Shaky Legs

Day 17, 500 words, 31 days.

Tonight I noticed how slowly the “legs” run down the sides of my glass of whisky. The jazz is on, the eyes are getting droopy, and I’m waiting for my moment of inspiration to shake me back into a state of alertness and lucidity before the evening officially ends.

I’m running out of time.

It’s 10:55 now, and I had nearly forgotten to do my daily commitment. Waiting around isn’t going to do me much good, so I’ll just write.

That friend, I mentioned – Matt – taught me the thing about the legs and the whisky. He said it was the mark of a quality drink – if the legs ran down slowly. I know nothing more beyond this statement – I don’t possess the palate to describe what particular characteristics make for a good glass, and why.

I just know that I’ll likely sleep well.

I also know that, like this particular drink, good writing also needs “legs”.

Of course, it’s difficult not to get self-conscious as I am writing this – it’s hard to tell whether any of my writing actually constitutes being “good”. But the more that I read, and in turn, write, I’m beginning to get an idea of the elements of a story, or any piece of writing, really, that make it a worthwhile piece to grapple with.

The characters – fictional or not – have to want something, and as readers, we are on the outside, looking in on their journey towards getting (or not getting) that thing.

The plot should take us places, and sometimes, even places where the characters are going, before the characters know, themselves, where they are headed. There ought to be some sort of struggle, some kind of conflict or obstacle that looks to get in the way – and compelling characters invite us to root for them to succeed.

And there has to be something relatable to us – even if the backdrop of the story has little to do with anything we’re familiar with. We’ve got to be able to see, and experience, the themes within the story that are universal. The humanity of the story and characters have to be palpable, even in the midst of the most bizarre of premises. For those of you that enjoy watching zombie flicks – think, “The Walking Dead”.

I don’t mean to dispense writing advice. Surely you won’t get any from someone halfway into his drink and three-fourths of the way to sleep. I only mean to write what I’ve found to be compelling. I only hope to write that sort of a thing, as often as possible.

That’s what’s terrifying about this whole process – chances are, I won’t. Not regularly anyway. I’d be lucky if it happened even occasionally. And putting everything up publicly is like a bold and ludicrous way to invite judgment I’m not really ready to hear. I’ve convinced myself it’s worth doing anyway, like the person that decided to do an extra set of crunches even if their abdominals already feel like hot stone.

Call it brave, but I mostly think it’s a little foolish. Maybe necessary, but it sure feels foolish.

Funny how unimaginably vulnerable you can get when you have a blank page, good typing skills, a manageable amount of liquid courage, and an exorbitant amount of time no one is keeping.

Recently, I watched an episode of “The Parenthood” which featured a character that was a struggling musician going through a serious bout of writer’s block, feeling pressured by the recording studio and abandoned by his bandmates. He played that “misunderstood artist” all of us aspiring artists are all too, and embarrassingly, familiar with. The character himself felt more like a caricature, but the writers did give him the benefit of one line that went something like this:

“I don’t fear failing. I get that, it happens. I just don’t want to be mediocre. I want what I make to be great.”

I’ve taken some serious liberties paraphrasing the line, but, that’s how I remember it sounding.

It’s true, at this point, the fear isn’t the everyday failing – some days just aren’t going to be good days. In fact, today might be one of the bad ones. The bigger fear, for me, is that I’ll only stay mediocre. That I’ll never transcend to great. Even if the whole world never knew it, at least I would. I would want to know that I’ve crossed that line, even once.

That is, the line from good, to great. Frankly, I may just be beginning to venture from bad to good, or worse, staying average. And average, feels like the worst place to be.

And yet, what if being mediocre, for a long time, is precisely what one needs to be, before ever becoming great? What if it’s only in being stuck in a state of averageness does a person fully appreciate the gift of actually being good when it finally happens? What if, the fruit really does come out of the process of becoming, than actually having “become”? What’s the point of arriving when you have little clue where you’ve been all this time, in the first place?

What if I’ve written for too long tonight and I have no grasp of what I’m saying? What then, if you have absolutely no clue what on earth I’m talking about?

Well, I only have this to tell you: I’ve exceeded my 500 words, and the glass is neither half empty, or full – just finished. I’ve surrendered myself, once again, to the words. Maybe I’ve stumbled along this far, but at least I’ve still got my legs.


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