Once upon a time, I was a writer.
I don't know for sure when or why I stopped being such a thing, but here we are.
I still feel like I have a command over the language – though these days it seems more like an earnest recommendation than an actual command – but at the same time I can feel the slow atrophy of a skill that I built a career around as it goes far more unused than I ever might have supposed. It’s like the English language and I were once lovers who drifted apart and now do little more than check in occasionally on Facebook.
It’s a thing I’ve been coming to terms with for years now. Frankly, I could feel my love for writing slipping away for a long time before I accepted it as a reality. Which is not to say that I don’t still love words or wonderful writing or having a career that is at this point writing-adjacent, but that I don’t sit down to a keyboard anymore and look for ways to pour out my sense of self into it the way I once did. Worse, I don’t really find myself longing for a return to form. I’ve let go of my writerly self, let it sail off to the Grey Havens with a casual wave and a relieved shrug.
I realize, by the way, that I’m writing a long form piece on the topic of not being a writer anymore. The irony is not entirely lost on me.
Not so long ago my advice to budding writers was that if you had the capacity to not be a writer then you probably shouldn’t be one. It sounds callous, I suppose, but my experience was that the most effective, prolific and talented writers were either unwilling to be or incapable of being anything else. I felt that way once, and then one day I realized I could take my own advice.
If I’m honest, it feels kind of good to workout these old muscles. They are familiar, and while not as quick to flex as they have been, there’s a joy in seeking them out and finding they are still there. But there’s a spark that was also here once, deep in the center of my chest, that seethed and crackled in the heat of the act of writing – an emotional urgency now long dormant, which seems uninterested in this exercise.
I never thought I wouldn’t be a writer. For decades my sense of self was inextricably linked to the very idea. In the word-cloud of me, 'writer' was in 36-point font. There’s no clear line of demarcation, some moment when I lost the love of the art, or where I realized I could chart the shape of my self without having "writer" in the mix. It’s like the story of a couple that’s been together 15 years, and who one day look up in a tragic moment of clarity to realize there’s nothing there anymore, just a sort of diminished momentum left over from the presumption that this is the life we're supposed to live. There’s a part of me that mourns the loss, realizes something special is now firmly fixed in the rearview mirror and diminishing as the distance of years fills the space between.
I started thinking about all this when I checked recently and discovered it had been more than a year since I wrote something substantive here. Even that was a somewhat perfunctory musing on XCOM 2, that I honestly don’t recall working on. For years I penned my sorta-kinda-weekly column here for the site, and there’s so many words in that mélange of topics that I love, but few of them come from the latter days. If I’m honest, when I eventually let go – let go of the weekly struggle to think of a topic, let go of the countless moments where I tried to drum up an impassioned position on things that I wasn’t passionate about, let go of the need to prove to myself that I was still a writer – it was a relief.
And it’s taken a year to even want to sit down to these words, this space again, if only for a moment. That’s the funny thing: I miss the internal part of the whole deal, those moments when the words became a tap into a part of myself that seemed inaccessible through any other means, when the ideas just fell onto the page almost without thought. What I don’t miss, though, is the actual writing, the endless hours between the magical moments of inspiration that was little more than an emotional equivalent of kicking at the dirt of a lingering drought, hoping to expose damp, fertile ground.
I realize this sounds like a huge bummer, but here’s the thing: I have a much greater fondness for my days as a writer now that it isn’t something looming over me all the time. I take a lot more joy now in what I wrote than I really seemed capable of feeling when it was fresh and active. I’m proud of the work I did, and far more contented with the words on those pages than I was before.
Put another way, not writing is the happiest I’ve ever been as a writer.
I do miss you, though. Long after writing ceased to fulfill something for me, I kept going because of the joy I found in you, reader. I had once thought the two ideas were basically the same, the act of writing and the act of having that writing read, but of course it’s not. Even when the work itself is dry and dirty work, the turnaround of being read was like sitting back on the porch with a cold beer at the end of long day’s work, and taking satisfaction in the job no matter how much you hated doing it at the time. It was you, you reading this now, even if you’ve never read a word I’ve written before, who sustained me.
Eventually, though, making these things for you wasn’t enough once I realized that I had stopped making a thing for myself. It opened a wound that I couldn’t stop picking at. Eventually, it bleeds and you realize that to heal it up for good, you have to cover it and put it all away where you can’t reach it.
Which is really why I’m here, now, telling you this. Because I wanted to let you know where I went. Why I left. Why I stopped talking to you. It’s not you, it’s me.
I’m being melodramatic, of course. I’m still here in every other meaningful way. I do my show, make occasional videos, show up here and there to hang out, but I also know we don’t talk the way we used to, and I wanted to let you know that just because I don’t do it anymore doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.
I have no idea what the future holds. Maybe someday the slumbering ember will glow warm in its dormant caldera. Maybe the words, like Spice, will flow again. Honestly, I hope that’s true. And yet, at the same time I don’t. But it was nice to check in, here, for a moment in the way we once did. It’s like picking up the phone and calling an old friend from a decade ago. As we wrap, we’ll promise to keep in touch, and we’ll mean it in the moment even if we both know …
Anyway, let’s keep in touch.