I was wondering again, the other day, what made me want to be a writer. I often wonder about this. The fact that I have a memoir coming out in a few weeks (SHAMELESS PLUG WITH LINK RIGHTY HERE) might have something to do with this, or it would if I never ever ever otherwise thought about this shit. But the fact is, I think about this shit constantly. As in: WHY do I write for a living? I ask this question because writing is REALLY HARD. And IT REALLY DOESN’T PAY THAT WELL. And THERE REALLY ARE OTHER CAREERS I MIGHT HAVE PURSUED INSTEAD, although I can’t seem to come up with any at the moment. (Ummm, “Star Trek” convention planner? Thumb contortionist? Professional klutz? — “Oh, hey, did I just trip and accidentally shatter your priceless Ming vase? You’re welcome. That’ll be $79.99 plus tax, please. And yes, I take all major credit cards.”)
As a gainfully employed newspaper lass, I am reminded of this zany decision of mine to become a writer every time I fire up a computer and try to piece together a few words in the wild hope of expressing a cogent thought, which SOMETIMES ACTUALLY HAPPENS, although not as often as I’d like and not always the one I intend. A wise and worldly professor of mine, although can’t recall which one (I said wise and worldly, not memorable), once noted that a writer has to expel a whole lot of junk to produce those rarest and most beautiful nuggets of shining literary greatness. And I think this is true. I know this is true, because, as any humble scribe will tell you, those nuggets are a hard time comin’. You think coal wants to turn into diamonds? It hurts.
So when an irked Times Union reader noted, last week, that I had “farted out” a couple of grafs in a hurry, I had to laugh. A) Because he was absolutely correct. And B) Because he had just given me an awesome new way to describe what I do for a living. Yes! I fart shit out! Exactly! Thank you, Mr. Perspicacious Snark-A-Lot! This is not to be confused with figuring shit out, although I’ve been known to fart out plenty of shit in the often laborious process of figuring. But they do not always go side-by-side: one can fart out a stinking verbal nimbus that contains no redeeming and nutritious figured-out content whatsoever. The toxic vapor could kill you. I’m serious. Back away.
But I do it. Of course I do it! What choice do I have! The urge to fart out copy is deeply ingrained within me, emitting painful gases on the verge of sudden and hair-singeing cataclysmic detonation. Better out than in, my people, at least for me. Anyhow, my father was a writer (ANOTHER SHAMELESS PLUG WITH LINK RIGHTY HERE), not that this is a simple matter of genetic programming, of nature in cahoots with nurture to produce some dynastic journalistic army of clones. (Cue clacking robotic voice: I. Write. Because. My Daddy. Wrote. ZZZZeerrrrrrrrr.) It’s more a matter of need. I need to make sense of this life. I need to peer at it, shove my nose in it, sense its meaning, find some way to comprehend it and channel into something else.
Ultimately the urge to write — any urge to create — is the urge to keep moving, to push outward and upward with our minds while our hindquarters sit tight for hours or years at a stretch. Lovely paradox, that. But it’s all forward motion, this compulsive farting-out of words on a page, and it’s as much an expression of hope as any plans we make or dreams we secretly nurture.
This is why finishing a book (or a play, or a poem, or a sentence) matters less than starting it. It’s the moment of inception, and that first, optimistic waggle of the fingers, that reboots our faith in the future. You could write that book. You see yourself writing that book. Once you sit and compose the opening sentence, you are writing that book: the present indicative takes hold, and you’re on your way. It doesn’t matter which pains drag your down, which worries sag your spirit, which doubts nag and nibble at your confidence. The act of creation pitches us forward. It’s happening, baby. Fart it out. I farted out mine.