Watching the Howard Stern show on E was kinda stupid. Contemplating a
journal entry about 70's nostalgia movies was kinda stupid. Reading
threads about rights theory on HPO was kinda stupid. But reading Greg
Swann at 3am is profoundly stupid.
Let's see, how do I explain Greg Swann to people who don't know who he is?
Greg Swann is me, 10 years from now. He is a living snapshot of my
future. A cautionary tale writ large across the World Wide Web.
Greg is a projection of all the current trends in my life. In short, he's
a fiercely talented Anarchist writer who hangs out in HPO and writes
powerful novels that will never be published. I started out reading his
essay on rights theory and stumbled blindly into an essay on love.
I don't care what he says its about in the preceeding paragraphs, the part
I really should not have read was the part in the middle about love.
Before I can explain to you why his essay kicked my metaphorical ass, I
have to explain something about this special breed of lunatic called
Writers. Writers, first and foremost, want to be understood. Every human
being has this need, of course, but Writers are consumed with it. Our
lives are a constant quest to find someone who understands us.
We want so desperately to be understood that we rip out pieces of
ourselves and smear them on paper for hours at a time -- in the blind hope
that someone will read them and truly understand the guy who did the
Writers want this understanding so desperately, sometimes we see it when
it isn't there. The world is full of people who almost understand. They
read something we write and understand just enough to realize there is
something beautiful and wonderful here. The poor sucker reaches out to
the Writer in question, compliments his work, and gets sucked into a
deadly spiral of ego and confusion that even God Himself could not
This need for understanding is so deeply rooted that sometimes we give up
and pretend we can be happy with almost. We find some wide-eyed fan who
loves our work and drag them home to our lairs, pushing and pulling and
sucking the praise out of them until nothing but a dried-out husk remains.
Then we cast the corpse aside and find a fresh sycophant we can wring the
life out of -- frustrated and angry at this endless parade of people who
almost give us what we want but give out just before Nirvana.
"Sure you understood this and this and this, but why can't you see this,
the most important part, buried right here in paragraph 356b? Are you
blind?!" And no matter how unfair and pathetic it may be, we feel hurt
and betrayed. Because we thought this was the one, dammit! The golden
goose that would never run out of conceptual eggs!
What a hideous and depraved way to look at human beings who love you.
What a disgusting, petty, narrow view of humanity. We should be ashamed
of ourselves. I think most of us are.
But even if we could change who we are, we wouldn't. The Writing Disease,
once unleashed, is terminal. Once the first match is struck, this need
for understanding just grows and grows and grows until, in desperation,
you reach out to publish something, anything, just to get back one little
email, one little comment, or one little phone call that says, "You
We get that one little gem and we cling to it like the Holy Grail. One
little gem of praise can hold you for a time, but the Hunger always comes
back again. You can ignore it or rationalize it or try to beat it down,
but it always comes back.
Robert Heinlein was one of the toughest bastards ever to walk Planet
Earth, and he couldn't fight this thing. He tried to dismiss writing as a
hobby, a mere source of income to be summoned and dismissed like a
part-time job. Until finally, with his body in ruins and his mind
thrashing against invisible chains, he put some paper in the typing
machine and let the Beast run free. And of course, he immediately started
to feel better.
Robert also had something most writers never find. He had Ginny Heinlein.
I can't tell if Ginny truly understood the madness that gripped her
husband from time to time, but she came damn close. I'll spend the rest
of my life looking for a partner who comes that close.
I understand the emotional hell of being a Writer, but I cannot comprehend
the horror of being a Writer's wife. No wonder Garrison Keilor thinks we
should all marry musicians. Musicians don't have the exact same disease
we have, but they get treated in the same wing of the hospital.
Greg Swann kicked my metaphorical ass tonight because he said all this,
months ago, on a page I discovered at 3am this morning. I should write
some ridiculous rant to HPO about Evil Collectivist Anarchists, just to
get even with him. But after reading The Probability Broach, I can't do
that with a straight face anymore.
So what the hell am I doing up, writing about this, when I know the
telephone will awaken me in less than six hours? In Arlington, I was
insecure and unfocused. Now, in Lubbock, I'm secure and unfocused.
At least in Arlington, my fear had some rational basis. At any moment, my
landlord could have charged in and kicked me out on the street. Here in
Lubbock, I'm safe, secure, and I have time to find a job. I have some
excellent prospects at the University and the Health Sciences Center, and
I got a lovely phone call from some guy at the Rec Center who wanted to
hire me for 30 hours a week.
After two years, I'm just glad somebody at that damn college remembers my
name. I worked my ass off to help this guy when I worked at the Physical
Plant. Before I took over, nobody would give him the time of day, but I
took special care to give him what he wanted, and now it's paying off. I
just wish it was paying off to the tune of 40 hours a week.
But I'm encouraged nonetheless. I'm qualified, professional, and those
who remember me remember me fondly. So why do I toss and turn at night
and stare at the ceiling?
Because until that first paycheck rolls in, I am the very definition of a
loser. I won't be physically living with my parents this time next week,
but I'm still living on their generosity right now. Eventually, the
tables will turn and my presence here will be an asset to Mom, but right
now, I'm a load of dead wood, and I am far too old to be doing this.
This was the logical, practical thing to do. I could have made it on my
own in Arlington, but I hated that place. Every day would have been a
struggle. And if the memories didn't kill me, the loneliness would have.
You think finding a job is hard? Finding friends is worse. So now I've
got my old social network back with a vengence. Re-living the same good
times, the same stimulating intellectual company, and the same petty
disagreements I left behind two years ago. Taken all together, the good
far, far outweighs the bad, but I feel like I'm cheating fate somehow.
Like I'm doing what feels good instead of doing what I should be doing.
Nobody external is telling me to get out of Lubbock. On the contrary,
everyone whose advice I respect thinks this is the best place for me right
now. It's the internal critic I'm fighting with these days. The little
voice that says, "What have you done with your life?" The little voice
that comes to me whenever the television is turned off and the lights get
low and the computer screen is dark and cold in another room.
I can't help feeling I should be more than I am. When I was a child
everyone talked about my glorious potential. No one even pretended I was
normal, not even for a second. I was physically inferior and
intellectually superior. They pasted that label on me before I even
learned to talk, and I've been trying to live up to it ever since.
Some days, I wish I could just pitch my blessed potential out the window
and just be normal for a while. No special gifts, no keen intellect, no
penetrating insight or technical skill. Just an ordinary guy with little
dreams and a little brain, with my thoughts running in a peaceful linear
track from my cradle to my grave.
But I can't be that, either. Because if I didn't cling blindly to my
intellectual superiority, I would have to measure my worth in other ways.
I'd have to take a good, hard look at my twisted legs and ample belly and
acknowledge that without my superior mind, I am nothing but a regular guy
in an inferior body.
And that would be too much to bear. My mind is my consolation prize for
what God did to my body. And if I place my physical attributes on one end
of the scale, and my mental attributes on the other, I still come out way
I can live with this weakened body as long as I have my mind. But you
will forgive me if sometimes I sit and wonder what it would be like to
have things the other way around.
To be a creature of strength and power and grace, unfettered by deep
questions or deep thoughts. It sounds very peaceful to me. Boring
perhaps, but peaceful. I have this theory that stupid people sleep better
than smart people. Maybe one day some scientist will test it.
And I think I've had just about enough of this train of thought. Geez.
I solemnly swear, as God is my witness, I will never again read Greg Swann