Ego vs. Self

I’ve taken a beating lately. Most of us go through periods when we take beatings pretty intensely. I always keep going back to that stupid adage, What doesn’t kill you now makes you stronger, and think how meaningless that is. But I wonder now if it’s not as stupid and cliche as I once thought. I say that because as the beatings continue in one form or another, I am wondering if I will emerge with a consciously different perspective–a different person, so to speak.

In the context of taking a beating as a writer, as we know our personal lives infect our writing–for better or for worse. So when our egos undergo a gang rape, can the true self overcome the bruised ego and help us channel our energy to develop more acutely interesting art? I sure as hell hope so. I mean, the reality of experiencing shitty things is subjective: there are people I know well who are currently experiencing massively worse shit than I have lately. But that’s not the point here. Whether my true self can continue to write and write effectively while my ego whines and bitches and moans about how awful things are is going to ultimately define my future as an artist.

This is the turning point, I guess, right? When the real cliches harken, “This is what separates the men from the boys,” et cetera. Do I give up and pick up knitting, or television, or do I keep on keepin’ on and trudge through this fucking disaster and hope that the words I pump out continue to provide me and others some degree of gratification. Because that’s why we write, right? For gratification in one degree or another?

I listened to a story on NPR about people not quitting despite these horrendous odds. Marathoners and such. And what seemed to be consistent were the spiritual journeys many people experienced when their true selves pushed them to their finish line, rather than succumbing to their egos telling them to stop.

But see, I’m confused. I don’t know yet the distinct voices of my ego and my true self. I’m not even sure I have two distinct voices in there. That’s what is making healing through this mess even harder to deal with: I can’t even trust the voice that keeps telling me to go on, since continuing onward seems to just present more opportunities for failure and pain. Keep writing, and people will keep telling you it’s shit. You’re shit. I’m shit. Maybe they’re shit, but it doesn’t really matter, now that the shit is out there, right?

The rebirth of a writer when a personal revolution like this is occurring can be pivotal–more of you have a better grasp on literary history than I do. The high points can be high, indeed: there are no limits. But that same philosophy can be paralyzing, knowing that all of the choices ahead can be either a minefield or a diamond mine. Or neither.

This isn’t really a question of whether I will continue to write. No doubt I will, despite it all. It’s now a matter of what I put out there for others to read.

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8 Comments

Filed under commentary, essay

8 responses to “Ego vs. Self

  1. Why do we do it? I guess it’s in the blood.

    • It must be “in the blood” or else there’s no other explanation for putting ourselves out there so ruthlessly.

      I suppose there’s some degree of courage we can attribute?

      thanks for reading.

      lp

  2. *sigh*

    You know, there’s this thing called “quitting” (BAD! BAD DOG! Quitters never win and winners never quit!) and this thing called “strategic retreat and reconnaissance” (Well, what can you do? Figure it out and come back with something better.) and this thing called “cutting your losses” (What, you’re still trying? Chasing good money/time after bad? What are you, stupid?).

    What you have to know is which is which. Which you never will. So you have to make a decision.

    I tell everybody this story, but I think it’s instructive:

    I quit writing for almost 10 years. Writing and publishing for me was so intertwined I couldn’t separate them. In that time, life happened. It was mostly good. I didn’t miss writing. I missed my dream. I GRIEVED my dream. But I didn’t miss writing.

    When I came back to it, it was fresh and new, and I was full of hope–until I started submitting again and I KNEW I couldn’t do that again, but I also knew I couldn’t stop writing. Eh, well, you know the rest. The time was right.

    I guess what I’m saying is that maybe a period of reconnoitering is in order here. Withdraw a bit, focus on the immediate fires in your life that are necessary to your subsistence, meditate, and salve your ego.

  3. Quite astute, my dear. You’re an old soul.

    See, I’m worried, though, about salving my ego. I would like to separate my ego–Buddhist style, yo–and stomp on it so it never haunts me again. The worst thing about having a long track record of bad decisions is that I can’t even trust myself to make a half-decent one now. So you’re right; I’ll never know which way to go and making a decision–not my strong point–is where I have to focus.

    I think if I was complacent in other parts of my life I wouldn’t put so much pressure on my writing to save me from that hell. I love hearing about CEOs and hedge fund managers who have artistic hobbies, and how dreamlike it must be to be content in your professional life to have this relaxed attitude about your “hobby.” Fuckers. I’m so jealous.

    Thing is, I like writing. It makes me feel good.

    ~len

  4. mikecane

    >>>Do I give up and pick up

    Writers do not have the option of “giving up.”

    Bukowski took a ten-year break from writing. But he never gave it up. M. Dylan Raskin is somewhere out there (MIA to me, goddammit) most likely doing the same thing.

    • Ech, while I know you’re right, it’s still difficult to keep on keepin’ on when it seems like all the external signs keep pointing to: “Start basketweaving, you may actually succeed at it.”

    • I took a break for several years to attend college and raise my daughter. But I always knew I would go back to it.

      I know a lot of musicians who have done the same thing. But if it’s really in your blood, you will come back to it.

  5. I won’t leave it. I can’t, not now. I just have to have different plans. I wasn’t careful, I wasn’t discreet, or discrete. I bring all this shit on myself, so I have no one else to blame but myself, which brings me back to the quandary about my own ability to make a decision.

    I have to be more measured in my exposure, is all. Self-preservation.

    lp

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