Tagged: contemplation

Building character through self-flagellation

I am my worst critic.

This site sees the occasional troll drop by, looking to unload some abuse before they go on their merry way.  Believe me, nothing they say comes close to the punishments I inflict on myself for various real, perceived or imagined sins and crimes.  Offenses against literature, my family, fellow human beings, God…oh, yes, I am a serious transgressor.  Probably should be burned at the stake:  move over, Mr. Bruno, make room for a real bad guy.

This past weekend was one of those occasions when I took myself to task, first raking my personality over the coals (lots of material there), then mounting a sustained attack on my writing ability.

The latter hurt much, much more.

I can live with being pompous, unforgiving, ruthless, cowardly, unkind, cruel…but telling me I suck as an author cuts me to the quick.

Weird. I turned professional in 1985 with a couple of big short story sales, plus I received a Canada Council grant that year to write a collection of tales on the theme of nuclear war.  I was riding high, well on my way to a long, successful writing career. Fast forward 27 years and I’m still berating myself for not being good enough, not writing with sufficient power and conviction to earn a decent reading audience. Christ, look at those pitiful Amazon sales—right now my books are scoring lower with readers than the guy who composed the life story of his pet turtle in Alexandrine couplets.

Another part of my brain plaintively opines that it’s not about the money, it’s about writing the books that need to be written, good books, literary offerings not constrained by market trends or readers’ expectations.  And then the prissy little voice sharpens, reminding me I’m not scoring very well on that count either, that my books aren’t smart or original or stylistically daring. I’m not an innovator, I’m a pale imitation of my literary heroes.

Books not selling, readers indifferent, preferring to spend their hard-earned shekels on dry-humping teen vampires and spank me-fuck me fan fiction. Not a brilliant stylist, so I can’t even hope for the consolations of posterity.

Why bother? Why keep going on? Why keep subjecting my mind, body and spirit the the daily grind of putting words on paper?

I spent most of Saturday in this mode and devoted all of Sunday to recovering from my self-imposed funk. Yesterday evening my wife and I went for a walk in the hills near our town, just to help me breathe and reintegrate myself. I talked to Sherron about my frustrations, aired some of my fears and complaints. She gave me a fair hearing, then glanced over, smiling. “You know what the final result will be,” she teased. “What, you’re going to quit writing and get a job at a 7-11? Just to prove you’re a bread-winner?”

And I had to grin. Of course, it’s a foolish notion. She cut through my bullshit and subterfuge with a few well-chosen words.

I’ve known Sherron longer than I’ve been a pro writer. I would go so far to say I’m a pro writer because of Sherron. Before I met her my work was inner directed, self-indulgent…really quite appalling. But she opened me up to a wider world of life, experience, art, helping transform me into a better person and a better author. She is my greatest source of support, refusing to acknowledge the possibility that I might not be a literary genius. I am and that’s that. Her faith bucking me up, insulating me against all the insecurity and self-loathing I bring to bear on myself. She knows me better than anyone else so who am I to argue?

Quit writing? What an absurd proposition. It would be easier to quit eating or drawing air into my lungs. It’s my curse, my fate, my destiny to spend most of my waking life isolated, alone, scribbling words in notebooks, arranging and rearranging them until something pleasing suggests itself.  And then going on to the next project…and the next…and the next…

I can protest, piss and moan about it, but in the end I will be compelled to enter my small office, plop myself down in this black, high-backed chair and commence work. Nothing else will suffice. There’s no replacement, no substitution, no possibility of a mid-life career change.

Hello, my name is Cliff Burns, I’m forty-eight years old and I’m a writer.

And I always will be.