Legacy, and Lack Thereof

A day ago, a friend asked me, “what is your biggest fear?”

I can’t typically answer that. When it comes to existential questions that want quantitative answers – what’s my [insert comparative word here] [insert mental or emotional process or list here]? – I’m not your gal. I’m a navel gazer, sure, but kind of a stupid one, with a tragically short memory. If some revelation about my own inner workings happens to stick, it’s by miracle of luck and timing, or it’s because I’ve repeated the same behavior enough times that even I’m annoyed by it.

So the question yesterday brought me up short. What I’m afraid of changes by the day. Afraid of the stuff I can’t see, just outside of my peripheral vision. Afraid I missed out on life by being such a careful teenager, so easily swayed by other people’s worry. Afraid I’m wasting my life. Afraid of pain. Not, oddly, afraid of death. Afraid enough not to poke my fingers in a light socket, I guess, but the impending eventuality of my own death at some unknown hour doesn’t bug me. (Edit: Actually, it does. Just… it’s complicated.)

For the first time, though, when asked a question that required me to quantify something so unformed, an answer appeared. It’s not new. Remember what I said earlier, about me and remembering personal revelations. I’ve had the same thought a few times, floated in and then out again, trailing nebulous terror.

I’m afraid of disappearing. Of leaving nothing behind. Of dying without professionally publishing a word.

It’s a pretty human thing to be afraid of. We elevate and cherish the legacies of other people. We tape quotes to our cabinet doors; make purses out of our favorite book covers; read biographies of actors and politicians and writers dead before we were born.

I have no children, and I plan to have no children. I’ll be a broken line in the family tree – an offshoot line; a period instead of a comma. My progeny will have to be something else.

For a long time, I’ve been a background coach for other writers, while I struggle with my own novels. I write, but nothing fruitful. Nothing finished. I’m a writer, not the author of.

In high school, I was blessed to have an English teacher who encouraged me to write fiction. Every year I took her class, I participated in a regional short fiction contest. We sweated at it time and again, editing, proofing and polishing a submission. And every year? Second place. Second place. Second place.

That’s what I’m afraid of. That’s my biggest fear. Living and dying with nothing but a veritable dump heap of out-of-date posters, several terrabytes of PSD files on someone else’s server, a handful of second place high school fiction, and an empty space where a book should have been.

So having recognized that, I’m going to fill the void. Put a book on the shelf. It feels like I spent the last few years fighting. The internal critic, the internal editor, the internal coward, the eternal procrastinator. I’m exhausted and I’m out of patience with it all, but it feels like maybe the writer’s stepped up. The writer in me is tired of wrestling with them, ready instead to flip them the bird and move on.

Whatever it takes this year, I’m finishing a book.

Hallelujah

Hallelujah (/ˌhælˈljə/ hal-ə-loo-yə) is an English interjection. It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word הַלְּלוּיָהּ (Modern halleluya, Tiberian halləlûyāh), which is composed of two elements: הַלְּלוּ (second-person imperative masculine plural form of the Hebrew verb hallal: an exhortation to “praise” addressed to several people[1]) and יָהּ (the names of God Jah or Yah).

From Wikipedia.

Here, at the end of Autumn’s russet bloom, we’ve lost Leonard Cohen. This isn’t a eulogy; I barely knew the man beyond his music. His evocative song, Hallelujah; however, tapped into a deep range of human emotions and prompted numerous renditions over the years. From Chris Botti’s soaring trumpet solo to the soul-brushing harmonies of Pentatonix.

The word is made for shouting. Whatever its origins – one word or two, thanksgiving to God or request for a congregation to praise – the saying of the word empties the lungs and rounds the mouth.A word to be heard from hilltops; from mountaintops; from the bedside of crisis. It fills the head. It is half howl.

And, like Cohen wrote, it can be cold and broken. Muttered in sarcasm, snapped in rage. A savior too late. A fulfillment no longer needed. A reciprocation of old love, no longer wanted. Hallelujah, says someone, feeling the thing that might have saved their friendship or their marriage or their brother’s life two years ago.

That’s where I am. I’m sitting in the middle of grief, and the promise of the light at the end of the tunnel is there but it’s a pinprick; a star light years away. How I’ve felt, what purpose I’ve striven towards for months has been heeded by my loved ones. And it’s too late. I have the courage, the calm center and the will to engage with people I don’t understand, who may not listen and who may be angry with me for it – too late. I found out what I was capable of and what I was willing to sacrifice to care for people other than myself. And here we are at the bedside of crisis again, and here we’ll be for the forseeable future, no matter what I did or how much time I gave.

I know what I’m made of and what I believe.

Halle-fucking-lujah.

Scrambling For Words

I don’t know what to write. I’m here, in this great open space, and I feel claustrophobic because the words won’t come to my whistle.

I’m surrounded by greatness. By bloggers with concise words and a clear goal and helpful things to say. And here I am, groping after words, quivering at the curb while I wait for the great gust of wind to fill me and push me on down the street. I don’t know what to write. I feel fake, without history or emotional weight, like the ‘quilt’ on my bed that I am sitting on. It’s not really a quilt; it’s a top sheet printed to look somewhat like a quilt. It has a layer of batting and a bottom sheet and it’s been sewed together with a machine’s precise curves and it’s very… autumnal.

It was cheap. I wanted a quilt. I wanted a thing that reminded me of something made by hand, or by many hands. I forget that all of the pieces of this duvet were turned out under the hands of someone, that someone, a lot like me, designed the ‘quilt’ that was printed onto white fabric with orange and red and yellow and brown inks. Maybe someone in a Phillipino or a Thailand factory guided the sewing machine around and around over the top of it. This quilt has emotional weight, then, but I don’t know what it is.

I’m whining. I’m whining because I feel empty. When I whine, my sentences always include ‘I,’ as if I had some control over any of this. Me first, melodramatic me, knuckles to the forehead like a Greek tragedy, sighing about the torments of creative writing. The book says this is supposed to make me feel compassion, that writing from my pain will make me feel tender towards the concrete and the cracked grass blowing between the slabs of the sidewalk.

Instead I feel angry. I’m frustrated with the here and now, when I have three stories and two books waiting and all I can seem to churn out is more self-pitying crap. It’s not even good self-pitying crap. It’s not even kind of good. It’s not the wild-eyed wounded animal noises I flatter myself I can make when I’m struggling.

It’s just unadulterated crap. A ragbag of phrases and ideas that stuck, that raise their edges from the murk when I stir it all tonight in a stretch for 500 words on anything. This isn’t compassion, this is desperation and I’m marinating in it.

I don’t have any organized self-help words tonight, or cheerleading, or hope, or personal challenges, or any of the shit I’d like to post. Like some kind of pro-am novelist with Things to say and a burning, lurid prose in which to say them. I don’t have any of that. I just have all this pent-up frustration at not enough time and not enough good ideas and an internal editor with a sphincter clenched so tight it’s amazing I can write a sentence, let alone 500 words.

But hey, here I am at 512.

tumblr_m04z5aoquy1qcpei7