My so-called friends need to believe me strong. They recognize, I am sure, that I sometimes bend against life’s cyclonic torrents like a willow. I shout to them over raging winds, but my voice is weak and gritty. I call them to me, waving in frantic pantomime; they wave back, cheerfully, purposefully misunderstanding. They misoverestimate me.
“You are so strong,” they accuse. It is meant to blame me for my own solitude, while exonerating them. “No one comes when you call, because we know you can handle it.” They are used, they tell me, to the lion I have always been.
Yes, I am a badass. I am pretty smart and emotionally strong. But that is not why they don’t come. Some of you hear the same words I’m sure. You are left to your own devices because they are “used to your being able to handle everything.” Let me tell you what I’ve learned from 42 years’ of psychology study: that’s a load of cow fuck.
In truth, they do not come because they do not care. We have become a selfish lot, we humans. Rising above tribalism, we have chosen equality – equal indifference to all mankind. If you are strong, they can sleep well, choosing to believe you will manage while they eat popcorn and watch Netflix. It is easier, perhaps, than admitting they do not care. So, alone I stand, the winds rising to swirling anger, and I bend low to the ground, at once fearing I will snap and then sorrowfully that I will not.
I wonder if they notice I don’t love them any more.
They play back my words to me. “Fear not, dear one, bending, bending / If you bend, you will not break.” It’s bullshit, of course. I wrote that poem having in mind a “village” of support. But some fuckwit burned down the village. One need not break to bend beyond redemption. But their answer is clear. They will not come. And so it is left to me to rise, exhale, and fight, once more against the torrent. I am no stronger than before; I am simply still standing.
I am not a writer for the reasons other writers cite. I will tell you a secret, since you have been kind enough to stop by. I write because it is as easy for me to do as whisper and I have nothing else to do. The words are not mine, I mainly press the keys and try to stay out of the way. A short story will take me 3 days. A poem perhaps a half-hour. A novel, 2-3 months. All of the real work is in the editing. This is where I am motivated by a single thought – to create something people will remember and to leave characters that will delight readers.
I am no different than others in that regard. However, I am different in another. I come from a profoundly dysfunctional family. They, in fact, are the reason I have helped so many. No, it’s not some sallow attempt to atone for my family’s uselessness. In fact, most in my family are quite successful. Rather, I help people because I can. I began reading collegiate psychology texts at age 12, incited by my schizophrenic aunt, whom I grew up around. They led me to want to learn why my family was so broken, which led to a minor in psychology and years of learning on my own.
In college, most of my friends called me their “shrink.” It never changed after that. I have always been the guy people call when they are in distress, or even when they have great news to share with me. I am a resource in a world of self-serving assholes, every jackass’ Named Best Friend. I consider no one to be my best friend (the last one had a mental breakdown and never recovered). Thanks, God. Good looking out.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that when it comes to my art: poetry, photography, short stories, novels, even my blogs, not one friend, not a single member of my family (except my parents) has ever read any of my work. Period. I do social media not as a marketing device (because it’s profoundly overrated in that regard) but in order to meet people who’ll read my work and tell me if it’s any good.
But the wind’s howl has become deafening, and I cannot hear my thoughts. A part of me wants to keep writing short stories (and leave the novels go), while another part cries to stop completely. However if I am not a writer, I’m not sure who I am. It is hard, the uncaring silence. Were I to publish my work and be shouted down with bad reviews, I’d stop and not look back. But that’s not the case. My books’ reviews average around 4.4 out of 5.0, and as I said, those aren’t my family and friends. Some have become friends as a result, but they were strangers when the process started.
Still, the wind howls: “If they are silent, then perhaps they are not even reading your work. Maybe you suck so badly, 90% put you in their “fuck this shit” pile.” After all, that’s the pile 60% of the books I start reading end up in.
What comes around goes around; isn’t that what they say?