Yes, writers’ headshots are beautiful and carefully curated, but when you see these people called Writers in person, they’re not the most attractive. I know I’m not. My pores = face constellations. Breath often oniony. Farting like a scary chimney. No one knows why I’m ugly. I’m adopted.
Writers churn out their stuff as they sit on the toilet (in this case, last two paragraphs). Their ammo is stored in their brains, an organic solid-state drive that has no moving parts and doesn’t make any noise. Bodies = mostly irrelevant. I imagine if I visited Thought Catalog’s office, I’d see a bunch of hobgoblins hunched in front of iMacs, cackling and snorting.
This has been writ before, but writers need ugly holes inside to write well. You can’t write unless you can’t, say, cry on a lover’s thighs. Some people grow up with this kind of inexplicable sentiment coupled with an intense fear of judgment. They can’t get it out unless they’re hiding behind a computer monitor. They’d never say these things in public. They’re too ugly. They touch their noses too much.
Take someone like Jonathan Franzen, for instance. Early in his career, he looked OK. Slightly academic, but totally passable. After The Corrections, holy mother mary jesus son of god, he ballooned like Violet Beauregarde. He got all pudgy and troll-ish. Probably because he ate a lot during his book tour, etc etc. But he also didn’t have to look good. We respect writers more if all signs point to their being just a brain in a bag. In fact, the uglier the better when it comes to writers. Joan Didion, for example, looks like an alien and I wouldn’t listen to her if she didn’t.
Writers are at their ugliest when they’re doing their best writing. I write best when I’ve just come home from Trader Joe’s, sweaty with hair that smells like smoke, and angry about how heavy milk always is. And so I write to, stupidly, shape bleak reality into something more emotive, complex, and expressive – weaving my words over it like henna on a Leukemia patient. Embroidery on the Bronx.
You need start from ugliness to do this well. Something to fight against. Something to try to change, halfheartedly, with the knowledge that you’ll never actually change it. There’s something conservative about writing, then. In contrast to, say, Teach For America teachers, writers know that the world will not change – or they see its gears, its fundamentals, and know that those, at least, are here to stay – and so they sit down, open their computers, and use them like canning jars to take pieces of the universe and sugar and label them until the universe pieces get sticky and fermented and beautiful and artificial and make great Christmas gifts.
Writers choose to sit out. Writers choose to stay in the kitchen during the party. Writers are the world’s wallflowers. And you’ve got to ask yourself, why? Are they afraid to seal the deal? Trigger shy?
And this is where the second kind of ugliness comes in. Writers lie on paper, in beautiful ways, and want the world to love them for it. Writers lay on paper, naked and ugly, and want the world to love them for that, too. Writers sit down while the rest of us are running. Writers reign over their little piles of papers, making sandcastles out of air and calling it work.
Writing never works. Real writers know this. The first problem is that few people really read anything. They read the executive summary, sure, but most don’t even read that. Rather, they look in the face of the person who wrote it and ask themselves, “is this person good and right?” It’s strange and wrong that so many decisions were made by halfhearted deadlined people, sitting around a table late at night under fluorescent lights until they just decide. A coke logo. Rhapsody in Blue. This essay.
I know, I know. Our realities are refracted by language and if writing doesn’t work, then WTF does work, if literally all we do is framed by, mediated by, and trapped within words? Well, maybe writing works, but in measly ways, like writing a check. For the most part, though, I think (insert lots of qualifications here) it’s an open question to ask how the world might be less ugly without writing, and maybe even without writers. We could still speak to each other, I guess, though that’s often horrible and confusing and constraining, too. Recently, a New Yorker article described Ithkuil, a “maximally concise” invented language that takes ideas and boils them down to nanosignifiers. Perhaps this essay, for instance, could be written by a computer as, simply, trammļöihhâsmařpţuktôx. And so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time sitting here typing.
This kind of world might give us more time to, e.g., love one another. Or to hate reality as it should be hated, without all the designs and euphemisms we keep rolling over it. Or to throw away our idea-catchers and start running, like, really running. Close your Macbooks, ugly ones.
Now, can someone please write an article explaining why writers are beautiful? Because that’s probably true, too.