You Should See the Other Guy

Either Zeus has gotten into the lipstick (poorly) or some field rodent has very recently met a very bad end. I will note this does not appear to be Zeus’ blood in any event.

(For the people who are new and/or did not know, the Scalzi cats are all working cats, inasmuch as we have agricultural fields on three sides of us and thus have potential rodent problems in the autumn and winter, when the furry creatures who live in the fields decide our house looks nice and warm. Well, it is. And also, not for rodents.)

Loathing is a Strong Word to Apply to One’s Self

I’m a writer and I really don’t have self-loathing in my blood, or in my liver or indeed in any other organ or part of my body (including the brain, which I suspect is ultimately the relevant organ under discussion here). As a result I am more than vaguely annoyed by the declaration above, which comes from a Salon article about “Literary Self Loathing.”

This is not to say that on more than one occasion I have not had doubts or concerns about my writing — the thing that writers do when they’re in the middle of writing a book and they think to themselves okay, honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing and that’s going to be obvious to anyone who reads this thing is something that happens to me, oh, a lot. I have concerns about whether my reach exceeds my grasp, whether what I’m writing compares well to what I’ve written before, and what the response to the work will be. I think this is both normal and probably healthy — the ability to criticize one’s own work is often key to having work that doesn’t entirely suck.

But none of that is about self-loathing. Self-criticism is “what I am writing right now isn’t good, and I need to find a way to make it better.” Self-loathing is “what I am writing right now isn’t good, I suck, I have always sucked and I have neither the talent nor the ability to write this, I should never have tried and why did I ever think I was any good at writing at all.” Even more simply put, it’s the difference between “this writing sucks” and “I suck.” Personally speaking I think one of these is helpful; the other one really is not. It’s also not helpful to confuse the two.

Are there writers who are self loathing? Absolutely, because there are people who are self-loathing, and writers are a subset of people. There are also doctors who are self-loathing, plumbers who are self-loathing, farmers who are self-loathing and so on. There are also writers who are not self-loathing. There are excellent writers who grapple with self-loathing; there are excellent writers who don’t (there are mediocre and terrible writers in each category as well, of course). Trying to typify all writers as self-loathing is as useful as typifying all writers as anything, save the base, practical definition of “someone who writes.”

Speaking personally, I am not a self-loathing writer primarily because I am not a self-loathing sort of person in general. I have my tics and neuroses, and as noted above I have a healthy regard for my fallibility as a writer, in terms of quality of output (I try not to inflict the bad stuff on the rest of the world). But fundamentally I am okay with myself, and I am fortunate that the construction of my brain doesn’t neurochemically incline me toward depression and/or self-loathing.

Also, and this is important, while writing is a very big part of who I am, it is not absolutely central to my idea of myself — which is to say, when I have a stretch of poor or indifferent writing, I don’t see it as an existential plebiscite on who I am as a human being. It just means I’m writing poorly at the moment. Hopefully I will snap out of it.

Finally, with regard to writing, my ability to do so and its relation to me as a worthwhile human being, the fact that I’ve been writing professionally for coming on to a quarter of a century now assures me that this is in fact something I can do pretty well. At this point in time any feelings of impostor syndrome (the neurotic underling of self-loathing) would pretty much be a luxury. All that time also reinforces to me the idea that writing is a learned skill and a trade — which is again separate from who I am as a person.

I think people who are writers and who are also the sort of self-loathe can possibly use that self-loathing as a tool in some way, but personally I suspect if you’re genuinely deep in the throes of self-loathing, as a writer or whomever, your first stop should be a doctor, to see if that’s something that’s treatable. It might be easier to deal with the writing that sucks if you’re not thinking that therefore, you suck.

Still Life with Guitars and Ukuleles

There are actually five musical instruments visible in this picture. Not immediately obvious are the left-handed ukulele on the bookshelf (it’s my wife’s) and the mandolin, the case of which can just be seen on the left hand side of the picture.

And yes, these instruments get a workout. I’m teaching my daughter “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and she uses the Blueridge tenor guitar (the one in the center) while I use the Washburn travel guitar (the one to the left) and occasionally switch up to use the ukulele. All of them are tuned like ukes, so I can swtich between them without having to learn new chords. The mandolin I originally had tuned like a uke but it went out of tune too easily, so I retuned it to the usual arrangement and am learning how to use it that way. It’s a bit of a challenge, in no small part because the frets are so tiny. I don’t exactly have monster hands, so I’m kind of amazed how anyone plays these things.

I am not a good guitar/uke player. I am sufficiently competent that if I play a song other people my recognize what it is I am trying to play, and I continue to get better, although I don’t suspect I will ever be all that good. The thing is, I don’t care. I play because I like to play and it brings me happiness to do so. It’s a good enough reason.