I woke up at 8:30 am today fully intending on having a very productive saturday. My plan was to clean my home and then spend the afternoon reading and writing. You see, I’m trying to create a schedule, some self-discipline — all in order to write more seriously.
I sat down to have my breakfast, a much needed coffee and went on to dust, vacuum, clean and tidy up my house. Clean house, clean mind, or so they say. I had thought of making a healthy lunch, cook some mushrooms with vegetables, but when I finally finished cleaning up I was tired and hungry, so I just ordered pizza. That should have been the first sign that the day was not going to go according to my precise plan. I ignored the warning and ate, watched a series and then cleaned everything up.
And then I did nothing the rest of the day.
It’s 6 pm and I’m writing this.
Here’s what I did between 2pm and 6pm: nothing.
Four neat hours of nothing. Four neat hours I had intended for writing, for reading, for making my notes and begin a novel or a short-story, or finish one of the multiple stories I have started and never got back to.
This is the typical story of someone who can’t write. It’s been written before, of course. It’s been written better and with beautiful philosophical conclusions, so you probably should read those other stories and not this one.
Yet. I’m going to tell you how it is to live inside my head. Should you care about what goes on inside other people’s heads at all? Especially, if they’re heads you don’t know? Apparently that’s one of those things they say makes us human, so it must mean something. Inside my head, there is sometimes nothing at all. And sometimes too much. You must be thinking: “what’s so special about that? Everyone is like that”. There is nothing special about me. Or you. Everyone has a story. Some people have better stories than you or me. Some people have it all going according to plan, others, more commonly, fuck it up all the time and then go back to redo it. I always have a plan that I end up fucking up.
Black flowers blossom. Today my plan was write write write. I’m not a writer, that’s why I need to do it like this. My hobby is a job. The things I love most are my job and my job is writing and reading, even if that’s not my real job. I use to say that to write you need to have basic conditions. I use to say – and get very angry about it – conditions matter! It matters if you have a good desk, a good chair for your back, good lighting, a computer that doesn’t break or slow you down. These are the material conditions, but you also need some more difficult-to-measure ones: silence and stillness; no one bothering you for hours on end; time set apart from life and obligations; time, indeed — you probably have more of it if you don’t have anyone depending on you; it matters also that you’re not sick, or at least that you’re able. Basic conditions. I argue that they can make all the difference. It does make some difference if you have a job from nine to five and can only write in the few spare hours left between that and sleeping. You might decide sleeping is overrated. Writing with a full-time job is different from, say, writing full-time. Some people, even here in Portugal, have the luxury to do that — quit jobs and write full-time — since money is not a problem for them. It also makes some difference if you’re born elsewhere. Say, the UK. Or the US. Places where you can apply to scholarships and enroll in MAs on Writing. So, yeah. Conditions. They definitely change when you can learn directly from Margaret Atwood or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They definitely change if you have the most powerful language in the world as your first one, instead of struggling through it. That definitely changes almost everything.
I don’t remember a time when stories didn’t matter to me. I don’t remember a time when stories didn’t play easily inside my head. I hadn’t yet learn how to write my name, but I already told stories to everyone that would listen. Of course I started to write them as soon as I learned how to. I was never not writing. I say “conditions matter”, but I also know from experience that when you have a story to tell, conditions don’t matter a dime. I wrote as I walked to classes; I didn’t have any paper, but still I wrote; I wrote with my mother screaming at me to go clean my room and tidy up my wardrobe; I wrote after hours; I wrote in scraps of papers and in the back of receipts; I wrote at every recess at school: as the bell chimed, I was already writing in my head; as I got bullied for wearing glasses and being weird, I was, of course, taking refuge with my characters. I wrote my way through school, like so many people who write since they know themselves as people. I had words, I had faces and names that no one else knew, and I had worlds. Writing never saved me, but I saved writing for me as the most precious thing I had. When everything else fell apart, I had somewhere to go. As the years went on, I wrote against every teenage angst. I took writing to the real world and used it to act upon it. I no longer invented unseen worlds, but I was still writing. Fiction came back again later on, like a destiny one tries to escape but everyone knows they won’t, not really. I borrowed some characters and built on them.
Again, conditions didn’t matter. I wrote late into the night. I wrote with my back hurting badly. I wrote on uncomfortable sofas and on beds and I wrote while moving between different homes, and I wrote through two huge breakups and I wrote through changing jobs; I wrote through depression, through heartache and back pain; I wrote while my life fell apart and rose back again; I wrote on my lunch break; and on the bus stop; and on the bus, pressed between bodies of strangers; I wrote a full story on the subway, on my phone, Google Keep open and my fingers on the screen; I wrote when I should be sleeping, when I should be doing other, more important, useful things; I wrote knowing those characters weren’t mine, I wrote knowing I could never use that for anything, that it was the most useless thing I’ve ever done in life. In a year and a half, I wrote 30 stories. I published them in a fanfiction site. Hundreds of people across the world commented on my stories. Some of my stories have more than 20 thousand hits. I found out I could start a story and finish it. For a year and half, I had these two british blokes — queer and disturbed and mad for each other — in the back of my mind at all times. For a year and half, I had them with me as I slept, laughed, got sick, got together with friends, stayed home with my cat. For some reason I don’t quite understand, these two men held the key to the stories I wanted to tell. They had nothing to do with me — I mean, they had as much to do with me as any white gay man might have, which is nearly nothing. And yet, they were me and I was them. I see them as clearly as I see you, if I meet you for coffee; sometimes, I probably see them the clearer. When you have a story to tell, it’s easy to let life fall away. Things that are real don’t really matter as much; in fact they intrude on you and steal you away from the only reality you want to keep. I know I have to let them go. It’s time for me to stop hiding behind them.
To have a story to tell and lack the words for it, is agony. Maya Angelou tells it better than me: there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. I carry this agony with me everywhere I go. It’s in the back of my mind everyday. I can laugh and I can help my friends and I can change my hair and be nice to you, but if you could crack my head open you’d see this precious stone of agony, crystal clear. Dark flower blossoming. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about writing. But a ton of days go by without my writing a word. I resort again to complaining: conditions matter! I drown in feelings of injustice: that I have to pay my bills; that I could be a man; that I could be rich; that I could be doing a masters in writing. But I know these are excuses. They’re also ways for me to hinder myself. And they’re most effective, for if I feel treated unjustly, discriminated against or if I just waste all my time thinking of the things I don’t have to make this dream come true, I’ll be effectively NOT doing it.
Now that I have to leave them, these two characters, I’m facing all my untold stories. I have no characters; I have no plots; I have unordered, unfiltered feelings; I have ideas, and notebooks, and more books to read than my life span. I read to write. I never just read for reading, for the sake of it. And I love reading. I buy books to feel I have something to look forward. I buy books because they’re a promise. A promise to myself, that I’ll read them, that at least I intend to; a promise that I’ll learn from them; a promise that they’ll be a part of me and of my writing one day; I read all these women I admire, and think of our untold stories, of this whole universe of exploding stars, that some say is too narrow. To write about women is a risk and a nail in your coffin. People that know about the whole writing business will tell you to drop it; to expand your views. To broaden your universe. And you know why. You know men have always told the story. You know they are never told to broaden their universe, for when they tell men’s stories they’re obviously talking about the whole of humankind. And when women write about women they’re obviously talking about unimportant, specific details no one cares about.
I’ve been writing all this for two hours. I cried through some of it. Struggled through most of it. I’m afraid of my own stories. I’m afraid of diving into the wreck of me. I’m afraid I’ll keep coming up empty handed. I wish I could read without care again. I wish to forget that writing is my life. I wish I wasn’t so serious about this. I wish I could just drop it. Let it fall where it landed, let it be. Read the books I want. Fangirl about characters. Go back to writing for nothing and no one.
I was only ever free when I didn’t care, when I wrote because I breathe and there’s nothing special about breathing.
Except, you know, being alive.