You know, I try to be levelheaded and rational. Sure, there are crying jags for no reason. Drinking binges. Days when I build a fort out of my couch cushions here in the Fortress of Somers and refuse to emerge for days at a time, sulking. But, you know, rational. As they say in Singin’ in the Rain: “Dignity. Always dignity.”
In truth, though, I am riddled with horrifying superstitions. The problem is, writing is a semi-magical experience. I have no idea how this thing works. It’s like someone bequeathed me a speedboat in their will and had it delivered to my driveway. The controls are in Chinese and there does not appear to be an engine, yet every time I step inside I somehow get the thing started and magically end up coasting on the water. And, since I am burying myself in an awkward and unnecessary metaphor, let’s also say there is Unicorn on board who is my first mate and speaks English and who can make bottles of Scotch appear magically!
In other words, I have no idea how it works. As a result I live in constant fear it will just … go away.
Every artist in history has that moment, when you look back on their careers objectively, when they lose “it”. When their new work doesn’t have the spark of their earlier efforts. When they start to be boring, repetitive, uninteresting. No one sees it in themselves. There is no warning. It just happens.
This kind of complete lack of control over your own brain chemistry and the ongoing massacre of cell death in my brain makes me superstitious. I write in certain ways, at certain times, using certain materials not because of any real physical advantage, but because it’s how I’ve been doing it since I was 11, and if I change it up now, I might destroy this fragile mysterious thing that keeps giving me ideas.
I have made adjustments from time to time; I’m not completely insane. Just partially insane. I used to write all my long pieces on an old Remington manual typewriter that dated to the 1950s, but I haven’t used it at all in about 7 years, finally bowing to the modern world and using a word processor for longer pieces. I still write my short works longhand in a notebook, however. Although recently I did do the unthinkable and switch pens.
That’s right: I switched pens. And sweated the consequences.
For years, I used a Paper Mate blue pen. White body, blue cap. I bought them in packs of 10 and invariably the last two or three were more or less useless by the time I got to them I could only write my short stories using these pens. Why? Because those are the pens I chose in High School when I started writing short stories out longhand. For 25 years, I used those pens, despite the fact that, frankly, they suck. They dry out fast, are inconsistent regarding ink color and smoothness, and hurt my hand when writing. But the unseen and possibly imaginary gods of writing that I feel staring at the back of my neck required these pens, so I stuck with them … until about 6 months ago, when I switched to Bic Velocity Gels.
Still blue ink, of course.
You may laugh at me and wonder at a grown man who worries about such things, but frankly I was pretty sure the ideas would stop immediately, and I’d have to go into my plan B career: Rodeo Clown. I had the Clown College application filled out and everything. But so far, so good. Lord knows we won’t know if any of these stories are any good until someone else actually reads them, but I’ve written six of them so far with the new pens, and that’s something. Don’t mock me.