I require inspiration to write.
This probably means I’m not a real writer. Of course, I’m not sure what it’d take to make me feel like a real writer. My name on the cover of a book? I’m sure even that wouldn’t do it; I’d just feel like an impostor. I feel like an impostor a lot.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon.
In college I wrote poem after poem of ridiculous E.E. Cummings inspired dreck. I thought I was doing the work of a genius, with my smooshed-together words and all the lowercases. It couldn’t’ve been less profound, less original. Everyone was polite about it, though. One was even published in our little literary magazine. I can’t stand to read it. I spend a lot of time pretending it doesn’t exist.
I once wrote a poem about how everything seems like a poem after reading Billy Collins.
In my Sylvia Plath phase, I used the word “black” a lot. I love the way it sounds when spoken aloud. Sylvia Plath wrote poems meant to be read aloud. I wrote my first sonnet to her. I still have it memorized. Iambs don’t come naturally to me.
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird taught me to write only what I can see through a 1″x1″ picture frame when I’m stuck. That’s what, in part, gave me the idea for this blog. I regularly read her when I’m stuck, but only when I don’t want to be stuck anymore. It takes me a long time to acknowledge that I don’t want to be stuck anymore.
Most of the time I’m perfectly happy being stuck and don’t realize how desperately I didn’t want to be stuck anymore until I’m not stuck anymore.
A lot of people try to write like Hemingway, but no one gets away with it. There’s even an annual International Imitation Hemingway Competition. I never tried to write like Hemingway because I liked Fitzgerald more. And no one ever tries to write like Fitzgerald because no one can even get close. And also because Hemingway is the one who had the bigger influence on modern writing. Fitzgerald is flowery. Passe. And how I love him.
But it was Jonathan Safran Foer who inspired this post.
I tried to read Everything Is Illuminated and failed. Then I watched the movie to understand the basic framing of the novel, but I haven’t tried to read it again yet. It’s sitting on my bookshelf, and every once in a while when I’m between books I think about trying again. But not yet.
It was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that did it. It broke me. Whenever anyone comments on how sensitive I am (which happens often), I say it’s that book’s fault even though my mom will tell you I’ve always been sensitive. But it pushed me over the edge somehow. Because of it, my heart is always broken, always breaking.
Last week, for two days in a row, I sat at my desk and cried over pictures of oil-covered birds in the gulf because I am broken because of this book.
An English major friend recommended it to me in college. She said I’d like it because it used typography in surprising ways like E.E. Cummings. (Everyone knew about me and E.E. Cummings.) I took a mental picture of the novel’s front, the hand and the psychedelic font that HP now uses in their advertising. I put it on my mental post-graduation reading list.
Two and a half years later, in September of 2007, I saw it at a used bookstore and decided it was time. It wasn’t until September 11 that I came to realize how synchronous this timing was. It was the events of September 11, 2001 that broke the narrator. Specifically, his father’s death in the north tower.
I was, still am, working in a tall building in downtown Dallas. Planes sometimes leave shadows on the building across the way as they fly overhead. We’re all scared it’s going to happen again. We’re all broken in this way.
One day in the middle of reading it, I came back inside from lunch and sat down at my desk to find a bug on my shirt. I went all the way back downstairs, down 29 floors, to release the bug outside, where it belonged. The idea of leaving the bug to fend for itself inside this building, where there are only office plants and humid, recycled air, for the rest of its life broke my heart.
My heart still hasn’t stopped breaking.
Last week Chad and I prepared our divorce papers. After he printed off the receipt for the cost of the imaginary lawyers to draft the papers and send them to us for us to file, he began to cry. So I began to cry too. And then he stopped, but I kept crying.
I said I’m not the kind of person who does the things I’ve done. I’m the kind of person who cries about oil-covered birds. But we both know that I stopped thinking that way a long time ago. There are no kinds of people. We’re all just people. And sometimes we cause all of the hurt that breaks our own hearts and the hearts of the ones we love.
It was this story, which I read over my lunch break, that inspired this post.
I ran a yellow-red light because I could hardly wait to get back to work to write it.