“Because I want things to exist in the world.”—Impossible Mike, “an excessive pointlessness beyond terror and despair: why do i write”—HTMLGiant
Part 1 – The Existential
This is not a very good explanation. It strikes a true chord. I am/We are continually exiting Plato’s cave into the light. Better still, we have the capability to shine light inside that cave. I have a capability to shine a light. A little light, and a small corner of the cave, but so what? While I might have been raised in the evangelical sense of the children’s song, there is—and always has been—a greater sense of humanity, a greater sense of the cave. Sometimes there is a sense of being overwhelmed—such a little light, such an awesome cave. As Impossible Mike puts it, “an excessive pointlessness beyond terror and despair.” You are being too generous.
I write because I know there is no success in my genre. The challenges I face—the darknesses I dare—are the ones I determine to confront. Am I blind to those I choose not to? Yes. And no. Self-doubt creeps in at those blind spots. So, again, why should I choose to write, to expose myself to the self-doubt, the known shortcomings, the fears and loathings? Is it pointless to place new little lights into the world?
The answer, if I judge by my own experience, is “no, it is not pointless.”
If books like The Little Engine that Could or Where the Sidewalk Ends or any of the other hundreds of books I read before second grade can attach to the psyche of a child, and provide a little light in some of the dark corners, then maybe one of my little lights could do the same someday. Just as books have continued to play a large role in my life, I hope one of my (eventual) books or poems reaches others. And maybe this is one of the sources of this “excessive pointlessness.”
The existential dread fed by continuous rejections certainly does not go away, because rejections do not go away. So there is a continuous struggle to take the basket off the light, to let it shine as a little point in one corner of the cave. Every writer struggles with these issues; I am under no illusion that existential struggle is unique to my experience. Joining those who do fight the weight of the basket everyday seems a more honorable pursuit than the literal fighting so many others pursue without questioning the reasoning. I joined the military; one of the biggest reasons I did not stay in was because of the vast unquestioning required for successful service. A lot of my fellow service members left for the same reasons.
Faced by illegal war, outright lies designed to perpetrate that war, and the required rejection of all the little lights I and others had placed about our personal caves, those conscientious and attentive of us faced a dark existential crisis. Some turned to getting kicked out through drugs; some drank themselves silly every night in avoidance; some found other ways to avoid thinking about the situation. The Marines started recruiting less skilled—and less intelligent—people for our job in response. Certainly the guys coming into my unit after the war in Iraq began were more pliant and less conflicted over the war. I wrote. I also drank, and count myself among those who tried to avoid the existential crisis that way. But this did not solve the problems I was having inside my head. So I decided to attack the problems with the war through writing. I remembered how poetry had helped me in high school, how it helped me access and confront the existential, the darkened cave, the void. So I went back to writing.
In lieu of getting myself kicked out of the military, I and a couple others managed to confront our conflicted minds by kicking the baskets off our lights, one at a time, and before I knew it, my time in the Marines—and the source of internal conflicts—was at an end.
So, writing for me has existential benefits in two ways. The thought of offering a little light in a dark world to even one person motivates me by remembering how picking up books, poems, and stories throughout my life has influenced my well-being. The act of writing has always helped me work through my own—at times dark—cave. Whether lighting my own mind or hopefully providing a spark to someone else, writing offers a way to counter that “excessive pointlessness beyond terror and despair.”
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