Sometimes as a writer you can’t help but feel as though your very existence is a clichéd hybrid of all those who have come before you. You write about feeling like an outcast, both reveling in, and despising the idiosyncrasies that form the microcosm of you. You are volatile, temperamental, a deep thinker, quirky, a workhorse, a masochist, and about a million other things. You yearn to be accepted, yet when those moments of companionship with your fellow man arrive, your anxiety craves independence. You write to fight demons, to understand the world, to question the illogical and voice an opinion that needs to be heard.
You write because you are different. Yet by doing so you prove that you are ultimately the same as almost every great writer throughout history. You’re still a minority, and you deserve to be celebrated as such. But the eccentricities that define you are a collection of all those brilliant authors whose works inspired you to create and compose in the first place.
You’re nodding your head; yet you’re sceptical about where this is heading. I don’t blame you. Those opening two paragraphs are nonsensical bullshit written by an author trying to astound and astonish with his philosophical thoughts and linguistic repertoire. But, as always, there is a point to this. I promise.
I have a confession to make. Just like literary heavyweights such as Hemingway, Capote, Wilde, and countless others, I tend to spend a lot of time in bars. The great Ernest Hemingway once declared that he drank “to make other people more interesting.” While I haven’t quite reached that level of disinterest in the people around me, the truth is that actually I fit into a lot of the categories outlined above. I’m temperamental, an emotional masochist, and a deep thinker that yearns to be accepted yet thrives off of being alone.
But perhaps one of the most clichéd tendencies that I have developed throughout my life as a writer is a genuine love for the social setting of bars. While I often feel isolated and alone in this world, there is an undeniable allure to dingy dive-bars and poorly lit nightclubs that I can’t deny. The combination of people, music, and liquor, leaves me captivated. It’s not necessarily that I have a desire to drink myself into a stupor either; I could whittle away hours watching strangers hang their hopes and dreams on relationships and interactions forged on a cocktail of inebriation and camaraderie. A bar is such a unique societal backdrop that brings together men and women from various colours, creeds, socio-political, and economic backgrounds, creating a melting pot of humanity and raw human emotion that any writer would find intriguing.
I know that it must shock readers to hear that a writer finds solace in bars and nightclubs, in fact, I can imagine a few readers furrowing their brows right now. How could someone ever be drawn to such a place? Yet if it wasn’t for this love affliction with lady liquor, I never would have found the window.
There’s a window? For a moment you thought this was just about liquor and inebriation didn’t you? You thought that I was going to wrap this up by saying that I have my infatuation with the nightlife under control and that all is well in the world. But alas, there’s more to this story than you thought!
It’s midnight. I’m in a bar with my family and closest friends. I excuse myself and walk towards the bathroom, cutting down a narrow passage beside the counter, moving past the kitchen where chefs cuss at one another over open grills as flames lick towards the ceiling. The passage continues, until I reach a single door with a sign signaling a unisex bathroom pinned haphazardly against it. I push open the door and step into a cubicle roughly the size of an airplane bathroom. There’s a toilet, a hand basin, and the tell tale smell of a public restroom. The hygiene is questionable at best; grime clings to every surface like a thin layer of film. But despite the cubicle’s terrible state, there’s also a window.
It’s roughly the size of a shoebox, and looks as though it were never meant to be more than a small section of wall removed at eye level to provide a source of ventilation within the cramped space. But through that window is the most beautiful view of the city that I have ever seen. The moon sits above a sprawling metropolis of lights, illuminating the city in an ambient glow. Buildings rise from the earth and form streets and suburbs, providing shelter for the millions that live within their walls. I’m supposed to be quick. There’s a line of people waiting for me to finish, but I am so captivated by the thought that there are people I have never met moving through their own existence somewhere in that sea of lights that I can’t move. Here I am standing in a dingy public restroom staring out at the cityscape feeling a sense of hope coursing through my veins.
I am incredibly hard on myself. In addition to afflictions with night clubs, being temperamental, and longing for camaraderie whilst simultaneously yearning to be an individual, I have a proclivity to push myself until breaking point on a regular basis. I want to be a great writer. I want to create a body of work that transcends time and genres, becoming part of literary history.
But sometimes my quest to constantly redefine and improve my craft can leave me blinded, bitter, and miserable. I can become so focused on achieving my dreams that I forget that there is an entire world of wonder and possibility around me. I need to constantly remind myself to stop focusing on my failure to be successful right now, and instead turn my attention to everything that I have already achieved and remember that there are millions of other men and women all around me who are desperately working towards their own dreams.
* * *
Things often sound so simple when you break them down to the ridiculous. You’re not alone. Sometimes you are just so focused on walking your own journey that you can’t see how many others are moving through theirs. We often sit at our desks, or on buses and trains, or even lie beside our partner in the dead and wonder why they can’t understand our dreams. We ask why they can’t see that we are struggling, or that we are hurting. We become so consumed with this idea of self that we don’t understand how anyone could ever care about anything but what is afflicting us. The sad part is that the person next to you is thinking the exact same thing.
I struggle every single day to fathom just why people don’t understand or appreciate the sacrifices that I have made to write. I’ve given up friends, relationships, careers, and almost everything else in my pursuit of greatness. But greatness isn’t achieved in the blink of an eye. It takes years of development and continuous redefining of what one considers to be great before such a entitlement can be reached. But we unfortunately live in an era where we bombarded with the idea that dreams and achievements are often realised overnight. But the honest to God truth is that this is rarely the case.
Clichéd or not; writers are creatures of great emotion. We break our hearts over and over again so that we can show the world our vulnerabilities and humanity. There’s nothing wrong with this. There is great beauty and release in allowing ourselves to be naked for the world to see. But sometimes our extreme vulnerability can cause us to internalise our perspectives and forget that we are never really alone, no matter how much we believe otherwise. For me it took standing in a shitty public restroom that smelled like ammonia, beer, and regret to remember that.
The camaraderie that I chase through my writing might never come, but the intimacy I feel with strangers who I know are living through their own successes and failures is just as meaningful and rewarding. There’s a silver lining to every situation, and a lesson to be learned in every day. Sometimes you just have to shift your perspective away from the immediacy of your surroundings and ignore the filth and grime of the cubicle, and find that little shoebox sized window with the view of the entire city instead.