If I dive directly into my shame, it has to be that I haven't written for myself—in this way, in a blog post—for many years, perhaps going as far back as high school when I was quiet and snarky and had little tolerance for the bullshit of teenagers (which isn't characteristically different than who I am today. I've no real patience for the melodrama and small talk of some adults either). Those were the awkward days of LiveJournal and Blogger, when blogging wasn't really a career yet, when it was casual creeps like me journaling publicly. My shame, though, isn't connected to my distance from blogging. It's my distance from writing.
Back then, somewhere around 2004, the writing was organic. I was a sleepy high schooler who'd wake up at 6 AM, doze off in classes where the material was easily accessible or the teachers had little interest in holding me accountable—a challenge for them too since I had learned to sleep sitting up, holding a pen—and then be well-rested for building theater sets with the stage crew or for grueling three hour wrestling practices after school. My body clock was fucked up. I was awake late at night, sometimes until 2 or 3 AM after most of my friends had logged off AIM. There was no Youtube yet. No Netflix, at least not the prolific streaming service we have today.
So I'd write on my blog.
The content of those blog posts isn't worth any long discussion; it was the musings of junior and senior year drudgery, and it's all pretty much disappeared from the internet. What is important is the nature of the work. Of course at the time I never reflected on my own writing. I was so lacking in self-awareness at seventeen and eighteen that I exited high school hoping to study music performance and never considered that I spent most of my nights, pretty much every night, quietly huddled at my Dell desktop typing page after page without restraint. And it ultimately wouldn't be until midway through my freshman year of college that my brain would turn over to recognize that I enjoyed writing, and would then later find poetry as a beloved medium—the meshing of musicality into my language.
It was a practice. I wrote often and at length. I wrote broadly and deeply. I was emotionally tied to my use of language as much as my content, tooling each sentence. Revising. I carefully hacked lines from emo song lyrics into titles hoping that they'd reflect the context of my paragraphs, and the flow of those paragraphs was meant to have a shape as well. I aimed for a resolution to each post, each writing session, but also for a continuity overall. I had developed a discipline to its undereducated and informal crafting.
My shame is two-fold.
The distance I've had with writing for myself has been echoed in my distance from writing poetry. As my friends and colleagues in my circle ask me, "Have you been writing?" I admit that I've been, very often and for a long time, lying. I side-step the real response with "not really lately" as though maybe I scribbled a few shit poems a month or two ago, or maybe I've submitted some work to journals and haven't gotten positive responses. Or I further craft the excuse and tie in some other project—being an editor for Lamplighter or The Rumpus, transitioning between careers, moving to new apartments, DJing events on weekends, and loads of other logistical minutiae that I can compound into some sense that my calendar is too full. That there aren't enough hours in the day. It's a thinly-veiled deceit that I've probably sold poorly for too long now.
The real answer is, "No. I haven't been writing."
The admission, naked and without excuse, is painful. There are moments everyday where I contemplate writing, where some brief spark of insight leads to an equally brief poetic impulse, which is difficult to muster further when I'm driving a box truck full of sound equipment on some dimly lit NJ highway after midnight, knowing that when I park the truck that I won't simply have access to a pen and paper. Or while entertaining some discussion with my freshman on the development of conclusion paragraphs in argumentative essays a shiver runs down my spine calling me to jot something stanzaic, and it is interrupted by the next student question. It's developed into the inconvenience of sex in the lives of too busy lovers—both need to either entertain it at the right moment, or one needs to push past feeling tired and distance into that clarity of physical contact, the threshold breaking caress that reminds you you'll enjoy this if you keep going.
I've thought a lot about writing across the span where I haven't actually done it. And I've questioned my relationship to the associated titles, too. Writer. Poet. Not that I haven't been a thoughtful member of the writing community. I deeply treasured my two years as the Music Editor at The Rumpus. I've published a few poems, one recently in Painted Bride Quarterly. I've felt some connection to art as a DJ and lighting programmer, in its performative aspects, in its generation of mood and tone and texture within various spaces, with various audiences. The writing of this exact post has been an idea I've floated for months now, and still the shame in this public address feels worse than holding it as a secret.
It feels freeing to write it, too.
I do have some thoughts about my lack of practice, on why I haven't been writing. But rather than use this post as an examination of my complete failure to muster, I think it'll be more valuable to tackle these ideas as I confront them individually in my return to writing (because while this is the top of the new year, and though I don't have an interest in resolutions, I do have a set of writing goals). And I think that work will help to fill a gap: I notice often the work of active writers, but that work is finality, not process. The Facebook post reveling in a newly published piece doesn't necessarily speak to the time that author took to generate it, nor does it reveal what else is inchoate or—and especially—what has fallen through. In the distance from that activity of process, especially for writers who aren't ingrained in the industry of words, who aren't working for a press or a publisher, who aren't tied to agencies or non-profit programs, who aren't paid as editors or writers, it's hard to gauge what to do. It's hard to carve your own path. It's hard to pick yourself up.
I know there are other writers in my position, including I'm sure some close friends and colleagues. Writers handcuffed by their financial lives. Writers slouching over a manuscript they don't love. Writers who've had to pivot multiple times just to stay afloat. Writers who've hit pause.
This is where I press play. Where I will break back into my more fluid poetic impulses. Where my words will be organic and weird and self-aware. Where I'll step past my shame, and hold myself accountable, and again allow myself to say Yes, I'm writing.
You won't even need to ask.