Self-Reflexive Hollywood Bullshit
Here’s a question for you: why do you do the things that you do? And I’m not going to try to delve into the evolutionary biological roots of that. In one sense, there are answers to that question that are stultifyingly complex and yet also, ultimately useless. But when we have the privilege of some breathing room, when our Maszlow’s hierarchy is accounted for, when we have the space and time to indulge ourselves, we collectively have so many and such varied drives. We are lucky to be able to choose to do some of the things that we do, and I am endlessly fascinated by these choices.
Why? Why do you draw, or paint, or sculpt? Why do you make music? Or garden? Why do you sing? Cook? Bake? Sew? Fix old and broken machines, or build new ones? What draws you to the thing that you do? Of course, there are practical answers to some of these questions – to make or conserve money, to produce needful things, to eat. But some of these are more complicated and deeply ingrained.
I began asking myself these questions as I realised that I was nearing my sixtieth post on this blog. This post. Sixty! Each one ranging from five hundred words up to around two and-a-half thousand, with some significantly shorter or longer outliers, and the occasional drawing and whatnot thrown in. So, this begs the question – why? It’s certainly not to meet a demand. No-one, as far as I am aware, was clamouring for literary pastiche-based beer reviews, nor for the mostly nostalgic musings of yours truly. The readership numbers reflect this. Some mighty low views on some of these posts – especially the poetry.
Neither was it for the love and acclaim, nor the money. A good friend of mine and a very talented artist recently told me that he absolutely, 100% does it for the validation. Which is, I guess, a reason I do it too. I imagine that almost all people undertaking creative endeavours do it for validation also, at least, on some level.* But, as mentioned before – there simply aren’t enough readers to generate any buzz, and there aren’t any dollars flowing into me from this stream. Barely anyone reads this, and of those fewer take the time to sling the validation my way. There are kind words from time to time which can feel like a warm embrace, and I greatly enjoy the discourse that certain posts generate when diverse people engage on a topic. But they, too, are a scattered windfall of bounty, spread lamentably thin on the ground, and as such, do not provide a necessary spur for me.
*Not counting the Henry Dargers of the world.
And yet, still, I write. Why? Because this blog was always for me – for the panacea of creation, the edification. Self Indulgence at its Finest. I write to bleed the poison from a spleen much inflamed by several years of These Unprecedented Times. To come to grips with losing a job held for over a decade, to come to grips with the past and moving on. To process the collective psychic damage of several years of global pandemic, imminent climate collapse, new wars, bad habits, uncertainty, anxiety, history. To grieve a lost sense of normality where our interpersonal relationships, our spontaneity in decision making, socialisation, security, stability are all in flux, and to try and figure out the ‘New Normal’.
I began this blog in September 2020. This was the depths of lockdown 2.0. The first had passed, for me, with remarkable ease. I was still an ‘essential worker’, so my days hadn’t changed overmuch. There was trepidation in the air, a sense of unease. The streets were eerily silent, but people still seemed… largely unchanged. Sure, things were changing – for one, we sanitised more, and we distanced more. The end of a busy day would see us sitting in our chairs in a wide circle on the floor, having some knock-off cans a few metres apart with the big doors open to allow the air to circulate. My role changed, as we pivoted from hospitality to retail, but it remained a reliable constant; working for the same business in the same building where I’d been for ten or more years kept me grounded and in familiar territory.
And as the lockdown wore on, and the situation evolved, they decided to close the doors. Fair enough. I still drew a wage, and the rest of that first lockdown felt almost like a holiday. I was home all day; I could complete a number of hobbies and projects that had only been awaiting me and a surfeit of time. Shelves went up. I built some furniture – built, not assembled – and constructed a new garden bed for herbs and vegetables. I cleaned and reordered things, unpacked some boxes lost deep in the closet. I bonded with our new cat: a rescue who came to us, with tremendous good timing, right before everything had kicked off in March. We probed the new digital frontiers of Zoom with trivia and catchups, virtual sessions with a beer or coffee in hand.
And still, it wore on, and still the situation evolved. It was announced that the JobKeeper payments would come into effect from here on out. Great, I thought. I would be insured against the rough waves of this uncertain future. And yet; only a few days later, I was forced to graciously accept a redundancy package by phone, with a glass of champagne in my hand on the morning of my partner’s Australian anniversary, just as the second lockdown was announced.
I didn’t have much in the way of a choice, so it was bittersweet – that payout allowed me a measure of freedom, but it also roughly cut away what was, frankly, an enormous part of my life. My work, along with the fellowship that I had built there among the different facets of the organisation; the bar, the office, and the brewery – all gone. Not only these, but also within the local community; the coffee roastery I visited every day for some good brew and banter, the manager at the gin distillery across the way who was always good for a chat and a cheeky G&T. The pub on the corner – still one of the best in Melbourne, but one I frequent much less these days. The people who lived and worked on the same street. The regular punters and even the infrequent ones, those whom I’d serve, and those who served me. Colleagues, friends, their friends and partners and all those people with whom I would chat, tell jokes, bitch about the day, celebrate and commiserate. It is remarkable, the variety of relationships that foster in such an environment, and sadly, you may not realise how multifaceted and nourishing it is until it strangles, diminishes, and begins to fade away.
Of course, all of this was magnified and brought into sharp relief by the enforced isolation of that second lockdown. People were already beginning to climb the walls. Everybody had a different set of pressures. Mine were mostly in my head, it seems – which would have been fine if we weren’t now required to spend 24 hours a day living in our heads, within the endlessly shrinking walls of a more and yet more familiar apartment. Lockdown 2.0 – also known as ‘The Long One’ – gave us all an opportunity to stew. The current woes loomed the largest, sure, but they bled into everything else. The more that things boil in your head, the more that your emotions, your blood and your bile swirl and foment, the toxicity multiplies, seeks and then leaches out the same, long buried, and adds it to the venomous blend roiling in your head, your heart, your belly.
At least, it felt that way for me.
The idea to try to take some positive steps and move in a beneficial direction took form (ironically, while my ability to take actual steps had been severely limited), and it was like manna from heaven. My first beer reviews, written before I ever went live make specific note of place and context. It was a conscious choice from the start in this blog to not give a timeless, universal sort of voice to the posts, but rather to ground them in reality, my reality, or what passed for it in that fugue-state of a time, and to do it as best I could.
Of course, there were multiple constraints on me – such is the nature of things when you try to write beer reviews in the voices of different authors – but I made a conscious decision to include the location that informed the pieces, the circumstances of lockdown, even things like the weather. If I re-read something like ‘Beer and Loathing’, I can recall the intense storm that was rolling in as I wrote it, the tense anticipation that was in the air, the unspoken and unanswered question things will go back to normal eventually, right? If I read ‘Written Drunk, Edited Sober’, I can recall the way our new cat sat so daintily, eventually dozing in the sun on the table as she watched me drink the beer, take notes, and write the piece. I remember my friend telling me about her Russian student who pronounced that particular author’s name “Yernest Gemmingvaie”. I recall, almost vividly the feeling of sitting, in that time, in that place, looking at the past and the future, and focalising it through the page.
And this, I think is the point. All of this was merely the tip of the spear, the most recent and most immediate of the things to haunt me. One cannot ignore one’s trauma. It will bubble through to the surface, and it will influence you one way or the other. You must try to process it. And this was a big part of that for me. To make something, in light of what felt so much like the tearing down, the coming-apart of an old world, and in the face of that to create. To build: to plant a seed and water it, tiny and delicate and oh-so-prone to failure, and to nurture it to life even as things crumble around you is a splendid way to produce a little sweetness to water down the bitter wine you’re forced to swallow.
To be perfectly honest, despite all the motivational platitudes, trauma is not the fuel you need to fire your engines, it’s not the shit you need to fertilise your future daisies. There are any number of trite aphorisms that will encourage you view things in a positive light, to forget the negative, push it down and instead ask yogi-esque questions like what is this teaching me? But this has never sat right with me. You don’t beat depression by forcing yourself to swallow sunshine. You don’t succeed because of your demons; you succeed despite them. You aren’t a Boy Named Sue. That kid may have grown up quick and grown up mean, but he could have just as easily achieved at least that with some kind of positive influence in his life, a little nurturing and a little guidance.
Writing, for me, doesn’t convert the starch of negative emotion into the sugar of positive. It doesn’t metabolise the complex methylenes and ethylenes, break them down and carry them out of the organs of my mind, my heart, my soul. But what it does do is provide something else, something new. If the negative emotion is the hangover, writing is the tall glass of chilled water. If inertia is anathema to a healthy soul, productivity is surely its counter. If you feel like you’re treading water in some way, the sudden propulsion that comes from kicking your legs and swinging your arms in powerful, coordinated strokes are the only recourse a tortured soul has. You cannot convert the entropy into energy: you can merely spark activity in the face of it and by doing so, diminish it to the point of non-gratia. Poring through all of your issues – not in a dwelling, self-bashing sort of way but in a healthy ‘try to process and fix it’ sort of a way can make you feel extremely heavy – creating, making and doing can help to make you feel light again.
And for me, that spark comes from writing. I write for a number of reasons. In a way, perhaps, it is an attempt to give back. To give back to the written word, to those worlds and the authors of those worlds that provided so much enjoyment, wisdom, escapism. Who educated me, and opened my eyes. I write to help me process thoughts that look so neat on a page, but are so messy in my head. I write for the mere joy of writing, for the love of words and wordplay, to explore lingual plasticity; for the satisfaction of arranging and rearranging a sentence, selecting le mot juste and attempting to slot it all together just so.
I do not write to chronicle my woes, but to provide some action in the face of the torpor generated by them. By doing so, I am lifted. If I finish a piece, I have achieved, I have accomplished. It is a wonderful feeling. To do anything at all can feel like a win at times, but when you do something of which you are justifiably proud, that is what puts a little fuel in your tank, that is the shit that helps you grow your future daisies. And so, I write. I write for the deadline. I write to banish inactivity. I write to make myself laugh. I write for the blog, and its reader/s. I write the occasional short story for a competition. I write a song to say ‘fuck you’ to some people that I love.** I write a conversation to help plot out a thought I have been trying to unravel. I write for myself. I write for all these reasons, and probably many more.
**It’s ok, they get it
So that’s why I do what I do. What about you?