"I have always thought art should be entertaining—by which I mean, it should keep you there—but there are so many ways of keeping a person there."
The summer I was 26 I went on a road trip and at the end of it in San Francisco I sat down to write about depression for a student magazine (at Ryerson, where I tried to study journalism and quit). Instead I just wrote out my mind. It took me all afternoon but no more and by sunset was 5,000 words, which I edited but not very much. It was a birth of accident. I mean it was the first time I felt I had written something that lived outside me and my dumb career and my constant meaningless deadlines and the expectations of a dozen or so people, and which I could publish either the next day or in a decade, and it wouldn’t matter—it would still be true and good. I sent it to friends and edited it a little more, but after a few days I stopped, afraid to touch it. I sent it to my boyfriend and he said it made him want to throw up.
After a year it was published, and people loved it. People wrote me long emails. People hated it. I wrote back to all the emails—I am always happy to get emails—and I was happy because it felt like I’d written a hit, but also terrified I’d never write another. Because I hadn’t been trying to, I swear. Some thing had come out of me glistening.
It’s strange to explain because this road trip piece isn’t even good—not technically, not in so many ways—and it’s not very necessary, nor is it anything like genius. I am smarter now and wiser than when I wrote it. My writing has a better reputation, and is more consistent; I know more rules or tricks. I could improve the thing vastly if I were its editor tonight. But I could never get back the vastness of the feeling inside it, the pressure from outside, the terror and verve. I don’t know. It was just an incredible performance.
After that, one, I knew I was a writer because as a person I’m barely average and yet I had this freak occasional ability to make something hellish and beautiful, and two, I stopped caring half so much about reactions, couldn’t care compared to that knowledge—that I’d left everything on the page, and couldn’t do it again if I tried.
I’ve written very few things like this. Each one all at once in a mania or maybe a void. “Your Friends and Rapists” I started writing one night with no forethought, fell asleep, finished the next day. The Elliot Rodger essay for n+1 took me four days of reading/research to start writing and less than two to stop, though I almost stopped the day I started—and would have if it weren’t for Jesse and Dayna—because I felt so sick (I had headaches during and a bad depression after, so bad that I finally got pills). These pieces that I could never repeat are also the only things I’d want anyone to remember, although I have a hard time remembering them myself.
The rest are practice and failure. They’re near-perfect completions of assignments, but I don’t know if they matter; they’re wildly imperfect completions of assignments, but at least they sound like me. Who knows. I try to make a living and I wait. Or: I’m 28 and successful but also basically obscure and all I want is to earn my way to you.
My answer to your question is that I’m already embarrassed by it, honestly. x