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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Addiction? Diligence?

Early February, I signed my father up for a blog. I suggested he write occasionally, as an exercise. Since then, he’s written 90 blogs, more than me, Steve, and Suzanne have managed to write in three years at FoodVibe. The topics are wide-ranging, the achievement impressive: my father has never practiced writing before. Now, suddenly, he has a 700-800 word-a-day habit. I suspect his diligence is part compulsion: my father, like me, assumes plenty of addictions. But I also suspect his diligence is just that, too: diligence.

The Addiction-Diligence Paradigm motivates most aspects of my father’s life. Take his business career. My wife, Karen, and I worked for him in 2000. (An insight into my father’s ethics: I was his lowest-paid employee; Karen made a 35% higher salary.) Our most cherished image from that time was my father in his office, his feet up on his desk, playing on-line chess. He was clearly addicted. (As he had been addicted to Dr. Mario years before.) He played sometimes for six or eight consecutive hours, as his thirty or so employees moved in and out of his office, fielding calls and questions.

My father has always been an advocate of results: it's not the time you spend actually working, he likes to say, but the effect your work produces. During his business career, my father seemed to be able to create profitable results in minimal time. Often, he performed a week's worth of work in ten minutes; he spent the remaining thirty-nine hours and fifty minutes playing chess. Still, his early diligence had made his last business successful, a business he had started only seven years before, with two partners, in the front porch of our house in Gwynedd, PA.


Karen and I left the business in early 2001 to live in Barcelona. My father sold his share a few months later. Now, eight years later, he lives in Brigantine, NJ, with his wife (my stepmother) Phylis. He spends sometimes ten or more hours a day watching tv, blogging, and playing internet poker.

I think about my father's current lifestyle whenever I find myself feeling lackluster. What does it mean to have a productive day. When I’m not working, I try to write all day. It’s hard, though. Some days I feel titanic. Some days I feel utterly defeated. I look at my novel, think: It’s terrible; what’s the point?

When I was younger, in my late twenties, writing another novel, feeling like I might quit writing altogether, I wrote my uncle, a poet, a letter offering the same complaint.

My novel is terrible, I wrote. What’s the point?

"Your struggles with writing your novel," he replied, "are worthy of your suffering, but don’t get so that you love your suffering. I don’t really know what it takes to write a novel, though judging from N, it takes a lot of time, perseverance, obsession, and slavish dedication, only one of that last three am I attracted to."

In another letter, he wrote: "Allow yourself to be uncertain but don't let your uncertainty turn to despair because it can be wonderful to write when you're sad and full of the dark bouquet of doubt, but misery lends itself to silence and one must get out of bed every morning and prepare for the great celebration of one's own imagination, even if it doesn't happen that day."

His point, as always: Keep going.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for me. I am obviously diligent in other ways: I run 4-5 miles every day. I cook dinner every night. I have type-1 diabetes for Christ’s sake, which requires total diligence.

But these things are easy for me. Writing is hard. Perhaps I’m merely addicted to running; merely addicted to cooking dinner and injecting insulin (self-care).

Then again, I might be addicted to writing, too. Just now, for example, when I found myself unable to work on my novel, I felt compelled to write about it. My fucking novel. What will it take for me to complete this thing? What sort of reserves must I call forth? What drugs must I take? (Adderall?)

Success, like addiction, runs in my blood. I know this, but it doesn’t make writing any easier. In fact, as I enter my 33rd year, the looming success of my family members (not just my father and my uncle, but every family member who has gone before me) hovers over me, sometimes inspiring me, often overwhelming me. I want to triumph, but I feel constantly expectant, stymied with the promise I’m not sure I have the courage, or the talent, to keep.

I try to make myself feel good: What if I’m not supposed to feel burdened by promise, but lightened? What if I’m meant to fly up to my challenge? Not like a bird, or a plane, but clumsily, like a person?

The only thing I can control, really, is my effort: I can only sit down, write. Like my dad, the blogger. Like my uncle, the poet. With diligence and/or addiction. I'm not sure it matters how I qualify it: whatever it is, I need to do it.

3 comments :

  1. We should really have another conversation about writing some time soon. Recently I've had sea change upon sea change, and it sounds like you might benefit from some of what I feel as if I've learned.

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  2. You describe the creative life so well here. It's definitely like that with me - the doubts, the titanic feelings - the ebb and flow of a process that I don't understand.

    I made an aim recently to write at least 1000 words per day. It's a huge struggle for me. The other night, when I got home from work, I remembered my aim. Suddenly the force of laziness and all the other resistances loomed up and threatened to crush me like a tomato. Despite it all, I showed up at my desk and started to write.

    Anyway, as I was sitting there writing about whatever and things started to flow; I felt this new energy appearing. It was as though going against my usual laziness and habits created something new, vivid and alive in me. It was an interesting feeling, like stepping out of a movie.

    So I will try to remember my aim of writing at least 1000 words per day and whenever I feel lazy or doubtful or discouraged, to remember your wonderfully inspiring words: "the only thing I can control, really, is my effort: I can only sit down, write."

    Thank you.

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  3. Thank you, Luke. It always surprises me: how much my mood changes when I actually start to write. Often, I think the hardest part of the practice is actually sitting down (staying down is the second hardest part). Writing, it seems, is comparatively easy to the struggle of worrying about writing.

    Good luck with your new aim...

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