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Because They’re There, of Course…

July 31st, 2006

(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 I had withdrawn into a junk-cluttered room by myself, had withdrawn into the Internet to live, drank myself silly and very nearly lost my career as a writer in the jumble.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…

DNW

  1. Rick Steinberg
    July 31st, 2006 at 19:53 | #1

    “Because they’re there.”

    Amen.

    Dave is a writer. He cannot NOT write. How well I understand that, although I wish I could do it better than I do.

    Choices, alternate paths?

    At the last height of my career as a writer I was walking down Fifth Ave in New York with my friend who became my manager – was my agent at the time – and told him how much I regretted not having started writing seriously ten or even fifteen years earlier.

    He looked at me and simply: “You weren’t ready to.”

    More profound words I have never heard.

    As with Dave, writing has saved me, writing drives me; I am not a person who writes . . . I am a writer.

    And inordinately proud to share that trait with Dave Wilson.

  2. David Niall Wilson
    July 31st, 2006 at 22:04 | #2

    See…and I could have made the choice not to get involved in this place – and would never have met Rick Steinberg, or Frank Wydra, or Stan Ridgely…

    Sully and I, and Janet and I, and Joe and Mark and Beth and I have slung so many words back and forth the characters may be dancing across them like bridges…

    But here words meet…It’s a good place to be…

    DNW

  3. Sully
    August 1st, 2006 at 00:22 | #3

    You always cut me slack when I rib you about being the poster child for hypergraphia, Davey, but now you’ve described the general pandemic among writers. ‘Tis true. Driven to write. Coming home to me mucho strongly on account of my wrists are severely limiting me at the moment… Thanks, amigo.

    – Sully (Thomas Sullivan)

  4. Frank Wydra
    August 1st, 2006 at 06:41 | #4

    “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.”

    If there is an answer to the title riddle, it is this. The size of the ripple, as the butterfly wing in the orient, do not matter. They both have an effect. More importantly, there are those voices. We all have them. They mock us, cajole us, prod us, laugh at–and sometimes with–us, but it is those voices that drive us.

    Thanks for baring some soul and bringing a flame into the dark.

    Frank

  5. James Goodman
    August 1st, 2006 at 13:30 | #5

    Fantastic post, Dave. It really hits home. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Christian
    August 1st, 2006 at 16:17 | #6

    This post really cut to the bone for me, too. For most of my life I’ve been putting to the page the strange, dark visions which obsess me, with little hope for material reward. Why do I do it? Is it a compulsion, an addiction, a mania? “Because they’re there” is as good an answer as any. Another possibility: love. If we didn’t love these bastard children of our consciousness, if these misbegotten brats did not bring us some kind of warped joy, then we wouldn’t bother with them. We’d go to our soul-deadening jobs, take our whore’s paychecks and pretend that buying things makes us happy; just like those lucky SOB’s who don’t have to write.

  7. Elizabeth Massie
    August 1st, 2006 at 18:30 | #7

    Dave said: “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.”

    Beth said, “Damn, but I so completely understand this!!!”

    Thanks. Great blog.

    Beth

  8. David Niall Wilson
    August 1st, 2006 at 19:02 | #8

    See…you guys GET it.

    DNW

  9. Janet Berliner
    August 1st, 2006 at 19:11 | #9

    Great blog. If I thought for one moment that I had another life a’coming, I’d want to be tall, thin, blonde, rich, and stupid. Wheeeee. J.

  10. Mark Rainey
    August 2nd, 2006 at 12:50 | #10

    The idea of not being able to write, for whatever reason, bothers me — scares me, I think — more than just about anything. I’ve all but given up on most everything else I did in my time away from the job — guitar, artwork, collecting Stuff. Over the years, I’ve become so focused on writing that I don’t know that I could go back to spreading myself around the way I used to. Don’t want to. Don’t think I know how to…

    –M

  11. John B. Rosenman
    August 3rd, 2006 at 21:42 | #11

    Yeah, a damn good post, Dave. One truth I glean from it is that there is no one option in life that fits everybody, that is right for everybody. For some people, it’s possible that staying in an empty or worn-out marriage would be the better course, but not for you. Hope you don’t mind this, but you said once to me (I paraphrase), “What’s the point in staying in a marriage without passion?” You’ve got to do what’s right for YOU.

    What you say about writing looms larger for me. I love it, I hate it, it’s my blessing and it’s my curse. And sometimes it’s a curse because I worry about how large the ripple’s going to be. Well, market your stuff, network and schmooze, but ultimately, the ripple, it’s size and depth, should not matter too much.

    There was a movie . . . perhaps somebody here can help me out on this. Think it was a Clint Eastwood movie about prison. An inmate who’s a painter is mistreated, given a lot of shit. And he picks up a knife or small axe and cuts off the fingers of his right hand, thereby ending his creative life as a painter.

    That’s what not writing would be like to me.

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