Jay Lake: Writer

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[Cancer]

[cancer|writing] Writing through cancer

I spent a bunch of time discussing my wrtiing with my therapist earlier this week. In the moment, it seemed like an odd choice of topics given everything going on in my life, but I’ve realized now where he was going with it.

I am a writer.

Period.

I may have given up everything from laundry to shaving. I may not drive at night any more. I may not be able to do a fraction of the things I expect and desire from myself some days, and on my best days can only dream of reaching half my normal energy and activity levels. But damn it, I continue to write, no matter what.

This is not my sole identity, of course. I am a traid at the core, I think — father, friend/lover and writer.

What does this mean?

At the first, I am a father to . But fatherhood is as much as state of being as it is an assertive act. She can come to me, I can seek her out, we can discuss homework or the latest school gossip or go eat a meal together. It happens almost organically, arising from (her) lifetime’s worth of habits. And I will always be her father, no matter what becomes of me.

I am a lover as well, a friend, a social being. Those roles are assertive acts, but they are also to some extent states of being. Especially these days, when the people who care for me and about me are going to extraordinary lengths to make sure our connections remain strong, that I am living, eating and sleeping properly, and in general giving of themselves for the sake of what I cannot always do for myself right now. I will return to them in my full strength in due time, and give it all back with interest, as I have always done.

But as a writer? That is only an assertive act. We talk about the habits of writing, but it’s always easier to sit on the couch and rest, or slip a DVD into the player, or putz around on the Internet. Writing does not come to me on momentum and a lifetime of accumulated goodwill. It only comes from me when I work at it. Even now. Especially now.

So this morning I got up at 3:30 and worked on “The Stars Never Lie” for an hour. I wrote about 1,400 new words. That’s a little slow for me in normal health, but on chemo in what is essentially the middle of the night, I’ll take it. This one is coming slow, anyway, as some of my best have. I don’t know if the writing pace is a chemo thing, a story thing, my process evolving, or something else entirely, but it doesn’t matter. When I’m done with the draft, I’ll fix whatever’s wrong, improve whatever’s right, then I’ll write something else.

And that’s what my therapist was getting at, I think, in his directed Rogerian way. I maintain myself through cancer and chemo by maintaining my self-definition. The part of that requiring the most direct, assertive action is writing. That is the one set of behaviors which is not externally reinforced.

I am a writer, so I write. I write because I want to, because I need to, and right now, I write most of all to deny cancer the place it wants to take at the center of my life.

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