But then, that’s the big dumb myth of writing — that inspiration has anything to do with the rough mechanics of the process, which is all about pushing through the mundane distractions of everyday life and writing when you don’t feel like it, writing when you are certain that you have nothing to say, writing when the words just won’t come.
This isn’t a new sentiment, of course, but Sam expresses it simply and clearly, and in doing so compelled me to think about my own run-ins with inspiration (or a lack thereof) over the last few weeks. For the time being, I write for self-expression and for beer money. I don’t have to fight for every word to cover the essentials — food on my plate, a roof over my head, decent WiFi — and this occasionally leads me to believe, falsely, that I have the luxury of inspiration: I can wait until something special comes to me because it’s just a hobby, a passion kept on the side.
But I know it’s not that simple, and it only takes a while before I’m staring at my screen, trying to make the words fit together. It’s like a mental valve has been struck with a hammer, and no matter how many times I turn it towards its initial position I can’t stop the incessant drip-drip-drip, can’t cut off a stream that’s demanding attention, or at least a bucket. Writing is an integral part of my process of reflection and self-improvement, and when I give up for a few days or weeks I can feel the liquid start to back up and trip high-level alarms.
I find joy in other activities and it’s not enough. I spent a few hours tonight figuring out a dispersion model in Excel for my air pollution class, a quick program that would take in a bunch of parameters — wind speed, cloudiness, stack height, the rate at which a chemical is being emitted, etc. — and spit out the distance at which the air would be most concentrated with that chemical. I wrote out long lines of equations and shifted terms around and added exponents and looked up figures in a textbook and typed it into a computer, and I couldn’t get it to work. I redid the question with an entirely new set of assumptions, ran back the writing and the shifting and the adding and the researching and the typing, and it still didn’t work. It turned out, of course, that I had made a simple error at the beginning of the question — an errant button push on a calculator, basically — that rendered the whole thing impossible. I went back and fixed it and everything clicked into place in an instant: the numbers were right, they were expected, everything in the world made sense for a few perfect seconds. Solving a puzzle like that, even a simple one, is a window into nirvana. The pleasure I find in that little burst of light and the corresponding afterglow keeps me going when I think math and science are stupid and I regret every decision that led me to become an engineering student. They are fleeting, beautiful moments, but there aren’t enough of them. I can still feel it in the back: drip-drip-drip.
The valve in my brain is broken, and writing is the only way I can drain the bucket. I certainly can’t talk about it: just now, my boyfriend came up behind me and asked me what I was writing about, and I couldn’t find the right words to tell him. I gave up, saying, “This is just for me.” I’m dependent on this sacred, silent scrap, and that’s why I always come back and realize the truth in what Sam wrote above. I don’t have to write when the words won’t come to pay my rent; I have to write when the words won’t come so I can keep from drowning.
Dallas Buyers Club
- There were probably some people in that theatre who had only thought about AIDS once or twice in their life, or who have never had a meaningful interaction with a gay person, or who had to suppress a benign chuckle when Rayon first tries to chat up Ron Woodroof in the hospital, and they sat there for two hours and were encouraged to reflect on the weight of gay people’s lives and their struggles and a plague that killed many of them. I don’t want to ignore that good, so let’s put it out there.
- But: we all know this movie could not have been made without the attachment of Matthew McConaughey or someone with equal pull, and it definitely couldn’t have been made without a straight lead character, and it probably couldn’t have been made with an ending that included a room full of mostly gay people applauding Ron Woodroof as he walks in. It’s a tough set of facts to escape. It’s tough, being reminded that your story will only get told if you can fit it into the right box, and even then you might just end up an accessory. (I make this note while trying to remain conscious of the fact that my own story is several orders of magnitude more prominent than others.)
- There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Woodroof is talking to Dr. Saks in the house that’s hosting the operations of the buyers’ club. He’s thinking about the life he could’ve had compared to the one he actually has: the wife that won’t be there, the kids that’ll never happen, the years of health. This is all fine and good; everyone deserves those thoughts. The issue is that Woodroof is the only one who is given a platform to express them. Rayon suffers the same loss; for that matter, so do every single person who’s shown lining up outside the house or the motel for their own piece of the action, their own cocktail supply. But we don’t get to hear those stories, and we should. They’re the ones I really want to hear.
- And about Rayon: Jared Leto is very good, minus a few affectations that cross the line from fleshing out into caricature. But I find myself having trouble forgetting his Golden Globes acceptance speech, where he ended his remarks by saying something along the lines of, “And to all the Rayons out there: thanks for the inspiration.” It’s like, don’t you get it even a little bit? People like Rayon, real people, don’t exist simply to serve as bits to be researched, as fodder for your acting career. I’m sure his camp has heard criticism in this vein loud and clear, and I’m curious to hear what he’ll say if he wins the Oscar (and I expect he will). But his first set of remarks are representative of an obvious larger problem.
- I was tested for STIs for the first time about a year and a half ago. I had been going out with my boyfriend for roughly a month. We went to the public health office together. There is a quick test for HIV positivity that can be completed with your blood right in front of your eyes, at about 98% accuracy. The nurse took my blood and prepared to conduct the test. I felt myself get very flushed and light-headed; my heart was racing, just sitting there. She asked me, “Are you feeling alright? Are you worried that it might be positive?” And I told her I wasn’t, because I didn’t really have a reason to be nervous: I had never had unprotected sex, I had never used intravenous drugs, I was completely clear of every cause I knew off the top of my head. And yet there it was, the flush and the light-headedness and the waves of fear. It was like the fear of millions of men before me who might not have been so sure, men who were suffering, who would have to face the consequences or had already faced them. I was fine, but the fear lingers. It hung there in the movie theatre every time they said AIDS, every time I looked at Woodroof’s emaciated face. So I can look at this movie with as much objectivity as I can muster and point out some of its problems, and I can acknowledge the fact that my risk is thousands of times lower than it would’ve been 20 years ago or than it would be if I lived in a different part of the world, but I can’t deny that it affected me at least a little bit.
- Despite all of the above, as a movie it was really very good: good performance, nicely shot, good script even if it was a little loose.
- Shout out to Bradford Cox, who didn’t have to do very much but certainly did this Deerhunter fan proud.
I hope you’re all having a nice weekend. I’d like to check in re: my life and music I’ve been enjoying soon, just had to get this out now while it’s pretty fresh. See you soon.