A Writer’s Bad Day

It’s been difficult to process things lately. I am beset with a profound sadness over the brokenness of everything. I am overwhelmed with the impossibility of surviving in this economy. I am befuddled by the ways other people think. I begin to fear that I am the only person who thinks like I do, and thus that I am more profoundly alone than previously imagined.

Weighed down with the burden of publishing and self-promotion (both of which require a massive insuck of new technical skills and new large-scale goals), I find myself too exhausted to create. My mind is empty. I have killed the muse. I am a machine only, built and primed and rebuilt for the sending of hundreds of emails and the meaningless monitoring of a Facebook statistics graph. There is nothing more in me of organism, of the swelling and inventive and all-believing spirit that possessed me, at age 12, to write a novella in two and a half months. That same spirit drove me to write other books, and The Tower of Babel, but only its dim echo saw me through a year and a half of editing that text and the subsequent typesetting and cover design and website building and price research and Facebook ad buying and review copy mailing and—

I hate this process and this life, but I do love words. I do love stories. I love Story itself, the unfolding tapestry that is this universe. The question is, will I ever make story again? Will I ever contribute to the unfolding of those around me? Or am I damned to silence and the petty pleasing of those for whom margin and bottom line are Lord God? If only I could write a screed against them. But I have nothing left to say, and no time in which to say it.

I am lost. I am without anchor. I am not happy. I am incapable of pleasing those who mete out bits of money to me for my half-hearted attempts at idiocy. I am apathetic. I don’t vote, in politics or religion or anything else. I just float. It’s easier that way. I don’t know if I will ever again have the drive to do anything or be anyone.

Oh yes, because who I am doesn’t fit any of the molds offered to me. I am too misshapen, too big over here and too small over there. My capacities for thought and verbal expression are exceptional, and yet they are not honored. I have no voice and no audience. I am a silent mouthless head in silence, and I am trundling along. I don’t say forwards, because there is no progress or linearity in this phase of life. There is only soup. You’re just part of it. You can drown or float, but you can’t get out and walk on dry land.

Oh yes, you could say I’m depressed.

This endless vapid broadcasting into the void has left me formless and void within. I think I died a little bit with each Facebook post and each triumphant hard-won book sale. I don’t see myself any more. I don’t feel the heat of my driving fire. I don’t see the dross that it has burned up. I just see cold ash.

I am the kind of person who will walk gingerly around a spider spinning a web in the middle of the stairwell. In the random happenings and in the random confluence of the life of all things, I see nobody else’s idea of right and wrong. I don’t take up their causes. I just watch. I process. Then I tell people what they’re doing wrong. It’s obvious at that point. This is why I’m unfit for any sort of employment. They don’t know how much I die inside when I pretend to give a damn about their bottom line. Their greediness and profiteering are just as wrong to hound me for compliance as the spider is right to make that web wherever he pleases. They can have their money; I’ll watch the spider.

I am more placidly depressed than ever, and yet I am a better writer than ever. Perhaps you can’t speak to people’s shadowy and grunted agonies unless you have plumbed your own to the depths. Perhaps it’s some cosmic rite of passage, some lone universal door through which all prophets must pass to gather the skills of prophecy.

Perhaps it’s God teaching me what pain is so I can heal the pain of others.

On Being a Christ-follower and Practicing Artist in the Indie Age

The paradigm shift in the distribution of art brings with it new conundrums for the artist who follows Christ. We who were raised on Sting and J.R.R. Tolkien are confronted now with five thousand Appleseed Casts—that is, untold numbers of fair-to-middlin artists who are doing what we do, doing it fairly well, who’ve been doing it for years, but haven’t broken through to the Next Level. The explosion of the home studio and desktop publishing has opened our eyes to the potential of indie production and indie distribution; and yet it has led us not to the Promised Land of artistic success (whatever that is), but to a vast and seething plain of just-like-us’s, to a leveled playing field without gatekeepers in which both the mediocre and the gifted glorious languish in the drowning noise of oversaturation.

In this, which we didn’t expect when the muse led us to creation on dark late nights and mornings without the sun—in this strange new world, what is our role? Who is our audience? And is it okay for a Christ-follower to fight to be heard? Had we gone mainstream, we wouldn’t have to fight—but someone else would be fighting for us. That’s uncomfortable too. The whole system, the whole idea of being read or heard by people you don’t know, is called into question. Isn’t it all just self-promotion—even self-indulgence?

The answer lies in our answer to why we do art. If we’re doing it because it’s what we’ve always done, because we want to be heard, because we want to belong, then we are indulging ourselves; our ego and our motivation will run out when we hit the wall of self-promotion.

But it’s not all ego. Some of us, whether by upbringing or temperament or both, have been given the ability to see visions. These visions may speak to others. They may even heal. We may never know how our art affects our audience—and if we aren’t indulging ourselves, we don’t need to know. If we aren’t indulging ourselves, we can fire off novels and albums into the ether and trust that if God has spoken truth through us, he will see that truth through; he will get it to someone who needs it. And whether we benefit financially from that delivery or not is entirely beside the point. All we need to do is show up and write, show up and sing, show up and send emails.

In Ephesians 4:7, Paul says, “But to each one of us, grace has was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘when he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ Now, this expression, ‘he ascended’, what does it mean except that he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is himself also he who ascended far above the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

If I read this right, Paul is saying that we have each been given a measure of grace, a grace that somehow echoes from Christ’s gift to us. He then reminds us what Christ as a concept is—that putting of descent before ascent, that abandonment entirely of any hope of ascent. Then he returns to the grace that has been given us when he says that some of us are apostles, prophets, and so on. I think he’s talking about dying for your calling according to the measure of Christ’s grace (the measure of self-sacrifice and talent) that has been given to you. For us, this means dying for our art, in an amount proportional to the talent we’ve been given.

We are artists. We are today’s prophets. We cry out in the wilderness, whispering or screaming that this thing is broken. And in doing this, in staying true to our prophecy (which may be far more other-needed than our self-indulgence could ever imagine), we must first descend into the lower parts of the earth before we can ascend on high leading captive a host of liberated captives and giving gifts to our fellow men and women.