Last night I was at a meeting of writers -- good ones, successful ones -- and the conversation (as usual) took a brief but precipitous plunge into despair about the marketplace, the question of how to continue in the face of rejection, etc.
We pulled it back up, with a stern reminder to ourselves that you can't write thinking about that. You can't. The writing comes from a different place, serves a different purpose.
So this morning I was thinking about a brief article I read years ago in the LA Weekly by Herbert Selby Jr. If you haven't read his work -- read it. Read Last Exit to Brooklyn. It's visceral. Harsh and beautiful. Sharp and burning and painful with truth.
In this article, published in 1999, Selby talked about how he came to write, why he continued:
"I started writing because I wanted to do something with my life before I died. I still do."
"I was sitting at home and had a profound experience. I experienced, in all of my Being, that someday I was going to die, and it wouldn’t be like it had been happening, almost dying but somehow staying alive, but I would just die! And two things would happen right before I died: I would regret my entire life; I would want to live it over again. This terrified me. The thought that I would live my entire life, look at it and realize I blew it forced me to do something with my life. This did not make me a writer, but provided the incentive to discover that I am a writer."
I especially relate to the last paragraph:
"Being an artist doesn’t take much, just everything you got. Which means, of course, that as the process is giving you life, it is also bringing you closer to death. But it’s no big deal. They are one in the same and cannot be avoided or denied. So when I totally embrace this process, this life/death, and abandon myself to it, I transcend all this meaningless gibberish and hang out with the gods. It seems to me that that is worth the price of admission."
Selby died in 2004. R.I.P. I hope -- I really hope -- he didn't feel that regret.