A literary influence is never just a literary influence. It’s also an influence in the way you see everything—in the way you feel your life.
"Slaves of the Internet, Unite!" is the kind of headline that is guaranteed to get you attention on the Internet. And so, my little corner of it was ablaze yesterday with its central question: Is it right to write for free?
This discussion typically ping-pongs between two extremes: (1) It’s deeply unjust and insulting to ask people for free work, including free writing; and (2) If you don’t want to write for free, then just don’t, end of story. These are easy and attractive answers, but the question is deeper.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
What it’s about.
"It’s not about the work," countless people told me before we set off for our mission trip to Jamaica. "It’s all about the people, not the work you’ll be doing."
That’s a great thought, but it’s not entirely true. For me, so far, the work is what has stood out the most.
Let me explain.
I’m not a strong person, physically. I didn’t grow up on a farm, and I work behind a computer all day.
I also have a fused spine, which limits my lifting capability to 50 lbs, prohibits my lungs from fully inflating, and more.
So what I’ve taken away from this trip so far is just how physically limited I am.
The work we’re doing here at the village has been pretty strenuous manual labor — digging and shoveling rocks into buckets, lifting and dumping said buckets of rocks, digging trenches, mixing and dumping concrete by hand — and I’ve tried to keep up.
But I can’t.
What this means is that I’ve learned a lot about myself and my physical limitations this week — or perhaps I’ve simply come to understand them better.
I wanted to fit in — even more so, I wanted to help, and do an equal share of the work. So I keep pushing myself to try and make that happen. I keep doing anything to keep from having to admit to those working so hard around me: “I am not strong.”
Or worse: “I can’t do this.”
If you’ve never faced a physical limitation, I can’t explain to you the deep sense of shame and humiliation that comes from being expected to do something quite normal — and then failing at it. Especially if other people (with normal, functional bodies) are watching.
I fully realize the irony (or is it appropriateness?) that comes from experiencing this realization in a village for the deaf. Especially in Jamaica, a country where the deaf are maligned to servitude or worse within their own families, where they face an unemployment rate of 80% and are called “dummies” by the general population.
We all suffer for our limitations, be they physical or otherwise. In feeling shamed by my own disability, I have discovered a humility I never would have in the U.S., where nothing beyond my ability is ever required of me.
I also have a greater respect and admiration not only for the hard work and strength of my mission team members, but for people who do this kind of work day in and day out throughout their entire lives.
So what I’m feeling right now is humbled, right down to my core, which is probably precisely what one should feel on a mission trip. I just hadn’t known that it would come to me in this way.
Which, when you get right down to it, is probably the point.
Writing & travel.
I always feel like a writer—a real writer—should be well-traveled. Should have been to Paris at some point, or sipped tea in Morocco. Or whatever.
But I’ve never traveled. Being relatively poor, I haven’t had the opportunity. I’ve never felt like a real writer. (Shh. That’s a secret.)
BUT. Now I get my chance.
Tomorrow, I leave for a service project in Jamaica, where I’ll be working with tiny deaf children. I don’t know quite how to feel about it yet—some part of me is quite certain it will be a Milestone, but I don’t know what that necessarily means.
However, everyone I’ve talked to who’s been on a trip like this says it changes you.
But will it change my writing?
"McCarthy stresses that his minimalist approach works in the interest of maximum clarity."
Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.
Is this good writing advice?
What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.
It’s spring. Breathe it in.
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome.
That day will come.
When one is striding bravely into the future, one cannot watch one’s footing.
— Elizabeth Peters, in the voice of Amelia P. Emerson, who might just be my favorite literary character ever.
A book can be represented as a conversation with one’s demon.
Books may well be the only true magic.
— Alice Hoffman
Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.
— Neil Gaiman, American Gods
They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.
— The Bible; Genesis 37:19-20 (NSV)
Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.
So hurry up and write your damn novel already.
Books have a unique way of stopping time in a particular moment and saying: Let’s not forget this.
— Dave Eggers