It depends on the thing one is writing. So, what conditions create the writing of today? In my mind, these conditions used to be much more of a drag. No one wants to write about heartbreak anymore because it’s been done to death, so no one tries to get their heart broken. In writing programs and publishing houses, a fine line emerges between support and spoiling. Writers who have given up suffering in order to focus on the suffering of others in their writing (those who are better students than they are writers, people who never miss misery) might end up sounding smug. That is why I’m still an advocate of depressive writing.
I used to live north of campus, in an ugly apartment. I sometimes loved it because it was so typical, but not of downtown Tucson. It had white walls, carpeted floors, and linoleum in the kitchen. A while ago, a friend of mine said to me as we walked through my apartment complex’s trash-strewn courtyard, “Sometimes I feel like you live here just because it would make a good story.” She has never read anything I have written, and so, has no basis on which to guess that I would do a thing like this. I often wonder, though, how much this idea of gaining uncomfortable experiences controls my actions. I can justify almost anything I do by saying it gave me experience: an important part, I’ve been told, of writing. I have also been told that no one is allowed to complain about not having enough experience to be a writer. Some famous person, I think, once said, “If you have a family, you have enough experience to be a writer.” That is probably true, but I’ve never liked writing about my family. I mean, I do it, but I don’t usually set about to. Anyway, I suppose everyone, in one way or another, writes about their families.
I asked my friend to explain what she meant about my apartment, just in case I was reading into it. She said it was as if I chose a to live in a place far away from my friends and family, not only in physical space, but in similarities, because it would be boring to write about hanging out downtown. She said I couldn’t make living in a typical Tucson adobe in Barrio Viejo or Dunbar Springs sound interesting, because it was what I was used to, and what I did to relax.
I have a hard time writing about anything I’m excited about doing, actually, without sounding like I’m bragging. As a young teenager, it was easy: “He looked at me! The concert was perfect!” Romantic comedies and coming of age movies do it all the time. There’s always the very painful (something I was and still am pretty comfortable writing about) and the uplifting end (something at which I’m less adept). My stories are mostly about something shitty, and the awkward ways people tend to deal with the aftermath.
Is that so bad? I tend to find solace in criticism of those talents I lack. Apparently, according to some, we need more “long novels, pointless novels, [that] grieve about personal things.” After reading n+1’s pessimistic yet refreshing look at the novel (“a fundamentally ironic form”) and short fiction (“a fundamentally unironic form, [for reason which] it is doomed”), I feel more justified in writing unabashedly, guiltlessly, and in wandering laments (Elif Batuman, “Short Story & Novel: American Writing Today” June 1st, 2006).
Instead of getting the prettier apartment, the cheaper one with the roommates and the garden, the one closer to campus, I continued to roll around in this weird, racist dirge. And I write, always, in all of the moods this place unearths, I write inside and about and in spite of this trap. I’m almost positive it’s better than the opposite.