Here’s a confession: I fear writing. Of course, this is not an illness by any means, but I have been living with this absurd condition for the past decade or so. In order for me to start the first sentence, I need to (1) find every possible excuse to procrastinate, (2) spend all my energy doing other unimportant tasks, then (3) stare at my laptop for at least three to four hours until I reach enough emotional distress to yell at myself If you don’t start writing right now, you will fail this project, work, school, and basically in life, you dumb fuck! To give you an example—my clock just hit 3:00 AM. I have developed many (pseudoscience and self-diagnosed) theories over the years to explain this behavior. My personal favorite is that it is deeply rooted in my anxiety as a non-native English speaker, that I am an insecure bilingual who will never be fully confident in neither of the languages. The second favorite is that I have undiagnosed ADHD. All or none of my theories could be true. I may never find the real explanation and I was okay with that; until I discovered another—and possibly the biggest—reason recently.
It came to me during a phone conversation with my mom. As she was talking about a family friend who recently lost his vision due to untreated cataracts, she casually added: “well, you must be glad that it’s not his hearings.” Apparently, seven-year-old-me has once told my mom that I would, in a heartbeat, choose to be blind over deaf. “I can close my eyes to not see, but I cannot plug my ears to not hear. I can always hear my voice in my head.” said the little girl. That’s when I realized that my fear may not be about writing at all. I was suddenly made aware of my perpetual yearning for the state of I can’t hear myself think! which has successfully trained myself to have news, audiobooks, podcasts, movies, and tv shows in the background at all times. Music wasn’t an option because it easily became a background noise; I was in desperate need of others’ voices to not hear my own. But writing is a process of materializing that inner voice. I have to talk to myself. I have to listen to myself. I have to live with myself. It was not a fear of writing, but fear of solitude.
Jack London, an American novelist best known for his magazine fictions in the early 20th century, categorized drunks into two groups: the ones who hallucinate and the ones who gain “white logic”—the bleak truth of life. This was quickly endorsed and romanticized by writers like F. Scott Fitzerald, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway, that the image of a middle-aged white man solemnly drinking whiskey at a bar with a fountain pen became a symbol for genius. This “whiskey and ink” narrative is problematic because it idolizes alcoholism while disregarding everyone else outside of the (extremely androcentric and quite literally “white”) image. It also shows our society’s skewed notion of art, that a masterwork is created when tragedy is coped with substances. However, I realized that I envy drunk writers despite my contempt for this narrative. I envy their confidence in their voice. I envy their willingness to face solitude.
Drunk writers’ declaration that they use booze to strip away distractions sounds courageous because that’s what the seven-year-old girl feared the most. It sounds like a voluntary act of destroying their hearing just to be alone with the voice. Although this use of alcohol is a fallacy which lies behind the fantasy of self-prescription that a substance can selectively numb out or amplify certain parts of someone’s life, it has a poetic rationale to it. The darkness helps you see clearly, and the silence helps you hear clearly; drunk writers’ desire is not for euphoria but for silence. To be clear, this writing is not a manifesto of a wannabe alcoholic. I’m envious of the drunk writers not because of their drunkenness or even their talent, but because of their willingness to listen to themselves. I want to be able to talk to myself as they do. I want to find my stories as intriguing as I find others', and my voice as significant as I find others’. I want to enjoy my company, away from fear of solitude.
January 30, 2020