300 words a day, Aenema, Books about Writing, Christopher Hitchens, coffee, Commerce, Creative Writing, Honesty of the Artist about the Creative Process, Hooker with a Penis, Katy Perry, Katy Perry Wearing Red Velvet, letters to a young contrarian, Masturbation, Maynard Keenan, Oliver Queenan, On Writing, Purple Stuff, Ray Bradbury, Robot Chicken, Science, Scientific Theory, Stephen King, Tangerine Dream, The Departed, Thelonius Monk, TOOL, What the Fuck is Purple Stuff?, Writers, Writing, Writing about Writing
Two kids open a refrigerator looking for something to drink when they discover purple stuff. It’s play on the old Sunny D commercial where somebody looks through the items in the fridge and notices something called “purple stuff” before noticing they have Sunny D. I’m not sure why anyone would actively decided to drink Sunny D, but hey, people are allowed to have their own tastes, even if they’re wrong. Anyway these kids stop and ask each other what “purple stuff” actually is when one of the kids asks his friend, “You think it will get us high?” The first kid smiles and says, “there’s only one way to find out.” The following scenes show the two kids beginning a series of scientific dialogues and in-depth academic research as the begin to compile data and formulate a hypothesis. The act eventually culminates when one kid, following a heated argument about the final conclusions of their research, is hit by a car. The first friend holds his dying companion and says he can’t die. His friend, in the midst of choking on his own coagulating blood says, “Maybe I don’t have to, one, last, theory.”
At this point I threw my remote control through the television because no scientist would ever say, “just a theory.” It was a hypothesis because at that point there were no solid experiments, and something only becomes a theory after decades of constant experiments.
If something is scientific theory it’s because it has been tested millions of times by millions of scientists across the world at which point it becomes a fact. Language is important damn it, and while I hate shitting on Robot Chicken, writers need to pay attention to the philosophies, education, and ideologies that define their characters.
None of this really has anything to do with books about writing, but I thought it would be a nice opener to an otherwise pointless topic: writing about writing.
 wHy I kEep dOing tHis
I’m honestly not sure why I keep doing this. I’ve said it once before, but I find books that are about nothing but writing to be empty masturbation. Though even that is incorrect because I hold respect for masturbation, it gives you pleasure and can help your body, over time, prevent certain types of cancer. Books about books, and writing about writing, are rather useless because Stephen King summed everything a writer needs to know about being a writer in his book On Writing:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. (145).
After this, apart from specific guidelines about editing and finding an agent, everything else in terms of advice about writing is really bullshit. Anyone can offer someone advice about what works for them personally as a writer, but the problem is that those offerings are ultimately individual opinions. Writing is ultimately masturbation, a form of self-pleasure and -self-gratification that results in a tangle physical object, and only the individual person knows how they prefer to masturbate. Hearing someone else’s opinions about writing is, at least in my experience, a lot like to listening to them prattle on about their mastubatory habits. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s just not going to work for me.
And yet every year I always find myself thinking about what I would say if someone asked me what it takes to be a writer. And every year I wind up reading at least one book or collection of essays by writers offering advice to aspiring writers. Whether it’s Burn This Book, Zen and the Art of Writing, Letters to a Young Contrarian, or Walking on Alligators, I can’t seem to escape this pathetic inevitability.
Starting with Bradbury seems appropriate, but I think TOOL’s song Hooker with a Penis is a better place to start.
 Hooker with a Penis
Maynard Keenan is perhaps one of the few leading singers that still inspires me in Rock n Roll, because apart from Corey Taylor and almost the entirety of Heavy Metal, nobody sounds like they do on the record anymore. I may be becoming one of those awful people who complain about auto-tuning, but for me it’s the matter of the live show because that’s where the bones of a band are made. Maynard Keenan sounds on TOOL albums the way he does in concert and so when I heard that he was trained operatically I was impressed, and when I watched him sing the song Hooker with a Penis I had to go back to my Aenema CD and listen to discover that it was exactly the same. Most of the time I’d been disappointed by singers in real life, their voices sounding tired, out of tune, or just different than the record, but with Keenan the man was singing what he could actually sing and it worked.
Looking at the lyrics of Hooker with a Penis though I found something rather interesting and that was the ethos of the artist speaking plainly. The song is about Keenan listening to a fan who told him he thought the group was “selling out” and the remainder of the song is Kennan telling the guy to go fuck himself while also musing on the nature of art vs product.
So I’ve got some advice for you, little buddy.
Before you point your finger you should know that I’m the man,
If I’m the fuckin’ man then you’re the fuckin’ man as well
So you can point your fuckin’ finger up your ass.
All you know about me is what I’ve sold you, dumb fuck.
I sold out long before you’d ever even heard my name.
I sold my soul to make a record, dipshit, then you bought one.
All you read and wear or see and hear on TV is a product waiting for your fatass dirty dollar
So, shut up and buy, buy, buy my new record
Buy, buy, buy,
Send more money
Fuck you, buddy.
Fuck you, buddy
Fuck you, buddy
Fuck you, buddy.
Every artist has to determine for themselves what “selling out” means, and that in itself can become tricky. For my own part I don’t believe I’ve ever sold out, then again someone has to want your writing before you can “sell” it. I’ve “given” myself to my reader, largely because they haven’t had to pay for it. They’ve paid me with their time and consideration and moderate attention while they wait for me to mention dicks or Finding Nemo.
Hooker with a Penis is a song that is much in the vein of a revenge tune, but as with everything TOOL this seemingly simplicity actually reveals a larger truth. Though as I finish this sentence I have to ask myself when has TOOL ever demonstrated “seeming simplicity?”
Artists sell themselves, but often their writing is just a moment of themselves. It’s a thought or feeling they were having that they then record and “sell” to people. The consumer of an art product takes that moment and constructs meaning from it deciding whether or not the art is really significant. But often the reader takes that feeling and allows it to become a facet of their identity, their spirit, their personal energy. And, as is often the case, they allow themselves to think that they “know” an artist by reading this moment.
But all that you really know is what you bought, and so Maynard Keenan is able to write about writing and demonstrate to the reader that just because you have a nipple ring and new shoes doesn’t mean you know shit about TOOL.
 ZEN and THE art OF writing
Typically when someone announces that they’re a poet, when all they’ve ever written is prose, I tend to roll my eyes. It’s not a discrimination against poetry because I love poetry. What makes me roll my eyes is the fact that they have clearly bought into the hype of themselves and they believe they possess a grasp of language so that they could call what they’ve written poetry when an examination of their prose reveals they have not paid any sort of attention to how their work sounds or feels. Words are there to present scenes and ideas, rather than inspire feelings.
Ray Bradbury is the only author I know who I give this a pass because there isn’t any other word besides poet to describe the man. His prose isn’t just words strung together to create images in the readers mind which in turn are designed to tell a story and sell a book. Every word of a Bradbury novel is carefully selected to assume a meaning in its form. And in his book Zen and the Art of Writing, Bradbury is able to argue the merits of this form of writing, which is, in it’s simplicity, simply writing in a way so that the writer is honest with themselves.
He observes for his reader that often the “goal” of the writer is either to make millions of dollars with the fantastic best seller, or else to impress the intellectual elite. But Bradbury observes that:
Nothing could be further from the true creativity. Nothing could be more destructive than the two attitudes above.
Because both are a form of lying.
It is a lie to write in such a way as to be rewarded by money in the commercial market.
It is a lie to write in such a way as to be rewarded by fame offered you by some snobbish quasi-literary group in the intellectual gazettes. (141).
This is something I am painfully familiar with because I have attained neither of these, yet I know, in my heart, that I am constantly desiring both. I have written close to a decade relentlessly and received nothing in the way of commercial or critical success. In fact for all my efforts, I tend to remain mired in obscurity and anonymity, my existence largely ignored by the general populace of readers. And because I am the sort of man who desires near constant external validation, this absence is a physical pain that greets me every time I check my stats on WordPress and observe yet another person has only found me because I wrote about black dicks one time, or when I check my CreateSpace page and observe that no one has purchased any of my books for the sixth or seventh month in a row.
But what this emotion is is distrust, it’s distrust of the real process of writing which is the persistence. The quality that grows from experience writing. On my desk, specifically on my Christopher Hitchens shelf (we’ll get to him in a minute) is a notecard taped with black electrical tape. It reads simply “300 words.” There was once a time when that would have read 3000 words, and there was a time when that could be achieved. Because I was a crazy young man who wanted to be a writer and who was willing to push his mind so that the words would come. That experience, everyday pushing those words out, led me here, so that 300 words is not so little. It’s simply an acknowledgement that the work has been made, and more work must come, and in that work is its own lesson.
Bradbury says later,
Work then, hard work, prepares the way for the first stages of relaxation, when one begins to approach what Orwell might call Not Think! As in learning to typewrite, a day comes when the single letter a-s-d-f and j-k-l-; give way to a flow of words. (146).
Bradbury finds, in his argument, that there work becomes the quality and that in itself becomes the pleasure. This sentiment seems like something that would be printed en masse on blocks of wood and sold at Hobby Lobby for $45 a piece. But, experience yields to the wisdom.
Sunday is writing day. I chug my coffee. Sit on my ass. Play my Childish Gambino or Tangerine Dream or Thelonius Monk and I write. I haven’t nailed down the typewriter yet, but the completion of an essay is a better physical release than masturbation at times, and the spirit soars eternal when I the right sentence emerges.
 BRIEF interlude
My wife makes fun of me for thinking Katy Perry is sexy. She says that, like a number of celebrity women, Perry wear tons of make-up to the point that they become almost indecipherable when they don’t wear it. I tell her I know and I understand, but there’s literally a picture of Katy Perry wearing a red crushed velvet dress, tights, and black boots while straddling a motorcycle. Katy Perry. Red Velvet. Tights and Boots. I’m a puddle.
This doesn’t have anything to do with writing, or writing about writing, but I wanted to write about it anyway.
Thank you for your patience, I’ll end it on Christopher Hitchens.
 HitchslaPs BaCk
The late, great Christopher Hitchens said in his 60 Minutes interview, one of the last he gave before he finally shuffled off this mortal coil, that he was terrified that his terminal cancer would impede his ability to write. The reason for this was simple as he explained, “Writing is something I am rather than something I do.”
Normally this sentiment is something I would immediately recoil from because it reeks of, well, sentiment. Normally the sorts of persons who proclaim loudly that they’re writers and that they would die if they couldn’t write seem the sort who like the idea of being writers rather than actual writers. And this in turn leads me to a quote from Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.
Oliver Queenan: [during Costigan’s interview] We have a question: Do you want to be a cop, or do you want to appear to be a cop? It’s an honest question. A lot of guys just want to appear to be cops. Gun, badge, pretend they’re on TV.
Replace the word “Cop” with Writer and then I believe my point is made. Most people want to appear to be writers, but they don’t actually want to be writers. Most people enjoy drinking coffee, talking about stuff they read, and looking like they’re deep and interesting but don’t actually want to do any sort of work when it comes to creativity. I might be a tad harsh in my assessment of humanity, but it’s largely because I’ve known many people who want to be writers when all it really takes is just the will power to sit down and write at least 300 words a day.
My reaction to Hitchens was different though, because I recognized that that statement was rooted in truth. Hitchens as a writer is a testament to the idea of what a writer should be, and that’s simply someone who writes. The man, during his life, never stopped writing and arguing and speaking about his writing and arguments, and that regular dedication demonstrated his identity and ambition.
The problem arises that he rarely seemed to actually write about the process of writing with the exception of a few small essays and my favorite book of his Letters to a Young Contrarian.
Written as a series of letters to his students, the book was originally inspired by Raina Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and attempts to tackle the numerous conflicts and realities one will face when one becomes a contrarian, and in this small but incredible book Hitchens manages to say a great deal about writing period.
Hitchens quotes Rilke directly, discussing the compulsion to write, and the necessity of that compulsion to define the writer. He says,
With much less eloquence, this is what I have been telling writing classes for years. You must feel not that you want to but that you have to. It’s worth emphasizing too, because, there is a relationship, between this desire or need and the ambition to rely upon internal exile, or dissent; the decision to live at a slight acute angle to society. (16).
It may seem at first that Hitch has proven me wrong, that in fact the desire to write is a compulsion and some people really do need it.
But if I can offer a final defense, that desire is exactly that, a desire. Writer’s actively choose to isolate themselves from other people, they actively chose to spend their time alone and typing away, they chose to place themselves apart from the culture in order to write, and all those choices compile into a real statement: the need to write exists, but it has to be based upon a desire to write in the first place.
Books about writing honestly seem to me to be a complete waste of time, but that’s probably because I’ve reached a point where my desire has surpassed to the point where it has become a need. So much of myself has been poured into the identity of writer, so much of my time has been spent writing, and for my efforts I have this blog, I have two self published books, I have a job at a public library, and I have an ever expanding collection of graphic novels.
I’m trying, more and more, to recognize in myself that the identity of writer is something that is me, and to own that part of myself, and perhaps in claiming that identity I need to give other writers a pass at their self-commentary. Writing about writing is an exercise that feels to me largely mastubatory, but that might simply be because I’ve come to a place with my writing where the voice in my head is no longer questioning whether or not I’m a writer.
I’m writing, and that’s what counts.
 finaL conclusioN
I’m positive that my wife is correct about Katy Perry wearing tons of make-up, and I’m probably just another in a long line of guys creeping on an attractive celebrity, but I mean it when I say it, the woman looks great in red velvet and I like the song Peacock.
That thought doesn’t have anything to do with writing, but I still wrote it down anyway, and in its own way that has to say something.
All quotes cited from letters to a young contrarian were quoted from the hardback Basic Books edition. All quotes from Hooker with a Penis were cited from AZlyricks. All quotes cited from Zen and the Art of Writing were quoted from the paperback Joshua Odell Editions edition.
If Seth Green or any of the writers of Robot Chicken should stumble upon this article, please know I LOVE your show and hold a secret ambition to write a sketch for it. So please please please forgive me for being passive agressive and know that I love the show. As for my reader, who’s probably grossed out by my ass kissing, please enjoy the following sketch which inspired the opening of this essay: