(Since we had no extra essay left this month for the 31st, I split the extra day with Mr. Steinberg – We’ll resume our normal schedule on the 1st.)
By David Niall Wilson
Life is full of situations that make us consider and reconsider the decisions we’ve made. What if I’d gone to college straight out of high school? What if I’d gone to the Naval Academy instead of boot camp? What if I’d settled into writing in the eighties instead of talking about it on through until the nineties and had not missed that big horror boom? These are decisions and behaviors I can look back on and say I could have done things differently. We all have points like that in our lives…you can’t avoid them. Most of us who write incorporate them into the lives of our characters and the plots of our towns and worlds so we can work back through them, examine them, dissect and improve on them.
But that’s not what this essay is about. The fact is that not every turn on the road from here to there has a choice associated with it. Not a real choice. Lately I’ve given this some serious thought. In June I lost a job that was supporting my family pretty well. I was not happy with the job, but it paid the bills…there was no future in it, but it was something I’d come to depend on. Then I lost it. I lost it for a number of abstract and concrete reasons, but at the root of it all I lost it because it just wasn’t a viable choice. Not for me.
You can’t make yourself do something you are miserable doing forever. You can try, but in some way it will all break down – either YOU will crumble and become a shell of what you were, or the situation will break down and spit you out. There really isn’t a good, happy medium in a situation like that. People have integral needs, desires, goals and emotional anchors. These things can’t be ignored forever. They can be glossed over, pushed aside, nailed into coffins (they almost always rot or crumble, these coffins, but if not that’s where you’ll end your days) but they will not go away.
What I’m getting at is the intangibles that make life worth living. I have some beliefs that I know don’t work for everyone in the universe. What I don’t know is how any OTHER outlook could allow someone to survive. For instance, I was in a bad marriage a few years back. I had withdrawn into a junk-cluttered room by myself, had withdrawn into the Internet to live, drank myself silly and very nearly lost my career as a writer in the jumble. My friends wouldn’t visit because they hated the situation…my kids walked on eggshells not to send their mother off on a tirade…in other words…it wasn’t good. My philosophy on situations like that is that you leave. Others have told me in varying degrees, you work it out, you get counseling, you compromise, and I am here to tell you that these are stopgaps on the drain-flush highway – you are headed to the door and you are better off stepping through it on your own power. You get yourself into a situation you CAN live with and you get through. You clean up your act and you move on. Hopefully in the process you become someone that is of use to those around you once again. That’s what I did (I was fortunate enough to gain the support of the woman I love along the way, but with or without that I had to get out, or die – internally first, and probably physically much sooner than I believe is now likely).
I believe you do what you have to do to keep yourself sane. Writing is like that for me. I could turn off my computer, go to work and focus on contracts and computers and bringing home the paycheck every week – spend the rest of my hours working on the house and barbecuing steaks on the grill. I could have hobbies, take on a second job, learn to paint – start the band I never quite started – all of that seems logical. Logic, of course, has nothing to do with it. I could do any and all of those things, but while I did them I’d be thinking about writing. I’d be plotting and sub-plotting, wondering what might happen if I started putting words in front of one another again and worried about what will happen if I stop. The situation would break down and spit me out – or I would crumble and become something else – someone else – someone less than I am without the potential I feel whirling inside me every day of my life…
I don’t know if writing is a gift. If it is a gift, I don’t know that my own slice of that pie is large enough to be considered particularly special. All indications are that I’m going to make a very small ripple in the world of literature, but the voices in my head tell me otherwise, and I’ve come to trust them implicitly with my sanity. They may be full of crap, but they keep me going. It doesn’t really matter, in the end. Writing is an essential part of me…something I can’t deny, and would not survive well without. When a couple lives together for most of their lives, and one of them passes on…it’s a statistical fact that the other usually follows very close behind. When military men who have spent a lifetime at war are turned back into the civilian world, their life expectancy is short.
I’m fortunate that writing is not like a military career. Even if no one ever pays me for it I can keep writing. Even if I become one of those crotchety old guys who tell all the young folks what it was like in the day and go on and on about my sad, past successes without selling anything new, I can write. I can keep putting the words in order because I see how they should fit. I can do it whether it matters to anyone else or not…
But writing is like a love affair, and if the writing was to die? If I had to just live like someone who has no ability, or desire, to create? Well, I’d follow pretty close on the tail of the words…as they petered out and died, that would mirror in my life until there was no life left to mirror it in…and I would fade like old ink on low grade, acidic paper.
The answer to the riddle then — what does the title have to do with this essay? Simply this.
Why do I write the words, the stories, the novels, and the dreams?
Because they’re there, of course…because they’re there…