Insomnia, night writing, and the idealize/idolize paradox
It’s 5 a.m. and I am reluctantly (unwillingly?) sitting up, in the dark, at my desk in the living room. Because the heater is built into the wall right under my desk, and because my desk is wedged between the wall and the sofa (NYC apartments, what can I say?), my legs are getting the full blast of hot air meant to warm the entire apartment in this strangely late-coming January cold snap. Also because of this, I am not wearing any pants.
I like to pretend the sitting here sans pants is giving my shins, even with their winter stubble (you know, for warmth), some kind of heat radiated suntan, but really it’s just too damn hot to get anything done with clothes on. But only at my desk; 18 inches to my right and it’s igloo territory. It’s fucking cold. Like slaughter me a whale and bring me the blubbery carcass to wear, cold. And I love whales!
And because it’s 5 a.m. and because it’s cold outside in New York, and because my desk doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo and is, in fact, playing the part of desk actually living on the fucking equator, and because I came from bed (couldn’t sleep), and because I just couldn’t be bothered with any kind of dressing, I am also typing this topless.
And, also, because it’s romantic.
And, also, Amy Poehler does it, so shut up!
Anyway, it’s cold, and I’m up here nearly naked writing by the stark light of my laptop screen and the faint, multi-colored twinkling from the drooping Christmas tree in the corner. (Yes, my Christmas tree is still up. Shut up, shut up, shut up!). So I’m sitting here baring it all (figuratively and literally, huzzah!) and thinking about my writing habits and how abysmal my routine has been of late and wondering why I got into this whole writing game in the first place when everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, seemed to really try to express to me how much of a bad idea it might be when I was just a young, bucking, bushy-tailed kid going off to study print journalism (PRINT!! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!) nearly ten years ago.
I set myself up for that kind of response, really. Before I settled on being a writer, I had wanted to be a doctor––an OBGYN, specifically. I was going to be a badass at baby delivering––so it must have thrown my parents for a loop when I came home from school one day and announced I wanted to take out 40 years worth of debt for a B.A. in a medium that probably gets most of its action these days lining bird cages and transforming itself into paper mache. I remember my dad trying, smartly, to encourage me to go to medical school first, and pursue writing later from the security of a higher pay grade.
“Become a doctor first, and then write on the side. Like Micheal Crichton!” he’d said. “Writing will always be there.”
But me, being a stupid 17-year-old bred into a generation of exceptionally minded youngsters who all, seemingly simultaneously, drank the Kool-Aid and then tossed the cup in the denial bin of oxymorons (maybe that just makes us regular morons?), told my dad (in so many words): NOPE! Not for me, no sir! I’m gonna reach the STARS!
All I can say is: that was stupid, younger self. Way to totally fuck that shit up with your naivete and your over-zealous faith in both yourself and your fellow man! GAH! Kids, am I right?!
While I do sometimes still wish I’d gone to medical school and could confidently and safely bring a newborn––a freakin’ new life––into this world, or became an architect and traveled the world designing beautiful, modern, totally self-sufficient eco houses (it’s occurring to me now that I had some major dork fantasies as a kid)… And while it’s easy to think back on past choices and sow yourself up in regrets, I don’t really wish I had made different choices. Not ultimately. I was first attracted to writing because I love stories, and language, and the awesome, witchy power they have, and while my opinions on pretty much everything has changed and evolved over the years, those feelings have so far stayed rooted and solidly the same. I expect they will continue to.
Did I idealize the writing life? For sure. Did I idolize my favorite writers? No doubt. Is it all cupcakes and unicorns and huge multi-book publishing contracts with hefty advances? Of course not. Is it easy? Fuck no! Is it often tedious and boring and slow-moving and lonely and hard to endure. Absolutely.
But I still wouldn’t have it any other way. Why? Because when you write you can do anything, be anywhere, master any craft, become anyone. Writers are time travelers. Writers are watchers and sorcerers, gods and demons. Writers are the true conquerors of the world because, in so many ways, they can live their fantasies; a writer’s life is like the end of a story before you’ve read it––wide open. Endless possibility. The whole world is research, and the writer has a license to observe, try, taste and experience it all. Writers literally write and rewrite history. They create whole new worlds, and they change the real world we live in.
Talk about a hero’s journey.
Besides, knowing myself, I would have burned out on my medical residency quite quick––they work those ambitious kids hard––and then I’d be stuck with even more student debt to pay off by my pen than I already have (and trust me, I have plenty).