Words, Words, Words

I sat down yesterday with my laptop, notes by my side, all set to write a new blog post. But even before I typed a single letter, I had this thought:

“Burgan, what the hell are you doing?”

The proposed post, I realized, was not too much different from a recent one. And it was, again, about OEC in a way, which is surely getting old for you, my faithful readers. And for me. Both living it and writing about it. Still…I can’t really escape it, not yet. But when do I reach the point of saturation, when have I just immersed myself in it for too long and finally, completely, move on?

I dunno.

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon thinking about, talking about, writing. About words. This is usually a good thing, and it was then too, for the most part. I saw the “world premiere” (god, that always sounds so pretentious, though every Podunk theater in America makes such a big deal about having a world premiere of even the silliest little ten-minute play. Like many of mine) of one of my short plays. The actors were fine, especially the female lead. The play was…a play. Not one of my strongest pieces. Perhaps too autobiographical. Certainly the most somber of the six pieces that reflected the bill’s theme of Spring Cleaning. I wondered if they chose mine for balance, if not for quality.

Afterward, I got some of the obligatory kind words from the few people I knew in the crowd. One of them was a playwright also on the bill — and like me, a freelance writer of educational books. The socializing gave me one of my rare occasions for talking shop. This writer, like me, once worked at Weekly Reader, though before my time, and since we’ve worked for many of the same publishers, even some of the same editors. We commiserated on the state of the industry: falling pay, fewer jobs. But he had one comfort I no longer do: his wife by his side, both figuratively and literally. Much easier to handle the uncertainties of our chosen profession with that support, emotional and financial.

I was going to write “uncertainties of our craft,” but churning out the books we do is hack work. I have said as much to others, often, even as I see the impressed look on some people’s faces as I tell then what I do. Of course, to balance that, I have the relatives who, after almost 17 years, wonder when I’m going to start looking for a job.

Yes, there are benefits to what I do, though drawbacks too, which become more apparent in my single state. But boosting my ego by calling what I do a craft would just be unfair. Now playwriting — that is a craft, and an art, and for many, a passion. I’m not so sure about the latter for me. If it were truly a passion, wouldn’t I have found the time and strength to finish that new full length? To revise all the old plays I know can still be made better? Wouldn’t I, rather than let OEC serve as an excuse for creative immobility?

Yeah, probably.

Words. So much of my life is about words. The ones I write for pay and for self-expression. The ones in emails to friends and exes and potential new partners (hence potential new exes, I suppose). The words I spoke in anger and fear during recent, very bad times of my life. I have defined myself by my words, sometimes felt betrayed by them, and sometimes, believe it or not (the accusation of this aside), been at a loss for them. Or at least the right ones.

Before writing this, I sat in my office and looked around. Books lining the walls. Folders stuffed in cabinets and surrounding my work space. Files stored on discs and drives of all kinds, with hundreds and thousands of my words. This has been the essence of my adult life, and even before, this writing. These words. I actually teared up, simp that I am, thinking of the importance of words to me, and the ideas and enchantments and  provocations they represent, while feeling I have somehow failed them. Or myself. Not done all that I could do with them. Or somehow failed others, left expectations go unmet, because I have devoted myself to, defined myself by, mere words. What about action? What about doing something important? About loving others in the most selfless way possible? Nah, big “F” there, buddy.

It’s just words.

For all that, I still can’t see myself doing anything else for a living than writing. Though sometimes I do see myself writing plenty and not making a living at all. And I am not a purist in pursuit of using words the best way possible. I would love to make much more money with words, even doing hack work. I either lack the talent or the drive or both. I will remain, I fear, a  semi-creative hack who can sometimes entertain an audience for 10 minutes, if he’s lucky. A writer who imagines doing more, but somehow can’t. A wordsmith by calling, who still feels inadequate at times in the midst of his milieu. And yet can’t imagine defining myself in any other way.

Wait a minute: Damnit, I do not apologize for being a writer, of whatever quality. I do not apologize for being who I am. Only for the harm my words have caused others.

Having said that,  there are few I would take back. Moving forward, though, I hope to choose more wisely which words I use, in all formats. I do not want to abuse the power of words, or whatever limited gift I’ve been given using them.

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~ by mburgan on April 10, 2011.

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