Monday, December 21, 2009

First day of Winter. (The Winter Solstice! It's the reason for the season!)

I suppose it's possible that the miscreant who stole my neighbor's baby Jesus was just too poor to afford his own baby Jesus, but in my mind it still ain't right. (See here.) I'm as saddened by that priest as I am by my local cul-de-sac shoplifter, but maybe I'm just Old School Religious, like where, hey man, stealing is just wrong, you know?

This also makes me sick. I visited Dachau about ten years ago and was struck by the (similar) sign and its stark, eeriness. Godless totalitarianism became so real at that moment, walking alone through those gates, where before it had been little more than a historical concept. It didn't occur to me to steal the sign, incidentally, but like a good American I did take a picture of it. When I got home, I taped it on my computer to compel me to keep writing. It hovered there above the screen for years: ARBEIT MACHT FREI. In English: "Work Means Freedom". I was miserable for so long, and yet I held out hope that If I just kept at it, maybe I could get good and make something of myself, sell something. It never really happened, and the pic never really helped. On the contrary, it may have made me loathe the craft altogether, as I dragged myself to that work camp every day, writing what I thought I was supposed to be writing, or something, or whatever. Eventually I hated and resented it. I stopped reading, stopped seeing movies, and then I think I stopped writing the day I ripped that 3x5 off the computer. Went off and got myself a contractor's license and a wife, I did. And five years after that I started this blog. Thought I'd see if it would take.

In some unexpected ways, it did. This will be my 235th post this year, matching last year's 235, and I think, to some degree, that's an achievement. I'm not going to claim that it's all great writing, (or even good writing) but I did it. I sat down and wrote a bit for most of the year. I tried to have new thoughts. I tried to put a few words together that I'd never seen put together in that order before. Some days I succeeded a bit.

The goal was really something else, however. I wanted to see if I could do it on top of a full-time job and a full-time family. I wanted to see if a bit of creativity would transpire amid the madness of spinning those other plates, because... for ten years I thought I needed to suffer "The Writer's Life" being poor and lonely, pursuing the Mighty Dream of ART for art's sake. Now I know that that was a mighty lie. Why, since I started writing this post 45 minutes ago I have had to get up from the keyboard and 1) put the child in the bath, 2) get the other child away from playing in the toilet, 3) turn the burners off on the dinner that's cooking, and 4) well, a million other fits and starts not worth mentioning. But I'm writing. And I'm happy at the same time, where before I thought misery was some necessary apparatus. What a joke.

I know I'm no Van Gogh, but I was very nearly as depressed as he was throughout the 90s. At the time I found it vaguely inspiring, the way no one likes to smoke alone. Now I know that Van Gogh would still have painted great art if he was happy. The two things, disposition and ability, are totally unconnected, and I have no idea why I ever thought they were. (I can still be bold: I suspect that if Van Gogh had conquered his internal demons, his art would have been altogether more elevating -though perhaps they wouldn't sell for the millions they do today. It's the world we live in.) Anyway, if someone tells you otherwise, check and see if they're miserable first. Never accept advice on success and happiness from someone who's miserable.

Towards the end there, circa 1999, I read a quote from Ray Bradbury who said he loved writing so much that he just sat at the typewriter in his basement all day long and just laughed and laughed, and then spent the rest of the day collecting metaphors. It floored me. I was so miserable writing, that I knew I would never be a success, and if I ever were, what would be the point? I knew I could never be like Bradbury because I was living wrong.

So I quit. I quit for about five years.

And then I, sort of... started again. What's surprising to me is how easy it was to come up with something to write about every day. That's not to say that it was ever consistently interesting to read, per se, but I never expected anyone to have a daily rapture upon reading my morning journal. My intent from the outset was just to entertain myself, to find some joy in the craft, and, happily, there have been some days where Mrs. Ditchman has asked me what I'm laughing about, while I was in front of the computer, and I just shook my head and said "nothing" because I was just cracking myself up. If you spend a lot of time being creative, you know the feeling: the good stuff comes from somewhere else. And I like that somewhere else. I want it to vacation here. Now, it would be nice to have something to show for it, instead of some random set of blog entries.

Real writing is hard. It takes discipline and work. And attention. This is more like journal writing, which is little more than a small flexing of the muscles, a few miles of jogging a day when you know you're capable of competitive racing. "Journal writing" is what professional writers do on top of the hardcore stuff they dedicate themselves to. Journal writing is relaxing. And blogging is a joke.

I know how hard it is, and I know I should dedicate some more time to it all if I pretend to aspire to something more valuable. Time is hard to find nowadays, but I know that's an excuse. (I used to have all the time in the world, and look where it got me.) So all this to say... I think I'm going to ease back on the blog. It's always been the original Most Significant Thing: passion, though now there are others. Mrs. Ditchman, who showed me what those others were, has been so great at putting up with it, being my tolerant muse and my dutiful enabler, but I know the sad truth why: because years ago, just after we were married, I told her that I would never be happy working in construction, and it has haunted this family ever since. She's had to live with that cruel joke -that I would mislead her down some illusory path of security, building these funny aluminum patio covers. But she has found it in herself to look the other way when I write. And sometimes she sends me an email, "Good blog today" and I weep about it on the way to work, the grateful husband, doing his duty. Work means freedom.

The year's coming to a close. I'll be 40 in 2010. It's time to work a little harder on some other significant things. I miss fiction, which I happen to think I'm better at than this, local effusive commentary. I don't expect to sell a million novels or anything -I just love it- and someone else out there might appreciate what I got. After all, though the Boston Marathon qualifying time is 3:20 for a 40-year-old, I was able to muster 3:26 without too much extra effort. Maybe I've got something special in me. Hey, maybe you do, too.

I've always been sentimental and, hell, it's Christmas time, so we're frosting the lollipops, here. And tomorrow I've got some big-ass senseless patio cover with some funky plastic sheathing on top of it -you know, to protect from the rain that comes two days out of the year in this county. It doesn't make any damn sense, except that there's a paycheck in it. But like I said, I'm sentimental. I believe things do change, with effort. I used to think every day was the first day of Winter, but now I know those heavenly bodies need us, with our dark matter, to heft them round the sun.