After dinner last night, I said to Sasha: Maybe this is going to sound strange, but it’s the days when I’m most productive that I feel the most pointless.
And she looked at me like I’d lost my mind and got up to do the dishes, but not before saying, It doesn’t do you any good to think that way.
I wanted her to be right. I wanted to concede to her point.
Being the argumentative over-thinker that I am, I didn’t. Instead I rambled on for a few minutes before coming to this idea: Confronting this emotion – this completely irrational feeling of pointlessness in the face of productivity – is absolutely essential to being a writer. Every day, I get up and write things down, and every day I battle that thought: Why am I doing this? And everyday I don’t have an answer, except to write more. And no matter how much I write, it will probably never feel like enough. As a writer, this will go on forever.
To which Sasha said, Ah, the void. You’re writing into the void. Very existential, babe.
Just call me Sartre.
I like the idea of the void better than the other image I so often conjure for myself, which is a brick wall that I repeatedly bash up against.
. . .
Brevity Magazine recently posted some advice for post-MFA despair. I’m sure post-MFA is an SEO keyword or something, because you don’t need an MFA for despair. Despair is a human condition. Especially if you’re a writer. Nevertheless, it’s always good to read other writers’ advice on coping with that eternal question: What’s the point?
I wonder though, if coping is the right word. I wonder if What’s the point? needs to be embraced, needs to be championed.
What, after all, is the point? Of anything at all. I’m no nihilist, but seriously, when you think about it – what do we really do anything for? Most of what we deem necessary in our lives is societal conditioning. We ascribe meaning to apparently meaningless things. (I am in no way exempt from this: I see a hawk perched on a highway sign and immediately my brain says something like, Oh, the universe is telling me to have some perspective.) We think refrigerators and antibacterial soap are necessary. We wear shoes and bras and other ridiculous things because of cultural expectation. Lots of us park ourselves in front of a pixilated screen on a regular basis and willingly watch commercials for carbonated sugar water and foods made of little more than high fructose corn syrup.
I don’t have to look super-far to find plenty of perfectly “normal” activities that make me go: What’s the point?!?
. . .
Writing doesn’t always seem normal. It feels like a pathological condition most days.
That sharp edge of one’s own limitations, that looming specter of pointlessness, will always, always exist.
Despair, like doubt, can kill you if you give it too much power. But without it, there is no chance for growth.
Strange as it may sound, the void is kind of a cool thing. It’s big and endless, which means it has space for you and your writing to be big and endless.
Call me an optimist. I am. A cynic, absolutely. But an optimist too.
So instead of turning away from the void, why not stare right into it? Why not make peace with it? Why not say, Alright void, you asked for it, and give it everything you’ve got.