Insomnia, Part Whatever: the Off-Ass-Getting

Last night, lost in loops of trying to find an end to meaninglessness, it was impossible to sleep till my cat sat on my head and purred for a couple of hours… then I dreamed about getting fired from a job waiting tables for not being cool enough. Again. Laid awake again till time for coffee, reminding myself that I’ve finally landed a full-time job as a proofreader that’s not just nerd-friendly, it’s frankly overpaid… but I’ll never really believe it deeply. Never be able to convince my subconscious that we aren’t going to starve to death. Which is in part a good thing, I guess, since it gives it something to worry about other than the sheer inevitability of dying anyway…

During the earlier stages of my insomnia I’d planned out a long essay on the death of dreams, particularly those of creative people, and the implications for the depth of their awful sensing of the meaninglessness of life… but of course a dearth of sleep kills brain cells, and soon it all turned into a wash of despair and whirling words and colors. I think it all was tinged with envy: first, for those who can believe in God. (Not too many generations ago, remember, it wasn’t terribly hard for people to do, even for those who prized reason; now it seems too unreasonable for my brain to even try to cling to, even less reasonable than a belief in my current illusion of safety and security.) But–perhaps even more so, since these things, though transient and in some cases mortal, can’t be questioned unless there’s a paternity suit–for those who believe in the earthly pleasures of raising kids and buying shit.

You may scoff, and tout the superiority of the pleasures of the spirit, but God is dead, remember, while Prada is a Hydra.

Finally I envy myself, my younger self. She hadn’t tried yet to visualize how many people were in a billion, much less seven billion, nor try to math out how many aspiring writers of great talent that would equal. So she thought she had a chance at being one of the few novelists of her time who would be remembered for a couple of hundred years.

Not that that would mean much, in the grand scheme of things. Eventually only Classics geeks will be able to read the English and French and Chinese that even the most laureled of us write in nowadays. And the odds of it happening to any one aspirant are worse than the odds of my being swallowed by a shark on dry land. Regardless of how well you write. (Not sure whether that last bit’s comforting or terrifying; depends on my mood.) The worst part is, the stabbing irony is, that no one can know the final outcome–how long your words will be remembered once you’ve croaked your last angry oath–till after you’ve crossed the very gory threshold that is what you’re trying to symbolically or avoid by spilling words on the page (or seed on egg if you can’t think of anything less cruel). The great writer you’ve pulled from the rejects bin after he dies and made famous? You did him no favors, he’s fucking dead, in a pauper’s grave; the apology never gets to the dead star no matter how much light it’s shining on you now. The famous writer who’s forgotten after her treacly shades of crap are all in landfill? Big deal, she enjoyed her years in the sun and her millions, and that’s probably all she cared about.

Caring is a torture, after a certain point of loss of faith. But not caring is also a torture. I was rolling in that paradox last night, longing for my days of foolishness and self-delusion and I’m going to be the next incarnation of Oscar Wilde ‘cos I like flowers and I’m so funny… and now I’m just another Midwestern loser with no connections and no, Virginia, nobody ever gets “discovered,” they either pull in Daddy’s favors or make a cat video on Youtube, or at the very best their highly specialized blog gets them a one-off book deal and then they go back to writing ad copy for high-fructose cancer shitties. No wonder people kick so hard when you shatter their cherished delusions. One needs one’s fucking sleep.

But for some reason, there was something about this bleary-eyed morning that made me pull my self-delusion boots back on and look up a new agent to send my sci-fi novel to today during a bit of down time at work. I wrote a confident, crisp, non-suicidal, and professional query and synopsis, followed her instructions to the fucking letter, and sent my plea on its hopeless, ridiculous way.

Maybe somebody will read it. I don’t know why that makes my godforsaken fickle nerves hum warmly, but fuck it. I am doing the Camus thing and pretending the rot I’ve made up means something because, fuck it, I like reading books, so if anybody reads it and enjoys it oh fuck, they’ll die anyway, but to hell with the devil, because rock and roll or something. Wait, I think I’ve got that backwards.

Comments

  1. janus

    Ann,

    I still have warm feelings for "My Dinner With Andre" despite the fact that it has driven so many people nuts.

    While reading your post, I remembered what Wallace said around 2:10.

    When I was younger, I was into the new-agey woo that Andre talked about, then I progressed into Wallace's more down-to-earth focus, and now I'm pretty much what I was born to be: the waiter…har har!

    But you have a gift, and it would be a crime against gawd-knows-what if you quit.

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      Ann Sterzinger

      You pretty much can't approach a major publisher without an agent, and yes, the agent takes a chunk. It's an exquisite kind of parasitic creature that went and evolved in that niche, I tell you what.

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    Ann Sterzinger

    Janus (Colorado Friend? Janus is a better handle, good indeed)… thank you for the encouragement, it's heartening. The rejection e-mail has already come, as expected but much sooner than expected; at least they were courteous. I have to keep my delusion pants on and send out another query next week, because my liver is too old for very much beer these days.

    Shamefully I have not seen this movie yet, but I watched the clip and feel the quote you're referencing… it looks like they've posted the whole film so I think I'll sit here and watch it right now. I'm already crazy so no worries. And yeah… we're all the waiter. Whether we know/knew it or not.

  4. janus

    Ann, I spoke too soon. I hadn't read any of Goad's stuff beyond that one giant slab of a bible, so I glanced at some of his current writing on his site. I won't be reading there again. He's lost his core.

    Also, out of curiosity I picked up "Fight Club" to read from the library. Since it was so popular to the masses, I decided to find out why. Well, now I understand. Written on a grade-school level with a short 208-page length, this thing has allowed millions of Americans to say, "I read a book this year."

    So I'm beginning a second reading of your NVSQVAM and will savor every word. Life is so fucking unfair.

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    Ann Sterzinger

    Aw, thanks. I enjoyed Answer Me! a lot back in the day, but then Goad came up with some lame excuse for having a baby (a prophetic dream, he said on his blog). Babies do something hormonal and unfortunate to people's brains, men included. Sad, nasty cycle.

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  7. E.M. Mouse

    NVSQVAM is one of the only contemporary novels I've read that really moved me . . . I tried to write a review for it on Amazon, but the result was a huge rant against the world instead of an amicable review, so I deleted it (I intend to give it another try sometime!). NVSQVAM was funny, elegant, harsh . . . it threw me into the depths of despair, which only the best novels can do. I know I'm just one stupid (albeit appreciative) reader, but I really hope you're able to write more. Please do update if you are able to get your sci-fi novel published!

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    Ann Sterzinger

    Ah, go ahead and rant. I'm pretty angry and depressed about it myself, but then it is February. But seriously… whenever people actually READ the damn book they either love it, or are at least devastated. Which should make me feel better, which it does in a way, but it also highlights the very low benefit level of doing things well as opposed to loudly. There's a giant landslide of shit sitting smugly on top of the stack of what's brought to people's attention… most of it wins out through better funding and connections, of course, but the rest wins through the author being an insinuating social type, which has always made for mediocre writing at best; bonhomie is the object of satire, not the father. I used to be more angry at the trust-fund babies, but I'm almost more sickened these days by the panders.

    But thanks, sincerely. I'm actually working on a third book… it's more realistic, about what people (not the people in THE DARLINGS, mind you) went through during the trough of the depression in 2011. It's almost finished but I seriously doubt anyone will publish it (so five minutes ago!) so I'm thinking of putting up a few chapters for free as a sample on this blog, then as soon as the rest is polished, putting up a self-published ebook for sale on Amazon. Vanity? Because fuck everything.

    1. E.M. Mouse

      Authors who depict things as they are instead of as people want them to be have been very unpopular since antiquity, as you very well know. From NVSQVAM I'm pretty sure you studied Classical Greek at some point – did your teachers ever give you excerpts about Hegesias? Or even Diogenes the Cynic? Heraclitus? They had nothing good to say about nature or people, and consequently they have been banished to the dustbins of history. Even among modern literature, when do you see Celine's "Journey to the End of the Night" or Thomas Bernhard taught? You belong to this greater pantheon of writers who, though often ignored, are not forgotten by those who see life for what it is. While it saddens me that fame usually eludes writers like yourself, at the same time it seems to be an inevitable consequence of being an insightful artist instead of a fame-hungry social pander.

      To quote Thomas Ligotti:
      "English and American readers will only tolerate books that ultimately uphold the status quo and offer people reasons why their miserable lives are worth living."

      I don't think it would be vain in the least for you to self-publish through Amazon. It'll give you more artistic control over the work, and if it's an E-book, in this day and age you might be able to reach a wider audience. I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to your future works!

      P.S. I think you have the distinction of being the only writer who has ever referenced the awesome bludgeoning power of Smyth's Greek Grammar. 😉

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    Ann Sterzinger

    I can't believe no one else has ever recorded the weaponizing of Smythe's! Hauling that thing to Greek class put ten years on my knees. It was like carrying a Great Dane three miles on my back every day. I could have easily fulfilled my fantasy of kicking the shit out of Lena Dunham after a couple semesters of that…

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    Ann Sterzinger

    PS I dunno, Juvenal and Martial did pretty well… I think Ligotti has Anglos' and Americans' number, unfortunately. Although Kinglsey Amis did give them a good shot of bile, his stupid son is a trust-fund baby AND a pander through and through.

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  12. wisdomdancer

    I can certainly relate. I hate the process of marketing to agents. I have felt sorry for my poor sales often enough. But I think the assumption that good or certainly, great writers should be able to support themselves on the sales of books to large numbers of people may be fundamentally wrong. As an expectation, it's certainly often enough responsible for making writers feel inadequate and awful. Instead, it may be wise to remember how many books have been written because of the support of patrons, and not necessarily wealthy ones, instead of consumers. Any model based on one or more direct supporters (someone close to you, or just passionate fans) is a great deal more likely to support quality work, IMO. Shame it has acquired a sense of shame or stigma in modern times; you must not be a good writer, think writers, because you are selling your product well enough, and someone has to support you. We are expected—and expect—to prove ourselves as writers (and artists) by being good, profit-making businesspeople. Nothing against success in itself, but those two things don't often intersect. We feel bad, and why? It's absurd, when you think about this.

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    Ann Sterzinger

    The worst part is wondering whether you're just one of those non-self-promoting types, or whether you really are just meritless. In which case it would make so much more sense to spend all of one's time off on the couch with beer and youtube.

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