My not-so-merry-go-round with doubt
Why? Why do I bother? Why do I sit here in this coffee shop every morning, trying to write? Am I a cliché? Am I a narcissist? Should I order something besides coffee? Do they need the table? Shouldn’t I be home raising my son, or spending time with my wife, or oiling the squeaky hinges on the front door, painting the trim in the guest room, organizing the closet, the basement, the attic, the shed? Organizing rallies for peace, bettering the world, planting a tree, assisting the elderly, rescuing dogs, rehabilitating cats, reforming prisons, helping the homeless, hiring ex-cons who’ve paid their dues to society and deserve a chance at making something of themselves, saving forests, restoring wetlands, giving alms, seeking penance, tithing, repenting, learning, studying or just living this day as if it were my last? What’s the point? Am I crazy? Who needs it? Does the world need another book? Does the world need another anything? Does it matter? Will anyone care? Should anyone? Why should anyone care? What’s wrong with them? Don’t they have better things to care about? Don’t they have blank pages to fill? Then again, what if they don’t care? What if nobody cares? Shouldn’t it be enough that I care? What if it isn’t? How could nobody care? Don’t they know? Do they have any idea? How could people be so cold? Who made them the boss of me? Why can’t I just forget about everyone and write for myself? Isn’t that what all the books say? Dear God, isn’t there a Writer’s Digest book that can help? The Art of Not Caring? Indifference for Writers? How to Not Give a Shit in 21 Days? Didn’t I see that at Barnes and Noble? Why don’t I go to Barnes and Noble? Won’t I get more done there?
Why is this café so noisy? Why doesn’t that lousy kid shut up? Can’t he see I’m trying to work? Is his mother deaf? Will you shut that stupid kid up? Would you take those goddamned iPod headphones out and SHUT THAT KID UP? Seven dollars for a chicken sandwich? Are they crazy? So what if it’s on focaccia? Isn’t focaccia just bread? Isn’t bread supposed to be cheap? Don’t poor people eat bread? Who decided that this bread out of all the breads was going to be expensive? Why not pumpernickel? What about brioche? Shouldn’t the bread from an “everything” bagel be the most expensive? Isn’t everything worth more than a slice of onion and a bit of tomato sauce? Why can’t I get online? What’s wrong with this stupid computer? Why won’t God give me a break? What’s He so worried about? Should I get a new computer? Will I “think different” even more with a titanium laptop? Will they refund my money if I tell them that I tried restarting but I’m still not thinking different? “I think I may actually be thinking more similar, Sir—I found myself on a train the other day, thinking exactly the same thing as the person beside me, and we were sharing hopes and our fears and our dreams and our memories and we were at one with each other and all mankind, so can you please make it stop? Have you heard this from other customers? Am I doing something wrong? Hold down Control-Shift-D, you say?”
Why does this stupid book have to be so difficult to write? Why don’t I just forget about writing? Didn’t Jackson Pollock just go into a shed and fling shit at the wall? Didn’t Duchamp just ‘find’ his art? Why did I have to choose writing? Has anyone ever just ‘found’ a book? Why am I wasting all this time? Why am I standing here reading literary magazines? Franzen versus Woods? N+1 versus The Believer? “We will, we will literary-theoretically scrutinize you?” Is this the worst sport ever? So what if it is? Why does it bother me? Am I just insecure? Are they? Why can’t I just start writing? What sadistic asshole put the literary magazines so close to the café, anyway? When did everyone and everything on this whole shitty planet get together and decide to keep me from writing? Why won’t that woman shut that goddamned kid up? Can she possibly be that self-centered? Can she be any more desperate for attention? Isn’t that what I’m doing? Didn’t somebody Famous once say that editing was like killing your kids? So how come nobody’s killed this kid? How am I supposed to think with this kid shouting in my goddamned ear? What would happen if I walked over, picked up his cake and shoved it in his face? Is that illegal? What if I jammed a yogurt-dipped biscotti up his nose? Is that assault? A misdemeanor?
What am I doing here? Why am I walking around this store? Shouldn’t I be working on my book? How does Gary Shteyngart get such good shelf placement? Who is this guy sleeping with? Who’s his agent? How come I don’t have an agent? Do I need an agent? Does every book published since Shteyngart’s have to end in “-istan?” Is that joke over yet? Can we stop now? Can we move on to other hilarious country endings, like “-babwe” or “-zambique?” Can Gary sue the writers of Dogistan and Chocolatistan and Bushistan and Smart-Assistan? Why did I drive over here? Did I come for inspiration? Did I really hope to find it here? Inspired by what? Mass-market manga? Ballpoint feather pen gift sets? Teen People? More lame Staff Picks? Did another Garfield book get chosen this month? Which is worse—”Jake,” the teen on summer break who picks Tupac: A Hizzizztory, or “Stacey,” the hyperspectacled English major who picks Ulysses to impress her co-workers? Doesn’t she know nobody thinks she really read it? When is someone going to tell Stacey that nobody’s actually read it? Doesn’t she know that we know that she copied her “Staff Remarks” off the back cover? Is she kidding? Is she cute? Did she read my book? Why didn’t she pick my book? What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with me? Too Jewish? Too angry? Not angry enough? Is she an anti-Semite? Is she sick of Jew writers? Is everyone? How am I ever going to find my audience? Should I put in misanthropic tabby cats? Dead rappers? If I’m more obtuse, will that help? What if I’m utterly incomprehensible? What if you’re lost after page one? What if you’re out cold after page two? Will you bend the book back and forth to break the spine, fake dog-ear the rest of the chapters and tell everyone how great it was? Why do I care? Why am I wasting all this time? Why am I paying rent for an office if I’m just going to sit here in Barnes and Noble? Why don’t I go to my office?
Why did I rent this place? Do I need the added financial stress? Am I wasting my son’s college money? Shouldn’t I write at home? Shouldn’t I be able to write anywhere? Didn’t Whoever write Whatever while raising 27 kids? Didn’t Someone of Note write Something of Note while in prison or fighting off alien invaders? Didn’t Beckett write Watt while hiding from Nazis? Did anybody know what the hell Not I was about without first being told? Was I the only one not getting that? Should I have gone to college? Is that hindering me? Why didn’t I go to Iowa? Is it too late? What goes on at Iowa? Is it wrong for me to hate an entire state because of one writing program? How come I never noticed that spot on my hand? Is it cancer? Am I dying? Can being online too much give you cancer? What is it with Germans and poo? Does this trouble the German people? Why did I commit to writing this column? Is this another stall tactic? Does anyone care? Am I an asshole? Shouldn’t I be working on my book? Who’s reading this, anyway? Can I get out of this? Are more people reading the sex column? Is it pulling down more numbers than mine? Am I getting fired? How come Etgar’s not doing his column anymore? Is he busier than I am? Why is he so busy? What am I so afraid of? Why do I tear my hair out? How can I be this frightened? How can I be this worried? Is it even remotely possible that whatever I’m writing justifies this kind of insanity? Shouldn’t I just get on with it? When will I just sit down, and say okay, okay, okay, no more questions, and just be quiet all of you, and I’ll get to you later, let me just write this, let me just see what comes out, just shut up, just give me a minute, just let it go let it go let it go and whatever happens happens?
One author thought moving to New York meant severing her small town roots. Then she started writing fiction.