The many people inside

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 22, 2013 11:22 PM

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that “writers aren’t exactly people… They’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.” It’s a rather schizophrenic metaphor for what turns out to be a very schizophrenic lifestyle because writing truly is a way of life.

I’ve written here before that writing is not simply what I do but rather who I am. I’m writing constantly, even when I’m not typing or scribbling. I’m having ideas for stories or scenes for a story. I have characters present themselves to me in dreams or when I’m cooking dinner. Suddenly, there is a new person who has found his or her way into my imagination. My dreams often play like movies, stories that make perfect sense sometimes and at other times, no sense at all. And definitely no sense once I awake.

I always have something on which to scribble or write. In my purse, there is a small notebook and pen. Next to the bed, numerous loose pieces of notepaper and notebooks, and a pen. In my office, nearly infinite pieces of paper and pens, and my favorite mechanical pencil.

There is also my computer, my iPad with its trusty Notes app as well as my iPhone with its Notes app. I have become very adroit at “scribbling” with my thumbs.

I have scribbled things on paper that reside in the pockets of all of my jeans, at least until they go into the wash. The small bag I carry on the motorcycle has paper and pens as well, scribbled thoughts and notes and ideas, though I don’t use them as often because of the Notes app on the iPhone which now goes with me everywhere I travel.

I write and often when I do, I am not writing as me. I’m writing as a character, or as the beginnings of a character. Being present at the birth of a character can be an unpleasant experience, sometimes even a messy one.

Here are some of the characters that I currently have living inside with me:

There is Katherine, known as Kat, a woman who lost her daughter and then loses her mind. Hunter who is searching for the meaning of her life now that she has turned 50. Charlotte who is dying and desperate to make sure her husband has someone to make him happy once she’s gone.

There is Peter, an artist, who takes his horribly burned daughter from the expert doctors who aren’t helping her in Boston to a Medicine Woman who lives just outside a reservation in Arizona.

There is Simon who loses his wife and daughter and tries to rebuild his life by rebuilding a broken down old house.

There is Laurie who is raising her stepson with her husband and must confront all of her feelings about that fact when her husband dies and the boy’s biological mother, Zoey Ray, wants the boy back.

There is Evelyn Halloran who is eight years old and witnesses a murder in rural Pennsylvania in 1927.

There is, there is, there is.

And there are others that I’m writing for other people, like the historical fiction/memoir about a couple in Chicago who were separated by World War II, married after knowing each other just seven days and built a life together. They aren’t my characters, but they are still characters that are inside of me, fighting for space in my tiny little brain, living their lives and just waiting for me to set them free on paper.

It’s a weird way to live, having all of these people inside. The difference between being a writer and having schizophrenia is that schizophrenia is somewhat treatable. When one suffers from multiple personality disorder, it is also somewhat treatable.

I don’t believe anyone has yet found a cure for being a writer. Though I believe the cure can be found in the pages of books where some of the world’s greatest, most enduring people have lived sometimes for centuries. Letting the characters out so that they can take up residence in a story is the only cure I know of. And it’s one I celebrate every time I meet another character in the walkways of my mind, when we happen upon one another, nod in acknowledgement, shake hands. It’s often at 2:30 in the morning, when all the best people and characters are living it out loud. 

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live out loud

The doubt of it

by Lorin Michel Friday, September 7, 2012 11:49 PM

Many years ago, I worked with several people who were sure of their talent even though they were some of the most untalented people I had ever met. They strutted around in funky clothing that was ridiculous because they were sure it made them look creative; they did incredibly wild things with their hair because of the same belief. One man, a photographer, grew a handlebar moustache to go with his pointed goatee. He dressed like Captain Hook of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys fame. Because of it all, he was creative.

I admired these people. They were so sure of their talent, so sure of what they were so sure of, that doubt never seemed to enter their lexicon, never seemed to play any role at all in their worlds. I used to say that they weren’t cursed with self-awareness. I wanted to be that way. I still do.

I don’t know that there is a day that goes by when I am not consumed by doubt. It’s not an all-consuming doubt, if there is such a thing. I don’t allow it to stop me except when it comes to my personal endeavors, and then it stops me dead in my tracks. Because I do doubt my talent, I constantly question my creativity, I wonder if I’m really just a fraud, that I have been all these years, that I’ve just been masquerading as a writer when in essence all I am is someone who happens to be able to put a decent sentence together. A decent sentence does not a writer make.

Doubt is a funny thing. It can be paralyzing to the point where you can’t make a decision, or self-defeating so that when you do make a decision, you continue to second guess whether it was the right one. Something turns out badly and you automatically think that things would have been better if you’d just made a different decision. Doubt allows you to conveniently leave out the very real possibility that if you’d made the other decision, things could have been worse.

Doubt creeps into my brain at various times during the day. I can feel it stealing in, trying to be stealthy but it’s actually as loud as a freight train. It wraps itself around my brain before traveling to my soul, and it squeezes, much like how you’d squeeze a sponge, pushing any confidence out of my body, leaving me dry and afraid. Doubt essentially equals fear.

When doubt comes and I’m either tired or lying in bed, not sleeping, and vulnerable, it plants its seeds and I start to think that I’m simply not very good. I’m not looking for validation here; I’m simply sharing. And once I’ve allowed doubt to convince me that I’m not very good, I then progress to worry because if I’m not very good, how am I going to make a living? What about my dreams of writing books? Someone who’s not a very good writer, who has no talent, who has been a fraud for years can’t possibly author books.

I am cursed with self-awareness and when one is cursed, one is destined to never achieve what one wants. This is the insidiousness of doubt.

Kevin has a saying. When doubt has me feeling sorry for myself, he’ll come up to me, getting real close, put his hands on my shoulder and say: “You gonna be OK, little Tommy?” This comes from a WLS radio program in Chicago back in the late 1960s with Larry Lujack and Tommy Edwards. Lujack had a segment called Animal Stories, and often times they’d be hilarious. He called them “Old animal stories with your old, delightful Uncle Lar.” Tommy Edwards would get to laughing so hard it sounded like he was going to explode, prompting Larry to ask the question that Kevin now asks me.

I am going to be OK, of course. Doubt is not an acute condition but it is a chronic one so it flairs up from time to time, sort of like an ulcer or gout.

Is there anything good about doubt? I believe it keeps people from getting too sure of themselves. I know it does me. It also makes me work harder, pushing me to prove to no one but me that I can do this, that I do have some talent, some creativity, and that putting a good sentence together can also lead to a good paragraph which leads to a good chapter that eventually fills a book.

It also allows me to remember that being cursed with self-awareness ultimately makes me a person capable of introspection, of truly seeing. I can step away from my own work and judge it with a critical eye. Of course, if I wasn’t so cursed with that self-awareness thing, I wouldn’t need to be critical; I would just be fabulous.

But I doubt it.

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live out loud

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