Saturday, January 19, 2008

Taking Risks?

Advice to writers. "You have to be willing to take risks," someone says.

Like political rhetoric. HERE One is lost to explain what it means. Advice I would venture you will hear most often from the most risk adverse sources: articles in Writer's Digest and its clones. But not only there. It works its way up, this idea of "risk."

But what is the risk? I mean, first of all, before you define the sort of risk you are supposed to take.. what is at stake?

Who knows.

It goes undefined, unexplained.

What do I "risk" when I write? I know what I risk when I cross the street. One doesn't soon forget six months in a wheel chair.

But for a writer? Sitting at a desk? Or in a Starbucks, sipping a latte and tapping out words on a laptop?

Failure? Is that it? If you don't take "risks," you will fail?

Makes no sense. If you have to "take risks" to avoid failure, than the risk-taking is something that reduces the possibility of failure, which, without taking risks, is apparently guaranteed.

When I cross the street, I risk my life. When I play poker, I risk the money I bet.

If there is no more to this than semantics, rhetorical white noise, it wouldn't bother me. But it does. Every time I hear or read the word "risk" in advice of this sort, or in reviews... I cringe, I grind my teeth.

I've been going over this all day. In those interludes when the mind is otherwise cast adrift. Riding the subway. Walking home. Preparing my evening meal. Why does this irritate me so? And I can't come up with a coherent explanation. One that doesn't sound as contrived, as clichéd as the implied and unexamined assumptions that have me cursing and talking to myself as I ride--or mince and chop and steam...

I remember how long it took me to call up a girl I was attracted to... more than 50 years ago. I wanted to ask her to go to a dance--to be my "date." How it turned me in knots... what I wanted, and what I feared. Nothing less (looking back at it now) than my sense of myself... those most essential delusions one needs... simply to function... or so I thought. That I could not imagine how, given failure, ... could not imagine existing.--should she turn me down...

Facing the abyss.

A failure, to be sure, of imagination. Of understanding how we construct our sense of "self" and self-worth out of received notions... illusions. A trivial example.

But it wasn't trivial to the 14 year old I was then.

My problem here, is that I don't know how to connect that association with the risk, I in fact, do experience, at the most critical junctures in my writing. Not about failing... no. Not at all. It's about exposure. And not even to others. To myself.

To say... that is, to write, what I feel impelled to write, exposes me to myself. Exposes the delusions most essential to my feeling--no... to my belief in my self illusions.

This "I" so important to me... where is it to be found? And if it is not... then why do I fear its loss? Death, where is thy sting?

It sounds like a cliché... but there, again and again, at those passages where I have to push past the wall... the risk I feel, is nothing less than loss of self.

Either or. I live.

Or I write.

You tell me what that means. I don't know...

1 comment:

  1. Does seem ironic doesn't it,advice to take risks from an article in Reader's Digest, the center of a whole industry devoted to assuaging the anxiety of risk-adverse wanna-bees.