wired yourself to patch over the crappy power cord you inherited from your parents?

Or, uhm, both?

Food for thought: next time.


bernie shanahan said...

wow, i was so with you on all this til you did the old "hmmm...let me blame someone else...oh, i parents! it's my genes, that's what it is!" as the old saying goes, "'tis a poor craftsman who blames his tools". or the less old one, "it can't possibly be MY fault, can it?" from enlightened, to lights-out...

Radical RN said...

I believe that if you aren't blaming your parents you don't understand how the world works.