What is it, writer?

What is it, writer?

Everybody is a writer. On Saturdays, they are in cafes with their laptops. They’re waiting on your table at brunch, refilling your mimosas. At night they’re scribbling, scribbling, scribbling and waking up with a sore third eye and mistaking it for a common hangover. These writers work in offices, in the daytime sitting at a desk and keeping a blank spreadsheet open on the computer desktop to hide what they are actually doing… which might be writing to other writers they know who work desk jobs. These writers pass hilarious dog and cat animated .gifs to one another… like that one where the girl dancing across the farmyard is suddenly side-butted by an annoyed sheep. Or that dramatic prairie dog. Writers are not writing at work, because work is full of distractions, and distracted writing is like bad ironing… it’s worse than if you didn’t do it at all.

I know a writer who never writes. Or let me correct that… he has an ongoing masterpiece that is invisible except, maybe, to me… because he is always telling me about the thing he is writing that he never writes. And it changes. It has an arc, the thing that is going to be written… the thing that is about to be written… the thing that starts out in a few tentative sentences… and then decides it wants to be something else. Journals filled with descriptions of what the writing will be about, once he actually starts writing it.  Whenever he tells me about it.. whenever he shows me a few lines… there is a feeling at the back of my neck that travels into my chest, and I repress telling him that his writing is about thinking about writing, something that I once would have called a cop-out, or post-modern, or very French in some way. But now… now I think it’s just another form of writing.

I used to resent that everyone is a writer in this city. I used to feel, whenever I went into a bookstore or a library… walls and walls ceiling to floor filled with people’s lives, this utter despair. Then the internet came along and the writing filled the invisible space. The writing began to pass through my body, relayed in waves I sometimes wonder if I can feel, as someone orders frozen burritos on Instacart, or someone in a basement in Daly City texts their boyfriend in Detroit, or someone updates Facebook with a picture of their pug. People write while they walk, while they sit on the toilet, while they wait for the bus. People write while they skateboard and while they stand in line, and while they shop. People walk into poles and crash their cars writing. It’s like a spring morning so full of birds there is no longer any silence from which to distinguish the sound of words and words and words and words and words.

Shakespeare Revealed in Edward de Vere

People at parties sometimes ask me, “so what do you do?” And I know they mean, “what’s your job?” And I used to tell them what I do for money, and then for awhile I would say I am a writer, and when I got really brave I started to be even more honest and tell them I am a poet. But it never had the effect I thought it would. I never thought that the same questions would arrive in response again and again… the kind of questions that make me drink.

What, writer, have you done of merit with your life. What have you written down that I might have heard of. Have I heard of you? Have you broken hearts and sewed them back together? Did you say that thing that became an internet meme? Did the New Yorker have to ask their cartoonist to create something inspired by your lines about cancer and dogwood blossoms? Or did you break some rules with your mighty wit? What is it writer? What is your writing about?

6 thoughts on “What is it, writer?

  1. Great post, LJ. I love your style. We writers are a strange bunch. In the early seventies I attended an event in the City to hear Ferlinghetti and others read. At a reception afterwards, as poets of all stripes and colors worked the room and their egos vying for attention, a woman standing next to me suddenly turned and asked, quite seriously, “Are you somebody?” It was a stoogist question that deserved a stoogist answer. “I don’t think so,” I told her, “but let me check.” I then proceeded to take my pulse. To her credit she laughed, but I think she felt sufficiently suspicious enough to avoid me the rest of the evening. And rightly so.


    1. Paul, I love your style too- and that story you just told… oh man… I’d rather end up an unknown poet with good friends than a Titan with a wake no one comes to.


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