The Catch-22

remember-to-breathe

Chest heaving, tears running down my face, the words pour out of me.

I couldn’t hold them in if I wanted to.

It’s compulsory.

Involuntary.

It just happens.

I recently revisited Charles Bukowski’s brilliant So you want to be a writer?” 

“if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.

if you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don’t do it.

if you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it.

if you’re doing it because you want women in your bed, don’t do it.

if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don’t do it.

if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it, don’t do it.

if you’re trying to write like somebody else, forget about it.”

After some more awesome in the middle, he finishes with…

“when it is truly time,

and if you have been chosen,

it will do it by

itself and it will keep on doing it

until you die or it dies in you.

 

there is no other way.

 

and there never was.”

Yes.

I want to be a writer.

And that doesn’t mean I just want to spew a bunch of words onto your screen.

It means I want to help you feel something.

Not sadness. Not anger. Not fear.

Even though I appreciate people’s empathy.

But rather, amusement.

Curiosity and wonder.

Hope.

Uh-Oh

This entire process has been a journey of healing. Of self discovery. The pursuit of happiness.

I’m seeking purpose. Opportunity. Healthiness.

I crave connection, laughter, fun.

And that’s all coming back. It’s working.

As the dark clouds of divorce dissipate, I sometimes get a glimpse of tomorrow.

There is more smiling. More comfort. More peace.

And that’s all well and good. It’s what I’ve wanted more than anything for more than two years.

But there’s a casualty.

My writing.

Because life after divorce is my muse. Fear, anger and sadness—my fuel.

And things are better now.

My life has improved.

So, naturally, I’ve created a new problem for myself.

Shit. Now what do I write?

And now I sometimes don’t know what to say. I wrote about Subway the other day, for God’s sake. I don’t particularly like Subway. But that’s what I’ve been reduced to.

That can’t be who I am. The guy who writes about Subway. I don’t want to be him.

My rule has always been: Write what’s on my mind. And when important human stuff—the inside stuff; the stuff that really matters—is at the forefront of everything I do and feel, that’s a good thing.

But I can’t be forcing it like that Subway post. That’s what me forcing it looks like. The sort of thing that makes Bukowski turn in his grave.

These words. These sentences. They’ll never be for everyone. They’ll never even be for most.

They’ll be for kindred spirits.

People who want to feel.

People who want to think.

People who want to grow.

People who don’t want to settle. People who believe there’s more to life than this. That pain and anger and sadness will not define our futures.

That’s what this is supposed to be about.

I still want to laugh. I still want to have fun. In fact, I need those things.

But mostly this needs to be about taking an honest look at ourselves. And asking the difficult questions. And taking responsibility for the choices we’ve made that brought us here. And making promises to ourselves to make better choices today because tomorrow doesn’t have to be like yesterday.

We don’t have to hurt. Or be afraid.

Yet, we do hurt. Yet, we are afraid.

I’m scared every day of running out of things to say. Of disappointing someone.

Of disappointing you.

Yes, you.

Or worse, not mattering at all.

The Blogosphere and Self-Doubt

The longer I do this, the more I notice.

I see the writers doing what I want to do. Being who I want to be. Geniuses. Artists.

The keyboard, their microphone.

The internet, their stage.

Am I good enough? To play in the same game?

My personal insecurities about my real life poisoning my happy place.

If my son’s mother won’t keep me, who will have me?

How will I meet people? When? Ever?

Who?

Why?

Where did all my confidence go? I know I used to have a bunch laying around here somewhere.

I’m not a genius. I’m a B+ guy who has to work hard for an A, and is lazy enough to get a C.

I’m not an artist. I just get mistaken for one by people with liberal definitions of what that word means.

I’ve been afraid of this for a while. I’ve written about it before. Writer’s block. But those fears have surfaced again, stronger and harder than before, as sadness and anger have given way to new fears and anxieties.

You see, I’m not afraid to hit ‘Publish’ when my sadness outweighs my fear. When my anger is more pronounced than my anxiety.

In fact, I can hardly help it. Writing just happens.

Maybe I can overcome them.

The fears. The insecurities.

Maybe I can shed them completely.

Or maybe I can tap into them for fuel once again.

Because the mind is extraordinarily powerful.

Even mine.

The Self-Inflicted Wounds

I still feel it sometimes. The pain.

I just hide it better now. Smile more now. Laugh more now.

Cry less now.

I still feel it when my young son wants me to stand at the window and wave goodbye to what used to be my entire world driving away in the opposite direction.

I still feel it when I drive by the hospital where my wife met the man she was with when she left.

I still feel it when I conjure up these moments.

Intentionally.

To just… feel.

I wish you could feel it, too. If only for a moment.

It’s happening now.

Horribleness on demand. Only muted.

A surge of anger where there used to be rage.

A tinge of sadness where there used to be breakdowns.

My body still tenses. My smile disappears. My eyes narrow. My stomach tightens. My teeth clench. My swallowing becomes more difficult.

That’s when I forget to breathe.

Remember to breathe.

In.

Then just a bit more.

Then, pause.

Then, out.

To keep those dark clouds moving.

To stay alive.

Isn’t that where inspiration lives?

Isn’t that where real stories live?

In life?

Breathe in.

Then just a bit more.

Pause.

Then, out.

Stay alive.

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44 thoughts on “The Catch-22

  1. Sarah says:

    Bukowski is one of my all-time faves but you have to remember he drank an ungodly amount (not judging, but lord knows that gets the fingers moving over the keyboard) and he had no qualms about being brutally honest, bringing anyone down into the ditches of his stories. It’s hard to write that way (the honest, gut-wrenching words, I mean, not the drunk part), especially on the internet when people can stumble across your posts.
    Oh, and I hate to break it to you but you ARE a writer and an artist, my friend!

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Fitting you would show up at a time like this.

      Something awful happens to you. And you still find time to encourage others. To display unselfishness. To deliver smiles.

      Thank you for that. I hope you’re feeling okay. :)

      I’ve flirted with drinking and writing. There’s a guy in Australia who claims to drink a bunch before every blog post. It’s more funny than it is brutal, though.

      I’ll be sure to let you know if I decide to go that route.

      Might be fun.

      Like

      • Sarah says:

        I am doing okay, thank you! I guess I have my ex-husband to thank for making all heartbreak and drama pale in comparison to his b.s. – ha!
        Hold on. You’ve never wrote while drinking? It’s the best. Okay, maybe not the best. But you lose that filter, you don’t over-think every word/sentence/topic, you think less about your audience and more of just well, writing. That’s how it is for me, at least. Just be careful with emails and facebook, ha!

        Like

        • Matt says:

          I’m glad to hear that about your personal stuff.

          And I’ve only written while drinking a few times. My very first post, and a couple others when I was really struggling with my son having to leave or something else during the early days of the process.

          Note to self: Must try drinking and writing.

          Unabused, drinking cures so many ailments. Perhaps it will cure writer’s block, too.

          Though, I don’t have a lot of trouble getting words down. I do have trouble generating ideas.

          *shrug*

          Like

  2. David says:

    I get the idea that writing should be more compulsion to express than forced exercise, but it takes exercise to get to that level. Sure, when life sucks or, sometimes, when it’s brilliant, it’s a little easier. Life feels vivid then. But, to be able to tap the creativity like a faucet, you have to also practice, maybe pushing yourself a little. You don’t (usually) run a marathon by going out the door and stop running 26 miles later. You work up to it.

    Plus, creative expression is about taking risks. Sometimes you write about Subway, sometimes about the human condition. Between the two, you can refine your voice or train your creativity to emerge at a moment’s notice. As you probably know from your own professional writing history, it’s also about writing past the doubts about whether this thing you’re writing really is worthwhile. Sometimes you write crap just to get it out of the way. For the record, your crap phases are really short, so short that I don’t remember one actually occurring.

    The more I think about it, your own writing history gives you a slight advantage because, for you, the mechanics of writing aren’t a problem like they are for so many. For you, it’s just the topicality or creative part.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      If I’m EVER so fortunate as to have a book or something with testimonials, can I get you to rephrase that “crap” thing. That was amazing.

      “Some writers write crap just to get it out of the way. But Matt? His crap phases are really short.”

      :)

      And you’re right, of course. I’ve been writing something that I know people are going to read (between newspapers and marketing) almost every day for well over a decade.

      I suppose that does help. I appreciate you pointing that out. Something for which to feel grateful.

      Like

  3. 1wyrdsmith says:

    I’ve been staring at a blank computer screen for days, trying to come up with something ‘good’ to write about. I surfed the web, trying to find inspiration. Nada. And then I saw this post. I start to write a comment, and BAM! Inspiration strikes. Thanks!

    Like

  4. knace says:

    I think you are a natural born writer, Matt. Even when you’re writing about fast food and other mundanity. =)

    Like

  5. suzjones says:

    And I read your blog and I am self-doubting :)
    Funny how perspectives are different!

    Like

    • Matt says:

      You’re a gem. Constantly delivering positive, uplifting, unselfish messages.

      Thank you for your wonderful compliment.

      I hope you don’t really harbor self-doubt. You are, over and over again, recognized by your peers.

      It’s because you deserve it. It’s because you’re wonderful.

      Thank you for your kindness and your commitment to leaving the world better than you found it.

      Like

      • suzjones says:

        Thank you for making me cry.
        Matt, you are a terrific writer. You have the ability to take an ordinary situation and write 3000 words about it. You draw in your readers and leave them pondering what you wrote. You write from the heart and soul and that touches us all.
        You have no reason to doubt your abilities as either a writer or as a human being.
        Be kind to yourself. I heard last night that showing ourselves compassion is one it the most difficult things in the world to do but I urge you to start trying.

        Like

  6. I wrote a similar post today myself. You’ll be smug to know I was comparing my lack of posts to what a real writer like Matt does, someone who writes everyday. Not in that post, but in my head as I was writing it. Then bam, you write about your fears. Well sir you have inadvertently made me feel better about myself because of this post – oh yeah, you are a writer!

    I decided in December that in 2014 I would not to write about my feelings concerning the divorce, my living situation or the dark cloud that seems to be following me still. I vowed to my followers I would write about anything else, just not that gloom and doom. My post today echos your fear, if I don’t write and moan about my misery then what DO I write about? I am a creature of routine. It is what makes me feel secure in a very insecure situation. But I can only write about the routine so much. It bores me to tears just doing it some days. Like you, I am more comfortable sharing feelings rather than writing about ‘trival’ things like the state of the Union.

    Take heart, you are a writer even when you don’t feel like you are. You step up everyday and write something. That says volumes, at least in my opinion. I hide in the closet with the fear and don’t even try.

    Like

  7. I really enjoy your style, Matt! Truthfully, Subway post included, because during some point of what you write there is an emotion stirring whether it’s deeply passionate or simply silly. You’re honest, you’re up front, you’re current, and what you write flows. Again, I haven’t followed a new blog in at least over a year, and I’m hooked on yours! When I first started blogging I thought it meant I had to write every day. I needed to post something, anything, and if I missed a day, well, I sucked. That meant I should have never blogged a day in my life, and good grief, Charlie Brown, what the heck was I thinking?!? But, with life being in session, and me (unlike you) not being a “true” writer of sorts where it’s something I do and get paid to do (You do, right? Write, I mean? For a living?), perhaps, I realized that for me, blogging was about the journey. It became about coping, working through things by expressing something pressing on my heart, and also the need to share just in case a part of my little world helped a part of someone else’s little world. I’ve been blogging for almost 3 years now. I don’t have a huge following, and I problably never will because I just don’t care about that. But, what I do care about is authenticity and the ability to connect with people, whomever stops by to read, and so I do as your quote suggests….I wait out the blank pages until I see the writing appear…”unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.” I love that! XOXO, Kasey

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I write crap. But yes. I am paid a respectable salary to write things. It’s nice.

      Emails. Blog posts. Website copy. Social media updates. Video descriptions.

      All designed to convince you that buying from the company I work for is smarter than buying from a competitor.

      I have no idea whether I’m any good. They keep me around. For that, I’m grateful.

      You, miss, are a fine writer. Thank you so much for including me on your “Things I pay attention to” list. That’s amazing.

      You write for all of the right reasons. And you do it really well.

      We tell stories. And once in a while, those stories resonate with someone, even if it doesn’t do anything more than make them feel not alone.

      There’s simple beauty in that. I’m grateful to be a part of it with you.

      Like

      • Well, you must be good since they keep ya around. ;) And, earning a decent salary is a necessary evil in this world, so all the better. Thank you so much for the compliment, too, as I just felt a big smile come over me! :)

        Like

  8. DailyMusings says:

    Matt I have to say I love the way you write- no matter the topic. I love your ability to put words together in a beautiful way- your honesty and sensitivity come through. You are able to connect with people through your writing- you have reduced me to tears, you have made me laugh out loud, you have made me smile knowingly- and realize I was not the ,only person who felt a certain way about something, or had “that” experience. It is a gift to be able to connect that way through words. It speaks to the person you are.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you.

      I never set out to do that. But I grew to care once people said they sometimes felt that way about things I had written.

      Making people feel–hopefully good things–has become very important to me. Thank you so much.

      Like

  9. Jack Chaser says:

    I would have to say, my brother, that we are of a very similar mindset.

    I see all these other people writing on here about being published or some accolade I wish I was worthy of. See it reflected in my life. People who make more, do more, are just…more.

    But I realized a while ago that if one of my stories made one person smile or giggle or laugh hard enough to spit coffee all over an ipad then I had done a good job.

    Any story that elicits no response is the one I fear.

    So write about Subway. Or being sad. Or some girls skirt blowing up in the wind.

    Your divorce may have been what brought your writing to the table but it doesn’t define your talent.

    Like

  10. samara says:

    This post was so beautiful it made me cry. Mission accomplished. You’re an amazing writer.

    I love Bukowski. especially that. Please read my friend Mark (exile on paine street). He is a great male blogging voice, which I think WordPress sorely lacks, and a Bukowski freak who sent me that piece twice, even though he knows I already know it. He just likes to remind me.

    Yesterday, I posted about something I read about on the inside of a Snapple cap, for shit’s sake. If the people reading my blog weren’t certifiably insane, no one would have cared.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I promise to check that out.

      And not EVERYONE who reads your brilliance is certifiably insane.

      But maybe I’ll have to consult a neurologist, or whoever the hell decides these things, to find out for sure.

      It matters to me to that you like my writing. Thank you.

      Like

      • samara says:

        I’m NOT brilliant.

        And please, of everything I wrote, not THAT one.

        There were 100 comments on it, but it was honestly mostly two drunken Carnies bantering back and forth and had nothing to do with my post!

        Which sounds really weird on your blog, but wouldn’t on any of the other ones I read.

        Like

  11. Matt you’re in my head again! I’ve been going through a What Do I Have to Say That’s Worth Writing About funk for a few days. Maybe it’s the weather. I started blogging for two reasons: to get my writing out there to a wider audience, and to give myself the structure I needed to be more disciplined about writing. So far I would have to say the venture has been successful on both fronts. But there have been all sorts of other positive outcomes that I didn’t anticipate. I’m starting to recognize that, regardless of why and how I started blogging, the blog is going to evolve as I evolve.

    Divorce has its own stages of grief. You’ve worked through a lot of them in this forum, but you’ve worked through them as a WRITER. There are lots of people blogging about their divorces, but not all of them as eloquently as you are. You won’t always be in the thick of the first year of divorce, but you will always be a writer, and you will find other things to be passionate about.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you. :)

      I will continue to write. And the content will continue to evolve.

      I just hope whatever it is that makes some people like it, never goes away.

      Like

  12. I liked the Subway post. Was I wrong for enjoying it?

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Ha! You’re allowed to like whatever you want, good sir. Thank you for liking it.

      There’s just something soulless about criticism some other writer’s opinion of a fast food restaurant.

      That’s just not where I want to focus my energy. But, who knows? Sometimes the wind blows me in a certain direction.

      Like

  13. Fun, interesting posts you have. I just wrote on some of the thoughts you spin. How to Succeed as a Blogger – Lighting Dynamite.

    Like

  14. […] me an opportunity to really think beyond my post yesterday with his post https://mustbethistalltoride.com/2014/01/14/the-catch-22/ . In the last 6 months or so I have not been writing, per se’. I have been prompted to write […]

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  15. Ok, I admit I haven’t read Bukowski. I agree with some of what you quoted. The best stuff pours out of us. If it elicits an emotional response when we write it then it’s bound to do the same for some readers. But I also whole-heartedly believe that you can take anything- mundane topics like deli sandwiches- and make them into something. You can tease something of value out of any thought, any subject, any piece. At least that’s what I tell myself…. I also liked the Subway post.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      To be sure, I don’t agree with Bukowski completely on this. I just love this poem.

      I write all the time. For work and pleasure. And I do the best I can no matter what.

      Sometimes it’s work. Sometimes, even the “pleasure” writing is work. A total grind.

      I like to think of it as exercise.

      I’m not intimidated by someone wanting me to have 1,000 words by the end of the day, particularly if I have a topic in mind.

      I feel very blessed about that.

      As I do you reading and liking some of this stuff. Thank you for that.

      Like

  16. […] was suffering from writer’s block.  (If you’re curious, you can find the post here:  Must Be This Tall To Ride)  It got me thinking (and that’s always dangerous, […]

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  17. […] you to WordPress.com blogger Matt, the man behind Must Be This Tall To Ride, a hilarious and often poignant chronicle of his life as a single divorced father. Matt took some time out to talk to us about […]

    Like

  18. M. Safranski says:

    This, this this this:

    “I still feel it when I conjure up these moments.

    Intentionally.

    To just… feel.

    I wish you could feel it, too. If only for a moment.

    It’s happening now.

    Horribleness on demand. Only muted.

    A surge of anger where there used to be rage.

    A tinge of sadness where there used to be breakdowns.”

    This is the kind of thing that makes people say “I thought I was alone. I thought I was the only one who felt this way.”

    I don’t feel that way about my marriage anymore, but I did have one long-term relationship since the divorce that exploded in two bouts of horribleness – last June when I ended the relationship, and then in December when I found out he had been unfaithful to me. Your words, the ones above, are what bind all of us who have been through that kind of pain together. The value in knowing we are not alone in suffering that specific torture…there is no price on that.

    Being able to draw it up on demand, yet more easily come back to a place of strength instead of spiraling into complete destruction…your ability to paint those emotions with so precise a brush is exactly why you *do* have what it takes to achieve your writing dream. Don’t give up Matt, you have it. Whatever it is, you have it in spades, and the rest of us are gonna be the lucky ones watching it unfold.

    Like

  19. […] you to WordPress.com blogger Matt, the man behind Must Be This Tall To Ride, a hilarious and often poignant chronicle of his life as a single divorced father. Matt took some time out to talk to us about […]

    Like

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