Faithless Fortitude

by on

 

“He says, ‘Bill, I believe this is killing me,’ as a smile ran away from his face. ‘Well, I’m sure that I could be a movie star, if I could get out of this place.’”
- Billy Joel

There once was a time when I read an article by an author who said that writers should never admit their insecurities. She said everyone has their bouts with self-doubt and you should never reveal those moments of misgivings to the world. Keep it to yourself. No one wants to hear it.

I agree with her sentiment. In fact, I think, most of us agree. Right? We hate to hear people whine. However, most of us also love to hear ourselves complain. There’s a cathartic satisfaction in ranting. Many of us love to hear others expound a well-phrased rant as well. Therein lies an odd contradiction. We enjoy the ablution of rants, yet, at the same time, no one wants to hear somebody mope about their misfortunes. We walk a fine line betwixt the two. I would argue that the difference between “ranting” and “whining” is all in the presentation. The difference isn’t necessarily in what you say, but in how you say it. Tone. Attitude. Right? Complaining with a bit of pissy anger is ranting and people enjoy identifying with that. Complaining with despondent woe is whining and people hate that shit.

Typically, ranting is also inclusive. Ranting says, “I am so frustrated by this. Are you bothered by this too?” The reason whining is so irritating is because it’s so self-absorbed. Ranting acknowledges the hardships of others and says, “We all get upset about this!” Whining ignores the misery of others and says, “Woe is me, I’m all alone in this!” That’s annoying because none of us are ever as alone as we like to pretend. We enjoy crucifying ourselves on the lonely nobility of misunderstood martyrdom. No one understands!

But that’s bullshit.

You may not personally know anyone who can relate to you, but if your problems are one in a billion, there are 6 other people in the world going through the same shit you are. Blowing things way out of proportion and turning minor setbacks into catastrophic disasters is repugnant. Especially considering the world is filled with people who have much worse trials and turmoils. We are surrounded by people suffering the deaths of loved ones, and crippling injuries, and diagnoses of terminal illnesses. In the face of those kinds of tragedies, those horrors that befall the lives of us all, to be an artsy bastard bemoaning creative struggles becomes trite and laughable and downright offensive.

That author complaining about venting insecurities was right. Keep your artistic gripes to yourself.

We should all be so lucky. Dying hospital patients would gladly trade places with any starving artist.

Yet, for me, for my frustrations in my writing, something strange and unexpected has happened.

I have completely lost all faith in my potential for success and yet, I still have no desire to quit.

That seems to be a self-destructive mentality the likes of which I can not fathom.

Recently, I confessed this lack of faith to an acquaintance of mine. Came right out and told her that I expect every single book I write to be a financial failure. I don’t have any faith in myself to sell books. I don’t think people will ever buy my stuff. Sure, someday if I’m lucky, I might become popular enough to sell a book or two a week, but I will never be an author selling enough books to earn a living. I sincerely think I will never make it. I will never succeed. I will never pull this off. There is absolutely no way I will ever make a living as a writer.

When I told my acquaintance this, she asked me the obvious question. She said, “Then, why are you doing it? If you really feel that way, why don’t you just quit? Go back to working at Disney and forget about writing.”

And I didn’t have an answer for her beyond the fact that I have no choice. And I’m not talking about that melodramatic bullshit you hear from writers like, “I have to write or I’ll die.” or “I have to write to stay sane.” That’s a load of crap. The only people who lay those claims are nobodies who want to convince themselves they are “special” or “gifted” or “answering a calling” and they are all full of shit. Writing isn’t oxygen. No author on earth is reliant upon it. I can quite easily keep breathing and remain mentally stable without writing. Nevertheless, something in me, an instinct I can not quantify, is telling me, “I have to finish this next writing project.” I have to. There’s something inexplicably important about it. It has to be done. For reasons I don’t understand. For reasons I don’t even believe are real. For reasons I can’t imagine or define. Yet, despite my own sense of futility and skepticism, I know there is no option to quit. Every fiber of my being tells me this must be done. This endeavor must be seen to completion. Doing it as quickly as possible is imperative.

The thought of quitting, the notion of giving up, fills me with dread and nausea. The mere thought of being a quitter makes me reel with vertigo. There is absolutely no way that quitting is a viable option. Makes me horrified and sick to my stomach to even entertain such an idea. I can not deviate from this path.

I have no explanation for this diametrically opposed mentality. “I’m going to fail, but I’m not going to quit.” That’s not exactly the type of slogan they put on workout shirts. You don’t see many triathletes expressing that attitude.

They say you have to believe in yourself. No you don’t. Not really. I never believed I’d work for Walt Disney. Even after my interview, I was sure I’d never get the job. I ended up being employed by Walt Disney Studios for more than 6 years. You don’t need to believe in yourself at all. You just need to keep moving forward. Belief has nothing to do with success. Tenacity. Fortitude. Showing up day after day. That’s how you make it. I think people say “believe in yourself” because they labor under the assumption that if you cease to believe, you will cease to make an effort. Thus, everyone says you must believe in yourself, because they think only unwavering belief will preserve your dauntlessness. Not so. My efforts as a writer are unwavering even if my belief is non-existent.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Like I said at the beginning, everyone hates a whiner. Self-pity is a pathetic thing that turns off everyone. People riddled with self-pity, you don’t want to hire for a job, you don’t want have sex with, and you don’t even want to be friends with them. To be clear, this isn’t self-pity. I’m a brilliant writer. My books are absolutely fantastic. On occasion, I certainly do fall short of my potential, but when I’m at my best, I write on a level that is far beyond what most authors are capable of attaining. I’m fucking amazing. I don’t doubt my capabilities as a writer. Not for one second. What I am lamenting, what I am doubting, is that my writing will ever gain any recognition. I know I’m a great writer. I just don’t think anyone is ever going to figure that out.

Which leads me to another point.
 

“I just think it’s good to be confident. If I’m not on my team, why should anybody else be?”
- Robert Downey Junior
 

The girl who asked why I don’t give up has also scolded me for being too arrogant. Definitely not the first or last time I heard that in my life. Are you able to relate to that? Do people criticize your life too? I have been berated that no one will pay attention to my books and writing if I come across as being full of myself. I need to be more down-to-earth. Approachable. People appreciate humility and to be conceited repels my potential audience. My arrogant attitude will drive people away. Best to keep my big mouth shut and let my novels speak for themselves. The way I talk is too lofty. I need to bring it down a few notches.

I know all of that is true. And I could do it. Truth be told, for the purposes of diplomacy, I’ve done that most of my life. But, when I started these commentaries, I told myself I was done with that. I refuse to feign average intelligence, to dumb-down the way I speak, just so ordinary people can understand me. If people don’t follow what I’m saying, that’s their problem, not mine. Get a fucking dictionary. If being articulate comes across as arrogant, fine, so be it. The thing no one has ever understood, everytime people accuse me of being arrogant, is that I don’t fucking care. I don’t care how many people are offended or estranged by my attitude. As George Carlin said, “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that!” I don’t care if the way I talk alienates people. In fact, I’d prefer to alienate most people, if in so doing, I endear those who possess a vocabulary.

Took me many years to come to terms with the fact that I’m more misanthrope than introvert. I’m not quiet and solitary because I have some sort of endearing boyish shyness. I’m quiet and solitary because I’m thinking, “God, I fucking hate these people.” It’s not that I’m afraid to talk to people, it’s that I don’t want to waste my fucking time.

Takes awhile to learn that about yourself.

“Eric, why you so quiet? Are you shy?”

“I’m not shy, I just think you’re an asshole. Figure it’s better if I keep that to myself.”

If who and what I am pushes people away, fuck ‘em.

I don’t fucking care.

All I care about achieving, is writing.

And I don’t know why.

I have no aspiration for a serendipitous fortune which writing might avail. I have no grandiose delusions of this obsession being a fate or destiny or a calling. I am not motivated by a single hope or dream. I don’t possess even the smallest shred of faith that my efforts shall be rewarded in any way whatsoever. All I have is a drive to keep moving forward, for no semblance of a reason.

I know not to what ends this shall lead. I only know it must be done to appease the will of unspoken edicts I can not articulate.

For some reason, although there admittedly be a fear underlying this strange and outlandish impulse, that ambition alone inspires a serene contentment the likes of which I have never before known. The more I write, the brighter gleams my equanimity.

I told you, get a fucking dictionary. E-Q-U-A-N-I-M-I-T-Y. Equanimity.
 

“You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.”
- Vincent Freeman