Unfiltered Thoughts on My Writing

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Senior year at Luther College with my friends, Neal and Andrew. Being the goofiest bunch in Preus Library.

Well, not completely unfiltered. The editing process slightly contradicts the post’s title. Meh.

I rarely discuss the premises of my novels, or my writing for that matter, because I’m still under the impression that doing so highlights my own narcissism. I do what I can to suppress my selfish perception that I’m creating works of art when all I’m really doing is expressing myself. Perhaps I haven’t achieved that level of self-worth, but it has taken me until recently to take my writing seriously. I only share my manuscripts with my closest friends or people I trust the most who give me their honest opinions and provide constructive criticism. My current novel has consumed countless nights, forcing me to stay up until the wee morning hours, and I think I’ve gotten to the point where I can explain the purpose and intent behind its conception. The moral, so to speak.

I wanted to encapsulate the grim terror I experienced after graduation, on my cross-country road trip back to my hometown in California. At the time, I didn’t know what it was that really horrified me. I accomplished a feat not many can say they’ve, well, accomplished. I spent four years at Luther College, a respectable educational institution, and attained an English degree. Four years for a certificate not dissimilar from the flimsy, harmless ones I received in my elementary years for perfect attendance. That hard work and perseverance paid off, but in that small instant, that brief glimmer of freedom between my last exam and graduation commencement, a numb grief consumed me. I didn’t want to leave Luther. I didn’t want to leave the idyllic atmosphere. I didn’t want to leave my friends. I didn’t want to return to a place that reserved less than pleasant memories that included self-loathing and resentment, a small city that harbored a past I wanted to forget. And despite how much I lamented over the end of my college life, there was nothing I could to change the course of time. Nothing. I couldn’t go back and correct my mistakes, study more, interact with my classmates, whatever I wanted to relive or modify. That was it. The end.

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Partial shot of Decorah, Iowa from Pulpit Rock.

What I wanted to avoid most of all was the grim reality that I spent four years of my life waiting for it to begin.

I perceived my college years as a recipe for success. Four years + hard work + resilience X self-discovery = satisfactory life. I placed the correct components in the right areas for conversion, and I waited, not realizing that I had to actually live my life and not rely on a stupid equation.

It came to a head when I spent nearly a year job searching, cloistered in an empty house, wondering what to do, where to go, mad at the world, mad at everybody for passing me by when all I had to do was take a step, get off my ass, and do something.

The angst and terror of this persistent listlessness is what I wanted to capture in my novel, an overlooked folly that sometimes we rely too much on a goal, an aspiration, and forget that the journey is what drives us and adds purpose to accomplishing a goal. When we accomplish it, attain that sumptuous fruit we coveted for months, years, it sometimes turns out to be an empty promise. Almost a joke. Like there’s something missing in the itinerary (hold on, you mean I actually have to inject purpose in my life and not rely on hopes and dreams to attain what I want?). The two protagonists of my novel, Colin and Charles experience this terror in different ways. Charles, an alumnus returning to his college town for a festival, re-examines his life after graduation, hoping to reconcile with a friend he betrayed, praying for forgiveness, when he starts questioning whether or not it’s worth the effort, questioning whether some people should remain in the past. Colin, conversely, is a recent graduate, on the cusp of his youth. At this point, his life is supposed to start, yet he is instead terrified at the freedom he has achieved after graduation. The phrase that comes to mind is, “You are free, and that is why you are lost.” It coincides with the familiar fear, that no matter how thorough our plans may seem, we have no control over what happens to us. The future, for all we know, is just a mirage. A vast, uninhabited wilderness. Until a step is initiated, the future eludes us, and even when that step is taken, there’s a reality that must be accepted: an uncertainty will persist each person of all background. We can never know what will happen to us until it does.

Photo: Levi Bare/Unsplash.com

And yes, I’ve come to realize there’s nothing wrong with being uncertain. It’s natural. In my opinion, it’s what keeps us humble, though I’m not sure it keeps us from being boastful. There are many times I’ve assumed a bravado to ward off suspicion of my true sniveling, insecure self. It’s astounding how I’m constantly reminded about the difficulty of being open and honest about your struggle. Not only the fear of others exploiting your openness but critics questioning your intent, questioning if you’re putting a show or playing the victim just to be coddled. That said, I suppose that’s the true thematic meat to this recent novel: the uselessness of facades, the struggle of maintaining relationships (both romantic and platonic), the failure to be emotionally genuine with your loved ones, the fear of alienation, inadequacy, and the fact that people are inherently self-absorbed, perhaps to the point of overlooking the pain and misery of others. The human condition has always fascinated me because talking about it, ruminating about it with others or by myself, is a reminder that I’m a part of it. That’s not to say my novel’s protagonists are autobiographical. There are certainly bits and pieces of my personality in them, sure, but I aligned more with the themes than the characters. The roller-coaster of emotions they experience still feel real to me, and frankly, it’s a feeling ingrained in my mind that I can’t forget no matter how hard I try.

It can be assumed this novel is a therapeutic outlet of my frustration, and that’s correct. Honestly, it is. At the beginning of the writing process, I was compelled to siphon my angst and sense of paranoia into something potentially meaningful. I wanted to tell a story that embodied my aimless wandering, the fears that keep me awake at night, the thoughts that removed me from my surroundings, even my friends. That’s where I find my convalescence as a writer and an individual struggling in the art of living. Through harnessing this persistent nagging feeling of inadequacy, failure, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction, I created something to personally connect with, something that satisfies me by its mere accomplishment, while processing my mental turbulence. Although I find comfort in the thought of readers relating to my writing, it’s also a means of self-sustenance. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I don’t think I can survive this existence without writing. It’s perhaps one of the few things that keeps me from falling numb in a world of senseless violence and mainstream apathy. Again, I feel I’m merely expressing my perspective, and perhaps that’s the main objective of a writer. A perspective. A voice. Something that invites, but doesn’t deserve, reflection and discussion, and if you know me or have worked with me, you’ll know I love reflecting and discussing. Especially if I’m tipsy.

Even as I reach the conclusion of this entry, I can’t pinpoint the motivation behind writing it. As I earlier stated, I hardly share the basis of my writing. I love interpretation and reader-response criticism, and I want readers to take my writing as a piece of work and make their own interpretations and assumptions. If they want to know the writing process, they can ask me. I don’t want this entry to seem like I’m throwing a bone. I attempt to write from my initial reactions. I attempt to write material that I would enjoy, material that I wanted to read when I was a scared, closeted high-school student. I suppose what I’m trying to articulate is I’m devoting myself to honesty. I’ve wasted so much time lying and disguising myself, anxious over what my peers would do or say. I want to look at my reflection and hold a gaze longer than three seconds. I want to be the best student I can be, an individual constantly hungry for knowledge and the wisdom to use it well. I want a lot of things, and I have to accept the fact I’m just a foolish man who can only learn so much.

And here, I extend my gratitude to you, my audience, for tolerating my rambling, my musings, staying up with me until the early morning hearing me talk about books, films, lamenting over the fact I didn’t get involved in theater, basically what I’m doing right now.

Thanks. I may write to sustain myself, but my artistic strength and insight comes from you. So I ask you, my friends, family, colleagues, partners-in-crime, to keep motivating me. I’ll do my best to entertain you, and if I fail, feel free to pat my back and say, “That sucked.” And buy me a pint afterwards.

AR

Born and raised in CA. Film, literature, music, poetry, mostly gay/queer/GSM topics. Stick around if I haven’t bored you yet.

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