On (not) Starting Projects

After all this time feeling like these words have been waiting to fall out of me, I force myself down in front of the keyboard. The language established, the story there in my mind, poking me with fragments and urges, I was forcing myself to hold it back; I was the one not ready. I am not, but I have run out of ways of putting it off, manufactured tasks and other plans. I can no longer afford extravagant adventure, can borrow no more from my father without surpassing the threshold of shame, which I have come to realize is higher than most other people my age when it comes to borrowing from parents. So there will be no more spending for the sake of the story, expensive excursions justified by the memory they’ll create (surely nothing worth writing about would have occurred without them).

Perhaps, however, what’s really sat me down today in front of the soft-lit letters surrounded by similarly glowing dots and dashes, numbers and symbols, is that I’ve told too many people this is what I am doing here, this is what I am working on. “Writing a book,” I told anyone who asked what I was doing. Stupid I was. I thought if I told enough people, I’d be too embarrassed to not write. Now it’s working, I’m embarrassed. Stupid I was, thinking this some brilliant tactic. I write, or I suffer the shame of explaining that I simply never sat down and even bothered starting. My present self is frustrated with how well my past self knew me. I can’t face having that conversation as many times as there are people I’ve told.

A friend calls and somewhere in the catching up asks how the book is going. “Great,” I tell them, or depending on how close we are, modify that answer to some other, slightly more honest, variation: “I haven’t written as much as I wanted to, but, you know, I’ve started.” Or, “I haven’t actually written any of the book yet, but I’ve been journaling a lot, and, you know, making notes.” As I say this I’m thinking, it’s not really a lie as long as I start tomorrow, but until today, tomorrow has repeated and repeated and repeated without progress. The only people I’m completely honest with are my mother and my partner; they know I hike and workout, cook, do laundry and dishes, and otherwise spend my time reading the news, endlessly scrolling the world’s genocides and misdemeanours, occasionally spending an hour or two as an SJW writing a long critical post, then checking and rechecking it for the rest of the day counting my likes.

The lie that I’ve started is only made worse by the supportive reactions it’s met with: “That’s awesome that it’s going so well…what’s it about?” Or worse even than that, sympathetic understanding: “Don’t beat yourself up about not writing enough, at least you’re writing. Do you know what it’s about yet?” Or, “journaling is important, it’s part of the process, you probably have a sense of what it’s going to be about now.”

Shit, I think, am I supposed to know that? It seems pretty specific. Everyone always asks as though that’s something the author of a book is supposed to know, and while I have an idea, I don’t have an explanation. Since it seems only more embarrassing to follow up the lie about having started with the honest truth, “I don’t have a fucking clue what it’s about,” I lie again and give everyone the same spiel: “I don’t really know how to describe it yet. It’s kind of a coming of age novel, I guess. So far it’s mostly about apathy and confusion in a world where we’re aware of so much that it’s hard to know what to do with all that awareness and how to feel about it, like how to feel at all without being overwhelmed or becoming totally numb to all the shit we see. Hopefully I’ll have written more and will be able to give you a sense of the actual story when I see you sometime.”

There’s actually nothing untrue about that explanation; that is exactly what I would like to write about. The reason it’s a lie is because I have no idea how my idea for a story at all goes along with (in my mind) that fucking brilliant concept. As long as I put off actually seeing anyone I’ve told this to, I’m good with nothing more than that as an explanation. People seem to respond well to it, and I’m a fan of sticking with what’s working.

It certainly gets a better reaction than the answer I was giving all summer when “writing a book” was something I was going to do in the fall, rather than something I was supposedly doing right now. When people asked what it was going to be about then, I’d tell them, “it’s a homoerotic coming of age novel, but literary, not smutty.” This was, and still is, also an honest answer, but it’s an answer I didn’t really ever want to expand on. I’d deliver it jokingly, thinking they’d laugh and leave it at that. As it turns out, I’m often not as funny as I think I am, and when my response wasn’t met with, “what’s homoerotic?” it was regularly met with increased genuine curiosity, and more questions. Shit, I’d think. Again? How is that not funny enough to be left alone? Rather than simply telling them I didn’t really know much more about it yet, I told them I didn’t want to talk about it as I was holding off on the narrative development until I started writing. When they’d ask why I wasn’t writing yet, I’d respond that I wasn’t writing because I was busy, and anyway, I was intentionally constipating my drive to write.

Yes, I kid you not; this was the analogy I used. In fact, I used it this morning again when on the phone with my friend Leenz. It’s honest, and it makes sense to me: I’ve been holding off on writing hoping the pressure will build to a bursting point, and when I finally sit down and allow myself to write, the story will come out compact, concise, and hard-hitting. However, I’ve clearly forgotten an important detail regarding constipation: once you start holding it in, it’s really hard and painful to eventually get it out. Perhaps there’s something to be said for a smooth, regular, and in turn comfortable writing process. Oh man. Oh man, oh man. The analogies I could continue to make, the avenues of potty humour I could go down…I thought kids were the only ones who found this shit funny (did you see what I did there?).

But enough! I’ve already gotten too much pleasure out of writing this masturbatory procrastinatory essay with its slow stroking of ego and immature wit, its smooth self-deprecation; it is time to move on. This project was never supposed to be about me anyway; it is supposed to be about all of you.