Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This Enormous Egotism. (AKA The Parasite)

Some people seem to need a brick to fall on head for them to realistically look at themselves. In my case, I just found out my father has lung cancer. Just found out this afternoon. He had throat cancer a while back so forgive me if I don’t seem overly alarmed. I have been here before and have been expecting this day for a while now, but still…a funny thing happened to me this time around. Today’s discovery made me realize just how away from normal I really am. I am not complaining. I’m not bragging. It’s akin to learning you have a tail and that everyone has known forever, but you are just now finding this out.

A normal person, and I am guessing at this one here, would immediately think about the fragility of life and begin the step process of grieving, thinking the whole time how much they love their father. Me? I thought about how good a story this would be. I am a writer, you see. I take the Raw emotion of real life and run it through my public school taught filter, where I distill it into something entertaining. It still has the same emotion, but when I get done, it’s New and Improved. All I do is supply a few cleverly turned phrases and sew together the rest.

This realization disturbed me to the point of self-doubt; something that anyone who knows me will find shocking. I looked as myself, the writer, for the first time without the benefit of my own tinted vision and what I saw sickened me. I am nothing more than an emotional parasite, sifting through the dumpster of the Human Condition for trash that I can repurpose and regurgitate. I take the Real Life in all it’s core emotion and spin itso that you, the reader, are entertained. Got a death in the family? That’d be a great story…really drag out the tears for that one. Your dog died? I smell a movie deal. Add in the misery of a young child and we’re talking Oscar! All I have to do is spell the words correctly and keep the grammar clean. What’s a little self-flagellation between friends anyway?

(self-flagellation: Definition from Answers.com
n. The act of severely criticizing oneself. The act of punishing oneself.)

Were I the writer I wished I was, I would have one, perhaps two great stories inside me that were completely original and would be loved by all. As soon as I got those out, I would put down the pen and consider myself done. Judge me based on that alone. But I am not that writer. I’m not even close. I am a scab picker. I take the festering open sores of the world and allow you to peer over my shoulder as I disrupt them. I am more of a reporter than anything, spreading the news scrubbed clean by my own internal filters. It is said that a writer writes. It is also said that you should write what you know. Little did the genius that penned both of those little gems know the life he was dooming me to, but here goes nothing.

“I stand leaning against an open door. The sun is directly overhead now and busies itself with heating all around me to a steady simmer. The breeze blows just enough to wick away half of the sweat that darkens my shirt. After a few seconds of staring off into the distance at nothing, I put on my sunglasses. I am too distracted by the fact that my father will die to notice how painful the glare bouncing off of the concrete is. I look across the street at a field of weeds. They are tall weeds, the kind that months of neglect call their own. They almost look like they are there on purpose. They sway too and fro in the wind. It almost looks like the mob dancing in Times Square at a New Years Eve celebration. The cars and trucks interrupt this vision like a busy commuter, not even bothering to say ‘Excuse me.’ as they roar past. Powerlines twist in the wind as Bob Seger sings about a long and lonesome highway east of Omaha. I see all this instantly. But I still take in none of it. I am too distracted by my father whom I love and respect deeply. I’m not about to waste time pining over the end of this life he has lead. It was his life, after all…not mine. Perhaps that makes me a callous man in that regard, but I don’t care. I learned a long time ago when it was time for tears and when it wasn’t. This isn’t that time. I know for certain it will come eventually, but for now, I will be satisfied with quiet contemplation on my father’s life and how happy I am to have known him.”

Even something that simple leaves me feeling dirty. Like I am taking my own personal pain and cashing in on it somehow. The thought of cheapening my own life by committing it to paper puzzles me. I find myself for the first time in my life wondering aloud whether I want to be a writer anymore.


  1. It is the very fact that you have an outlet to voice all the feelings of anger, guilt, disgust, nostalgia, love, respect and self hatred that makes you the kind of writer that should continue...this is how you deal...you/we don't have to like it, but it works for you.

    Everybody else immediately feels the need to pray to who ever will listen and make deals they can't even remotely begin to keep, but your admission to pen (tap) your internal self and exposing your deepest darkest you, your art so profoundly is what makes you a great writer.

    Our entertainment is simply a bi-product. Put the flogger down.

  2. Sometimes life leaves us speechless doesn't it? Your comments regarding your Dad's situation are very descriptive and insightful. You are a talented writer. I know that your Dad is very proud of you too.

  3. Sorry to hear about your dad and best wishes for his recovery. Sounds like he's a real fighter to have already beaten it once.

    On writing... It's just my opinion but I think a writer can't help but write what he knows. I like writing speculative fiction and my stories contain creatures and places and people I could never have known. But my life experiences always seem to find their way into my work without my even trying to insert them there. I've written what I know. I couldn't help it.

    Is that taking my personal pain and cashing in on it? Does it cheapen my life experiences? I don't think so. Some experiences are pretty much universal: love, aging, death, and so on. The themes of great literature center on these experiences, right? So how can you be wrong for writing what you know about them?