One of the more perplexing quirks of human existence, especially for those of us habituated to dealing with computer programming and its one/zero, if/else, and/or logicality, is Homo Sapiens’ ability to contain polar opposites within one apparently unitary self. One person can be capable of great acts of physical courage, and yet utterly spineless when it comes to taking an unpopular moral stand; another can be overwhelmingly generous to friends and acquaintances, yet manipulative and withholding with their closest kin. (Of course, psychological intuition might suggest that such apparent contradictions are simply two separate loops of the same underlying knot in the psyche…)
In my own case, I’m increasingly aware of a weird dualism around the issue of seriousness. On the one hand, I still have a cod-adolescent tendency to cringe-inducing earnestness (ever a peril for the blogger, not to mention the poet) – and in this mode, I’m also hyper-sensitised to Not Being Taken Seriously. On the other, I notice an increasing tendency to act the larrikin in meetings and other social settings, as if too much seriousness is problematic and must be defused. (This latter tendency first became apparent when I was still employed as a software engineer; one day, I found myself opening the inevitably tedious, techie presentation I was obliged to give by telling a joke, and things escalated – or perhaps degenerated – from there into a general fondness for interjected wisecracks and the development of a self-piss-taking schtick.) It’s as if I can’t decide between having the world “take me seriously” and being the class clown.
Since this dualism doesn’t seem to be causing me too much trouble at the moment (though I can’t speak for the poor souls who have to attend meetings with me), I’m currently wondering if there’s a lesson in it when it comes to the writing life.
Anyone committed to writing knows that there’s a profound seriousness required to meet that commitment, because it piles up so many short-term burdens of discipline and effort onto the bone-thin, notoriously cranky little donkey of nebulous future reward. Additionally, the process itself can be deeply and wonderfully “serious”, in the brimming-with-meaning sense, especially in those almost-ecstatic moments of flow when the writing seems to be appearing through you rather than from you.
On the other hand, we all know writers who take themselves and their Important Writer status far too seriously (“Contribute to your trifling project? Don’t you know who I AM?” etc etc,) and what an enthusiasm-quelling, joy-killing pain in the arse they are. (Although perhaps we should spare a little sympathy, because an addiction to status is just that – an addiction, with all the concomitant unhappy implications for the sufferer.)
The conclusion seems to me that to make a life in writing, one must take being a writer – one who engages in the act of writing – very seriously indeed, but that the peripheral act of Being A Writer – in the public-facing sense – should be treated with skepticism, or better yet, a spadeful of salty wit.