Jaffo wrote: 

3 AM

 

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

smearing.

 

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

unravel.

 

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

touched me."

 

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

ahead.

 

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

at 3am.