Bad Brain Days

Image from The Simpsons.

So You Want To Be A Writer
From sifting through the madness for the Word, the line, the way
by Charles Bukowski

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

Truth, but untruth as well. There are days where the words come roaring out of me and I can’t write them down fast enough. There are times when I’m trying to sleep or take a shower or make a phone call, and the sentences come pecking at my brain, making it impossible to think of anything else. They swarm around me, clambering into consciousness, each wanting more attention than the last.

Those times, I open my laptop and let them pour out of me like a stream of pee after a dozen beers. My head feels like a full bladder. It doesn’t sate me, but at least they’re out. Sometimes, even when I get them out, they form new groupings and force me to add to them or rearrange them. They are demanding, these words of mine. They all want what they think they’ve got coming to them. They want to be the center of attention.

Image from The Simpsons.

Then, there are days where nothing happens. My words have all abandoned me to the point where I can’t even put a proper sentence together. I call them bad brain days. I’m used to bad brain days; I’ve had them since I was 20 (read the post called Goldfish to find out why). I’ve had three bad brain days in a row this week. I can barely carry on a simple conversation, let alone write anything worthwhile. Two days ago, according to my brain, I it was Halloween; I wrote the date as 10-31-10 instead of 8-31-10… twice. I hate bad brain days more than anything. I can’t recall simple words. I can’t talk. I’m in a fog. I can’t write. I can’t even read. I can’t think. Nothing roars out of me besides gibberish.

Whenever I have a bad brain day, I’m always afraid that my brain will get stuck that way, like the old wives tale of eyes crossed one too many times. I fear that my brain will get used to not thinking and that is how it will be forever more. I will never be able to think clearly or write again, and that would truly suck. For me, there is a definite correlation between writing and functioning; I can’t do one without the other.

Usually, bad brain days are isolated incidents. It’s rare to have two in a row, let alone three in a row, like I did this week. Hence, the niggling little fear that my brain will be stuck in low gear forever. The worst part is that I know my brain isn’t functioning normally, but there’s nothing I can do about it. That I am aware that I’m not operating at peak mental capacity just seems to make the suffering more acute. Ignorance is bliss.

So, while I think Mr. Bukowski is partially on the mark, not all of us are as persistently productively as he was. Not many of us can write every day from dusk to dawn. I can’t live my life in a perpetual state of hungover fueled by rotgut booze. I cannot always control my words. I can’t pee them out in a stream of consciousness to write my name in the snow. The words don’t always come out of my soul like a rocket. They don’t consistently come unasked out of my heart and my mind and my mouth and my gut, but sometimes they do. That’s the best I can muster. Hopefully, it’s enough.

This post is part of the On Being series.