Some of you will have heard all this already. These topics have been very much on my mind over the last few days….
There are a lot of people who turn to literature (or art or entertainment in general) as a form of escapism. Especially the fantasy genre. There are many, many artists who create art as a form of escapism. Again, especially in fantasy. I guess the basic idea is, “This world sucks, so I’ll go spend some mind-time in a world over which I have complete control.” The two sets don’t necessarily overlap. A lot of time you’ll find artists using their escapism, asserting their control, to create a world that is very not escapist. The really dark and unpleasant and depressing stuff can be completely relaxing to its creator. Better to give than to receive, and all that.
Anyway, I think writing-as-escapism is, for the most part, just assumed. I know I always did. Sometimes it would confuse me, but it just made sense that the reason I’d dream up all these stories was to get away from the real world.
It’s really not true, though. Not for me. I’ve come to recognize that fact more and more over the last couple weeks.
A lot of writers turn to their fantasy worlds when their real life gets too real. I’m the opposite. I really cannot write, cannot invest myself in my fiction, unless my real world is in good order. All of my history of writing supports that, and…I dunno. It makes sense to me. It fits with who I am.
I have a family history of susceptibility to addictive behavior. My parents made sure I was well aware of that, growing up, and it’s a big part of my self-awareness. I keep an eye out for that. I drink, and some evenings I drink a lot, but I am constantly watching myself, paying attention, wondering if maybe it’s become an addiction.
It’s not. It could be, and I can see how easily it could be, but alcohol isn’t really my weakness. Not drugs, either. Maybe food, sometimes, but even that…not really. Video games, probably. Not writing, though.
In high school I had a counselor suggest that I make up my stories to hide from the real world. I think, at different times, both of my parents sat me down and talked with me about that, too. And I’m sure I could have gone that way, but I didn’t. You see, I’ve always taken my writing very seriously. Parable of the Talents, and all. I think of my storytelling as a way to impact the world, to make it better.
I can’t do that if I’m hiding from the world. So I don’t. If the world is challenging me — if I’m truly stressed out — then I can’t find my way to my fantasy world. Back in high school, I wrote The Poet Alexander as a sort of catharsis, describing my whole relationship with Trish (by whom I’d been dumped, at the time) in the characters of noble and brilliant Alex, so stricken by the cruelties of the woman who had spurned him.
I dunno. Catharsis has just never really been my game. I couldn’t finish the book, as much as I wanted to. Trish and I got back together in our junior year, though, and I finished the book all in a rush. A hundred and twenty pages in a week, over half of that in a single night. (It was a crazy night.) I didn’t really change the story, but it had hope. The ending was still sad, in its way, and Trish never appreciated that, but it took that…peace, I think, in my real world, to let me write at all.
Taming Fire was the same way. I wrote it during my happiest time at college. Two years later, I decided to give it a full rewrite, and I was blazing along on that, doing an awesome job (and making good time), until the second semester of my senior year hit, and suddenly I realized I had no job prospects. I had no idea what I was going to do, and I had a family to feed. Ugh. I spent most of that semester in panic, and I barely wrote a word. I think I got a C in Creative Writing that semester.
Got the job at Lowrance, which paid way better than I’d expected. Then we got Trish through with school, and she got a job, and everything settled down and was looking good (this was before I realized I hated that job), and I tore up on the rest of that rewrite. It was really some of the most productive writing I’d ever done. I even got some major work on King Jason’s War done before work started to wear at me, and then I stopped. And work got worse and worse, and for two years I didn’t write a thing.
I’ve been thinking about these things, as month after month goes by without us getting a rent check on the Tulsa house, and Sleeping Kings goes unfinished, and I open up Word to write, and find I have nothing to say. I can’t get into the story, I can’t go there, because there’s too much unfinished here….
And I always thought maybe I’d be a writer now, if things had been different. Maybe if I hadn’t married Trish, I would have tried the starving artist thing. I don’t think so, though. I dunno, maybe it would be different if I didn’t have a family to feed. Maybe I’d be willing to give in to the escapism, to sacrifice the real world for my imaginary one, but I really don’t think so. I think my parents raised me with too great a sense of responsibility, in that regard at least.
I need stability, I need comfort, I need peace, before I can go to that place where the U. S. is falling apart and golden ages burn, where civilization itself threatens to crumble. It’s a pretty strange situation.
I think I’m proud of myself for that, though. But, yeah, I hope things get better soon. I would really like to get to the part where everything blows up, y’know?