I’ve become so attached to the idea of creative success, to artistic professionalization, to a career in the written word, that I’ve begun to believe my life is only half-formed without it. That I am incomplete until it’s achieved. As if a paycheck garnered from these thoughtful scribblings is the answer to it all, the cure for every scar. But, this is only half true, if it is even true at all.
Saying that I’ve become attached to the idea of a creative career and that I’ve begun to believe that I’m only a partial person without it, suggests that it is a newly formed condition. Something unprecedented and recently developed. When, in fact, it is something only recently recognized and acknowledged. The chronic symptoms of a long metastasizing sickness, now too overwhelming and pervasive to be ignored, brushed off, or pushed aside. Chasing the desire feels like medicine, and I cling to it all the more.
I suppose every addiction feels like a remedy when you’re riding the high of it. But when you come down, when you crash, when you bottom out, and you find yourself still aching and un-cured, you discover it’s anything but medicinal. And yet, the yearning doesn’t stop. It rises, crests, and increases. A tide that cuts through rock and pools in the hollow of our unseen places, where the only sound is withdrawal.
Attachment turns to craving; the greedy desire of wanting too much, too badly. The disdainful aversion to anything else, anything less, anything other. And the pitiful delusion that somehow it will fill that cavernous well, a well emptied out by the insatiable avarice of an Eldritch need. An unrest at the heart of everything I’ve yet to be. “[T]hat was what destroyed you in the end”, Leigh Bardugo says, “the longing for something you could never have.” The failure to realize that necessity is not the same as demand. V.E. Schwab says that “There is a chasm between sustenance and satisfaction”. And, I would also add that there is a canyon that exists between want and need.
Anne Lamott explains that “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.” It alters and expands all our expectations. Shows us the beauty in broken places. Finds the magic in trap doors and hidden compartments. “[W]riting”, Lamott goes on to say “can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.” The act of needling a thread through words, stranding together thoughts, and sentences, beads and pearls, until it strings together an elaborate story, reveals the truth of who we are. It can take all your shattered parts and turn them into charms. But, it also shows us the gaps, the holes, the emptiness, the shards. It shows us the ‘needs’ that we don’t actually need at all. The ones we only think we do. The ones we’re really better off without. Writing helps us to admit that we don’t need them. And, sometimes, it can help us to start letting go.
Ultimately, it’s not the lack that carves you into pieces, it’s the want; the short blade, sharpened against stone, that thrusts in deep and cuts across the gut, the want that becomes the wound itself. At the heart of the hurt of want is the belief that we are not enough.
“[H]aving books and stories and articles published,” Lamott makes clear, “will not make [you] well. It will not give [you] the feeling that the world has finally validated [your] parking tickets, that [you] have in fact finally arrived.” And, while I’ll have to take her word for it, I still can’t help but feel she’s right. If you are not enough as you are, then nothing you can have or hold, nothing you can either grip or grab, ever will be.
We have an apophenic reaction to the constellation of particles swirling around the dark gravity of the space empty at our center; a pattern we falsely recognize as a thing we call “I”. We make vain and futile attempts to add to the pattern of accumulated debris. We try to fill the void. When, in fact, we are the essencelessness of the expanse. We are the vastness, itself.
Martin Buber says that “The life of a human being does not exist merely in the sphere of goal-directed verbs.” We are made up of so much more than the mere additions of our activities, our efforts, and their effects. Sometimes real progress is about “removal, and remediation”, Jenny Odell says. Sometimes gaining ground means holding space. Sometimes its not a matter of becoming more, but making room for less.
I can’t tell you how to believe that you’re enough, that the writing is enough, that the work is enough, that the work of doing the work is enough. I can’t tell you because I don’t know, myself. I have not felt enough, enough. I still don’t. I know there are days when I’m tired. When I feel unbearably slow. When my eyes burn, and all my atoms ache. When my skin bristles and everything hurts. I know it’s hard to keep making things when you don’t feel like it makes a difference. But, I also know I’m only discouraged about writing when I’m not writing. I know that in the ceremonial dance of tapping out a few good words in the early morning I regain a revelatory sense of what it means to be sustained, to satisfy a deeper need, and maybe that’s enough, or at least close enough.