Struggles of a Struggling Struggler - Part One

Thoughts on avoiding writing from a coffee shop.

"One Caffe Latte, please. Grande."

I get my coffee and find a seat in a corner. There is a mysterious warmth in being alone while sitting in a crowd. I see people sitting at different tables, their coffee cups next to them, their eyes transfixed on their glowing laptop screens. This morning, and each morning like this, we're all comrades at the battlefront. Fighting imposter syndromes and procrastination monkeys, typing away at our keyboards. Absentmindedly, I take a sip from my hot coffee cup, only to burn my tongue. I'm more careful with my second sip and feel the warmth flow slowly through my throat and then my chest as it passes through my oesophagus. I don't really need coffee to "kickstart" my brain in the morning. Certainly not addicted to it. I just like the taste and so it became my beverage of choice. Plus, I prefer warm drinks over cold ones and haven't really found anything that tastes better than coffee. "Spoken like a true addict", one would say. If drinking coffee is a vice, I take solace in the fact that I don't drink alcohol or smoke. Presence of one vice isn't redeemed by the absence of other vices but the coffee is getting cold so I drink on. My sincerest apologies to the guards at the gates of heaven.

For many weeks now, I have been trying to avoid writing anything. A few standard excuses I have been using range from "I'm too busy at work" to "I'll never be a writer so why try". As I sit here at a Starbucks, the rising sun beams through the window shades, blinding me enough so I have to max the brightness of my laptop screen. Photons bombard my retina while caffeine molecules bind to the adenosine receptors in my brain, the cochlea in my ears turning the gushing and whirring of coffee machines into electrical signals and shooting them straight to my brain. All this while the same brain tries to keep all my bodily functions working so I don't drop dead, while also sifting through a million thoughts and memories and turning them into cohesive sentences so I can type them. Not to mention, of course, the constant struggle with insecurities and this-is-a-horrible-sentence syndrome. I sometimes feel sorry for my brain for putting it through all this. Although my pity disappears when the same brain reminds me that it is feeling sorry for itself while also making it do all these things voluntarily that lead to the pity, or self-pity shall I say. Am I separate from my brain? When I say 'me', is it simply referring to my brain? Am I just some electrical signal flowing through some nerves that are kept alive by an oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange that happens because the same nerves make it possible? No wonder I still can't figure out who I am or what I want. I surely hope I am more than just some electrical signal. More than just a brain. Anyway, I digress.

Getting back to the topic of me avoiding writing, I think it has mostly been a constant, and decade-long, struggle of trying to separate what I want to do and what I probably should do. Perhaps a better way to put it would be, as writer Mason Currey puts it, the struggle of "making art and making a living". The heart wants what it wants, but the bills must be paid on time. Go put that on a t-shirt. I should take advice from more people but the problem with that is, especially when it comes to advice from people close to us, we're all limited by our own blinders, our own insecurities, our own failed dreams. As Rumi said, "When setting out on a journey, do not seek advice from those who have never left home."

Writing software is how I pay the bills but that doesn't make me a writer. Writing words does. I believe there are two conditions that must be true for a person to be called a writer. One, they must be serious about writing. Second, they must write, driven more by discipline than by inspiration. Lately, I have been failing at both conditions for if one is serious about writing, he would surely be disciplined about it. Or so I think. I am sure there have been writers who never wrote, waiting perpetually for the muse to arrive as their bones turned to ash and their words remained forever unspoken, unwritten, unfinished. I am certain those writers had dreams and ambitions, a hope to write something great before they died, only to find that the naive optimism of youth is quick to fade with the practicality of aging. Even so, like a warrior saluting a fallen soldier, I do have respect for those writers. Or maybe it's just pity. Taking heed of these unspoken cautionary tales, I do want to be a different kind of writer. One who is disciplined and one who actually writes. One driven by routine and not inspiration. One who seeks the muse instead of waiting for the muse to seek him. Then perhaps, once I have written all the words I can, I could write my 'one true sentence', as Hemingway put it.

The type of writer I become is partly a choice I make and partly what my mind is naturally drawn to. But one kind of writer I don't want to be is a writer that only writes about how and why he can't write. Turning the sorrows of a young struggler into a monetizable content machine. Another kind of writer I don't want to be is a writer that doesn't really have anything to say. Writing only to write, selling sentences for 0.015 dollar a word. Writing, just like all art, must have meaning. The art and the craft must be the means to an end and not the end itself. Other than that, I do not know what kind of writer I want to be. Just that I write and have something meaningful to say. Just that I show up every day and put thoughts into words. I want to be a writer that actually writes. And if the stars align, I will find a few people who would read my work. And if I'm really fortunate, someday I will write something good.


In the next issue of this potentially 3 part series, I sit at an airport and explore some potential obstacles I suspect are what stop me from producing the magnum opus I aspire to produce.