This Paralysis

24 09 2013

In his Letters to a Young Contrarian Christopher Hitchens urges his young reader to, like Oscar Wilde, Rosa Parks, or Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, act as if “moral hypocrisy was not regnant.” Hitchens with that sort of elegant brevity that can say so much, encapsulates it this way: “They all, by behaving literally, acted ironically.” This has always been the unarticulated compulsion that made me write–essays, stories, novels, tweets, whatever. That idea, not just in a crass political sense embodied by Hitch’s proffered e.g.’s, but in a broader way. Writing for me has been a means of trying to describe the world as you see it, as the way you think it really is, as they way you want others to see it. It’s something you can do as much with a children’s story as your fifth essay about federal labor law. Behave literally–say what you mean, say what you’re really feeling and thinking, even when you know it’s embarrassing, or offensive, or, worse, optimistic. That’s behaving literally. Saying things to the world that try to undermine how the world appears to be in recognition of its reality, is acting ironically. It’s something you can do whether talking about race relations or liking girls. It’s how you can make people laugh, think, react in any way. Writing is painful and hard and the best.

Over the last year, there’s been a creeping writer’s block coming over me. When I was in the thick of 3L year, it made sense, or at least there was a proper excuse. I was writing briefs and dry academic articles that required a lot of citation checking and reading statutes and case law. That stuff can be a mood killer. Like the time I was making out with a nice young lady with my mp3 player on random, and a techno remix of the Super Mario Brothers theme came on right as things were getting interesting. Case law is the Super Mario Brothers techno remix to writing’s sex act, I guess.

That’s been over the last six months or so, and I can’t write. It’s something I can’t stand to admit, but when I sit down and start to write something, I get put off my feed–scared, it’s better to say. It’s a lack of confidence. It’s all well and good to be a generalist contrarian, but you can’t go halfway. The minute your confidence gets shook, and you start wondering if maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s it. In his autobiography, Vladimir Nabokov drew a revealing convincing picture of the writer’s life: if the writer were a sculptor, his home would be filled with unfinished torsos and busts as far as the chin. We don’t write on paper anymore, so while it cheapens the image, the content management system of this blog and my documents folder are replete with feet on columns and nothing else.

It’s writer’s block, creative paralysis, and it’s the worst. What makes it more needling is, it’s not for lack of ideas, but fear of sharing them, not wanting to offend or stir controversy or fear looking foolish–all impulses that typically result in the most bland and shamefully anodyne writing. I don’t know what caused this paralysis-by-apprehension in the first instance, but it’s here nevertheless and I’m not quite sure how to shake it. Past needling what makes it embarrassing is that it’s ultimately rooted in a narcissism that underlies the assumption that anybody really cares enough to even have a reaction.

Wanting to say what you see and feel of the world is an urge you hate to suppress after you’ve learned to slake it. Writing has to be hard because it offers so much. That’s also what makes you miss it so much when it’s just out of your grasp. Here’s to trying to get back at it.


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