Saturday, April 5, 2008

SS: The Committee

I used to love to write.

Every time I gave myself or was given the opportunity to put words to print, I'd feel that slight intake of breath and that rise in the number of heartbeats that always came with the possibility of doing something creative -- pulling a fragment out of my mind and making it into something that had the power give someone else (even if it was just me) a glimpse into my own thinking and being. Humans live to communicate, it's how we survive, so I think sometimes the rush of an idea is almost elemental, a function of the most primitive parts of our brains.

I remember the first time I was given a creative writing assignment. It was ninth grade in high school, and within seconds of the teacher announcing it, I was already plotting the story in my head (the story of my life! would have gone my self-centered 14-year old thinking). The stakes seemed so high, but they thrilled me, and I know I didn't have any problem rushing home after the last bell rang to the computer, ready to get it all down.

I took a creative writing course in college, and it was there, under the tutelage of an aging hippie professor that I began to learn how to grab and control all the characters, plot themes, symbols and other literary effluvia swarming around my head. Control was already becoming the larger issue in my life, but this was all still a decade before control would unravel me. In that college class, writing was safe for me. It was what I did, who I was and the only way at the time I could love myself.

I took a job as an editorial assistant in a New York City medical marketing company, thinking it would give me the chance at that carousal ring every writer seeks, the job that actually pays you to write. I was dismayed to find this was not the case. I was judged much more on my ability to quickly secure permissions to use materials in marketing kits on various diseases, most of which, save for the literary delights of the mental disorders, I found completely lacking in any kind of creative merit. I knew the act of writing was actually happening somewhere in those offices, but it was an activity seldom shared with those in lowly administrative positions.

So I moved on, and found a job where I could actually write for a living. It was at a trade magazine devoted to television production, and while this was no Atlantic Monthly, it was a place where I could actually write entire articles with my byline, which was enough for me. Yes, I was being paid to write. I loved it. I stayed at this place for four years.

It's now been eight years since I first walked through the door at that trade magazine. And it's been at least three since I lost the ability to really get excited about writing. And somewhere within those three years, I've come to dread the act of writing. I cannot pinpoint where it all started. I know I have not really lost my passion for writing, it has just been dormant. I can't seem to draw it out completely. I'll have moments of pleasure when writing something for a client, and those moments remind me I still "have it in me." But now the dread is the dominant feeling.

Of course, there were seeds of this all throughout my twenties. It was during my early 20s that I began to truly hone my perfectionist tendencies, and as we all know, perfectionism stops creativity and passion in its tracks. There was a room in head, built sometime in high school. Perhaps the cornerstone was laid when a teacher first criticized me, or my first boyfriend dumped me or I first spotted my lonely, awkward teenage self in the mirror and thought, "How ugly." Then a table appeared in my head, at the front of this room, then several chairs, all lined up behind the table. Then one last chair, a more spindly-looking one, was placed in front of the table, facing the other chairs.

At some point, I took my place in this solitary chair, and people began filing into the room. These were professional types, wearing suits and fancy heels. As they clipped past me, the breeze they created would split open the two halves of their silk trench coats, and a half would slap me in the face.

This was the committee. They were here to catch me in all my actions, point out my slip ups, make sure I "understood" how to behave, to be. At first they'd remind me about little things: "Getting a little chubby, aren't we?" "He'd never go out with you!" "Don't ask for more money -- you're lucky they hired you in the first place!" Gradually, they became more strident, more esoteric: "You love the wrong people." "You don't want children because you're wicked." "You'll be alone forever." Finally: "You are not a writer. You're a wannabe." "You aren't a professional." "Nobody takes you seriously.""Go for this -- we won't say we 'told you so!' when you fail."

Of course, we all have our committees. It's just that some of us can better define who sits on these committees, knows where they've seen that person before, and maybe knows how to tell the person to shut up. I've only just learned there IS a committee. Well, as the saying goes, awareness is key. I know there is someone on that committee battling me over writing, laying out a detailed case for why I should have never have presumed myself a writer in the first place. At least I know that person is there, in my head. Now -- how do I get him or her out?

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