by Hannah Pralle | January 29, 2023

close up of hands of writer writing

I have come to understand that most people don’t like to write. They only do so when required by school, work, or etiquette. When confronting a blank page, perhaps they feel the way I would, were I suddenly teleported into a rap battle, or was supposed to improv a jazz solo live onstage. For me, though, writing has always felt as natural, necessary, and pleasurable as breathing. I feel curious what will rise up within me, to confront the blank page. Isn’t there a trope, at least in our collective mind, about the frustrated writer? Someone, usually a man, ripping a page out of the typewriter and crumpling it up in disgust.

I have no idea what I look like when I write, but not that. I know I’m outwardly still, inwardly gazing, almost in a trance. I can say I’m very glad to be writing (eventually) in the digital age, where deletions and re-starts are easy. Also, my “penmanship,” so to speak, which served me well enough all through the 80s, 90s, and early aughts, immediately deteriorated and became vestigial, the moment keyboards happened. I don’t hear myself typing, when I write, and so it startles me when people comment on the sound of it. “Holy shit, girl, you’re gonna set that thing on fire!” I’ve been told it sounds like a machine gun, punctuated by long, unpredictable pauses. In any case, there’s never been a better time to mess about with writing, in my opinion, with fewer procedural obstacles.

People still don’t like it, though! And acknowledging that makes me wonder: why do I like it, then? I’ll try to tackle that, although I can’t imagine a bigger question. First of all, none of us are known quantities to ourselves, and anyone who writes (on purpose) soon discovers this. Writing is not a slavish transfer of what’s inside the head to outside, like xeroxing a thought. It’s a process much more akin to opening Pandora’s box, or summoning a coyote god, or going on a blind date.

Interestingly, the mind analyzes everything but itself. The mind exists in — I’d go so far as to say is — a permanent blindspot for us. The thing we use to understand our world is, itself, the thing we understand the least. Reality is not an object but a process, and the fundamental gesture of this process is the constant manufacture of meaning. Every second of every day, our permanent blindspot inhales data and exhales meaning. But!! – when you write, especially in a spontaneous and improvisational fashion, it’s like jumping out at yourself from behind a piece of furniture, shouting “a-HA!” It’s like holding a dog over water. The mind starts moving in swimming, meaning-making patterns, instinctively, but without yet being submerged in its usual camouflage.

It’s fascinating, to write. It’s even fascinating to attempt, and fail, to write, or to write poorly. Maybe that’s why so many people find it distasteful – the level of self-exposure, in writing, literally no matter what is produced, is much higher than in our other activities. People have practiced their personas to perfection, as far as walking around in the world goes (no judgement – we all do it, and the people who claim not to are doing it the hardest), and there’s something humiliating about being so revealed. A young boy clomping around the house in his dad’s cowboy boots is cute, but not when we’re full grown adults and that’s how our writing comes across. I even think it’s fascinating to read the writings of psychopaths – I don’t mean culturally designated “wrong think” like Ted Kazynski or Ayn Rand – I mean people with bad intentions who are very skilled in using language, and who weaponize their skill on purpose towards an agenda. Some are idealists who’ve stumbled into fanaticism, others are hired guns. For readers, there’s a natural scrutiny of “the man behind the curtain”, the Wizard of Oz who’s confabulating all these tricks to distract us from who they really are. And herein lies, I think, the most brilliant trick of all: to write so exactly like one’s deepest self that there ceases to be a gap to scrutinize – while wielding enough craft-consciousness to make it palatable.

One of the biggest tricks the mind plays on us, in my opinion, is the mundane-ization of everything, most importantly ourselves. The objection to writing I’ve heard the most is, “I really don’t have anything to say.” That idiom about every death being the loss of an entire library is no bullshit. Everyone has exactly as much to say as even the most prolific writer, if they would stop being convinced of their own mundane nature by their blindspot mind. Trying to be a “good” writer is the pursuit of a mirage, in my opinion. Something that recedes eternally and doesn’t even exist in the first place. The discovery that one is, in fact, not mundane, and neither is “reality,” is the only metric. Someone who’s written enough to suspect this about themselves and the world gives their vision as a gift (albeit an ultimately selfish one, as it should be), and then we call them “good writers.”

I haven’t personally tried ayahuasca, mushrooms, or other plant psychedelics, but I’ve been given to understand that the experience is the opposite of mundane. But maybe more importantly, that these shamanic medicines serve to part the veil, as it were, revealing the emphatically un-mundane essence of our own consciousness, and those other consciousnesses with whom we share our world.

Of course we’re too vulnerable to predation and accident to exist in such a state long-term, and so it makes sense the mind tones everything down for us. And perhaps some day I will chance to commune with these plant teachers, and when they part the veil for me, I’ll think: I fuckin’ called it. All I can say for sure, though, is that when I sit down to write, it’s an impossibly exciting experience, on a certain familiar level – my own wardrobe to Narnia; my own Tardis. To turn one’s gaze inward, and to there encounter the infinite, albeit an infinite that likes to play dress-up in those gauzy garments strewn around by my patterns of thought, is a gentle high that still allows me to operate heavy equipment, so to speak (and there’s no equipment heavier than the maintenance of our personas).

The telepathic time travel aspect of reading and writing has always thrilled me, incidentally. My favorite writer of all time, Tanith Lee, has been dead since 2015, but I can still mind-meld with her whenever I want, and I often do. She was a magician, utilizing the contents of other people’s inchoate yearnings in her act; blurring lines between minds (hers; mine) that I didn’t even understand existed. Brilliant.

So yeah, I like to write. And by no means am I on a crusade to get more people writing. I guess I don’t really care. I certainly don’t want other people on a crusade for me to do something I’m not inclined to. I just think they’re missing out, is all.

I’ve run across this spicy theory, a couple times now, about how there are only so many en-souled humans in the world, and the rest are honest-to-god NPCs, or non-playable characters. Literal extras in the global drama. It’s one of those theories that appeals because it would explain so much, so easily…too easily. Theories like this can be preludes to madness, or atrocity. It must be assumed that everyone is as much of a self as I (the collective “I”) am, however convincingly basic they are. We do live in the time of human lemmings, enthusiastically participating in the processes of their own demise, and I understand it’s easy to assign NPC status, just to alleviate some of the shocking shock, if nothing else. Whatever else is true, I do know that we ought not designate ourselves arbiters of others’ personhood. It’s the slipperiest of slopes.

So, perhaps most of all, I like to write as a practice of intimacy with myself, and I like to publish as a practice of intimacy with others; my supposition being that those others really are others, by which I mean — you are another me. Everyone is another me. I don’t want to feel alone in the world, but somehow we seem to have evolved all the way into the most connected, and yet loneliest, society that’s ever existed. Our collective loneliness crushes us, and feels almost inescapable outside a narrow range of neurotic outlets we’re funneled towards. It’s so easy to consume but so hard to feel satisfied, isn’t it? What writing has taught me is that no amount of consumption will ever satisfy me, whereas almost any amount of creative output…does.   

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