Disappointed, Diadactic

In an interview with Zadie Smith, the interviewer [Terri Gross?] said that she, Smith, had said of herself that she was always disappointed when she finished a novel. I don’t know and haven’t been able to find the original quote. But for me, hearing it, there was a gulf of relief.

Maybe that’s what we all know, all fear about finishing something. Or, ha, even beginning. That at the end, we will be left with how far we are from what we wanted.

I suppose there are those that can sustain the fantasy of successful creation (and reception). But most (I assume) have fantasies in tides that recede, leaving us stranded, naked, exposed, beneath the sun.

And, ok, maybe there’s times/people/places where the creation is enough. It’s just good enough.

But back to me.

Knowing that it’s ok, that even great writers feel let down, that’s something just to breathe into. Know. Accept.

When I was just past the cusp of my thirties, I related to a friend how I thought this decade was off to a good start. She was a couple of years older, had a young daughter and partner. Had an MFA. Had already dropped out of a graduate school, all but dissertation completed. Her response was more measured: you know who you love, what your life is. She didn’t say, but is almost needless to say: you know yourself. What you are and what you aren’t.

I am didactic. I know it was true when I was when I was young, with every character or element a proxy for some larger concept or entity. And I hated how awful my writing was, I would go into tangents, write up a storm, and then in reviewing them, be so deeply embarrassed by my writing, that I’d shutter it all away. I still carry these notebooks with me, but nothing, almost nothing, is near completion.

And now I look at what I have with the same disenchantment.

I’ve been busy, called on to do more than usual with work. And it’s good, I’ve racked up extra hours I can put toward the future. But getting out the practice of giving my first good hours toward writing pushes it to a recess of the mind. Suddenly I’m thinking of all the coding I should be doing, skills that, you know, might actually help something other than my vanity.

I realize there’s another thing: reading about Dennet, a philosopher of the mind. And how as a young man he started out as a sculptor, had success, but realized he wasn’t really good enough. What a relief to just stop, move something out of your path with the whisk of a thought. Rather than beat yourself, feel there is nothing but this, and you suck at it.


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