I can’t help but feel like I’m approaching a point where I’ll consider myself to be living, in most regards, in extremis. The Latin definition of the phrase is “in the farthest reaches,” or, a little more dismally, “at the point of death.” I’m not at the point of death, not in any literal sense, but I do find myself approaching the farthest reaches of what I once considered to be myself.
All elements of my personality and identity have been, in one way or another, called into question. Usually I’m the one doing the questioning, spurred by ideas and concepts I’d never considered but which, nevertheless, have drastic effects on how I view my place in the world and the very nature of that world. In the broadest (and perhaps most important) terms, I have been forced to question why I want to be a writer, and what I actually seek to do with that desire. I don’t know that I’ve found any definitive conclusion aside from the steadfast fact that I wish to tell stories. Beyond that there is so much doubt and worry that the place I’m sending myself will be a place of strife and anxiety.
Here is where extremis comes in: I am afraid that I do not care one iota for the consequences of my trajectory. As my heading has always displayed boldly (and, until recently, cynically), “The destruction of Earth is imminent.” Maybe not imminent in any really immediate sense, although we’ve already been witnessing the pre-fallout of anthropogenically-driven environmental catastrophe for over a decade now. Hurricane Maria is only a stepping-stone–the loss of life in the thousands and the property damages in the millions of dollars–that’s just one step on the long road to destruction.
There are no solid, tangible, identifiable products, no visible effects, of stories. Certainly the story a little Puerto Rican girl read the night before her house was destroyed may well have no bearing on the continuation of her life. But it might also inspire her, either because of a relatable and strong character she encounters, or because of similar strife viewed through the lens of literary clarity, or because of something else entirely random and unpredictable, yet beautiful in its sporadic nature: wonderment, hope, inspiration.
Artists deal in intangibles; we measure the value of our life on a rubric of that which can never be quantified. There is no mean, no median, besides that of publication sales, that can bring before the writer’s eyes tangible proof of their success. Even then, the quantification of success into figures and digits with dollar signs is a cheap excuse for merit, and not one any self-respecting writer should ever adhere to. What, then, is left?
Wonderment, hope, and inspiration. I believe they’re all we’ve got in these dismal times. It is increasingly important for us to look beyond narrow and petty conceptions of the self as a divided entity, separated from the world at large. It is increasingly vital that we acknowledge an inherent connectedness with all material things in this world, living and non-living. It is only through an acknowledgement that we are in this together that we will ever have any hope for survival.
In a microcosm of the web of terror and uncertainty that seems to plague so many, I have seen the burgeoning vestiges of a writerly community taking shape. It is a community of Millennials, driven by an almost childlike love for art to propagate more art that will in turn engender further awe and wonderment in younger generations (and, if we’re lucky, maybe a few Boomers will listen in–but probably not). It is an inspiring thing to know so many people (or to admire them from afar) who want to take their power of creativity to a larger stage. The greatest questions facing us in the future will be how to subvert the constraints of a streamlined system, of an audience-selective marketing strategy, in order to share our stories with a larger breadth of readers than merely those we expect or imagine–or exclude. International “boundaries” and “barriers” are more than illusory when they have the power to dictate the dissemination of information and entertainment (or, as I’ve begun thinking of them, for they are inextricably intertwined in this day and age, info-tainment). Such boundaries restrict the content produced by the people they contain to particularly selected audiences. This is dangerous, for it closes down a potentially-cyclical exchange of information and content. The apparatuses we’ve built up around ourselves do not make us free; rather, they constrain, mold, and shape us beyond the power of our wills and desires–thereby tainting the very aspects of our identities that we consider most natural and secret.
All of this is to say, in a pedantic and somewhat-pretentious manner, that we are utterly fucked, and we need people–young people with new ideas, old people with valuable lessons–to be able to share (and, unfortunately, by necessity, to publish) their stories so that they might reach as many audiences and niches as possible. The very fact that niche markets exist indicates the prevalence of certain kinds of writing and the power they’re given through the ever-inflating Advertising Monster with its Tentacles, Amazon and Google. In a period of history when the Truth is an increasingly rare commodity, it seems vital that artist-writers share their own Truths with as much vigor, strength, and prescience-of-mind as possible. It’s the only way for us to keep (or attain) a clarified understanding of the systems entrapping and manipulating us toward destructive ends.
Such tasks require serious sacrifices. I am increasingly of a mind that no artist or writer can truly devote themselves to their craft unless that is their sole venture, or, at least, The Paramount Venture above all others. This means shedding the idea that we must participate in a neo-capitalist economy, slaving in occupations we hate (or at least don’t love) in order to please financial purveyors of greed. It seems clear to me that the only way to create art that addresses and takes to task the problems of our day is to do so in extremis. To profane the apparatuses that surround us, we must ourselves first become profane.
Thank God nobody reads this blog. I’m quickly approaching a point where, if this was the 1950s, I’d be on all kinds of FBI Red Lists.
But, hell, it’s 2018, and the world has gone to shit. I cannot in good conscience adhere to the dictates of a society that actively seeks to repress, suppress, oppress, and destroy its own peoples. To accommodate a self-destructive system is the greatest act of schizophrenic self-immolation I’ve ever imagined, and I want no part of it–except to defile it.
My fear, or, rather, my concern, moving forward, into my final year of undergraduate school, is whether or not one can truly profane a system without somehow being entrapped by it. I think entrapment must be a necessary pre-condition to the realization of profanation’s necessity, but is it necessarily enduring? or might one find a way to escape, to detrap oneself, while also pursuing an agenda of creative, constructive profanation?
In other words, the question of the year (for me) is: How do I tell stories that disrupt the bioapparatus without completely destroying myself in the process?
For we are, whether we like it or not, products of the apparatuses that engender the very need for our original conception. Since these systems convinced our parents (and theirs before them, and so on) that they must procreate, how could we not inherently be products thereof? And are we ever truly our own, or do we always retain some vestige of the system that has created us?
War (still a working title) is over 1,200 pages by now. It is clearly a novel that struggles to answer these same questions. I hope that, by the end, I have found some semblance of a conclusion, maybe not a solution, but an answer, an idea…
For a while, I doubted that writing could actually save me, be a therapy as many suggest. I think I was right to hold that doubt, because no singular act will ever cure the possibly-uncurable human condition. Not for any one person, any individual self… But words are powerful; stories, doubly so. There is something here to be harnessed, to be wielded as more powerful than any legion of warheads. There is something here to be employed in the battle against entrapment, in the search for revitalization. It is worth persevering to find. And it brings me hope to see so many others of my generation asking the same questions, in their own shades and forms, through the act of creation.
It can only bring good things–even if there must first be a terrible storm.