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Art, BS, Illness, Success & Rotten Apples

I admit: There are times when I feel filled with the writing wisdom of the ages. All one need do is ask and I shall bless you with beginner, intermediate, or advanced sets of pearls from the fountainhead of literary profundity itself. At other times I feel so full of crap I could be the featured ingredient in a truck bomb of substantial proportions.

Observe: On October 23rd of this year, a shade more than a month ago, I blogged about defining literary success, and how defining it in terms of art, instead of money, is the path to true literary fulfillment, happiness, and sanity. So there I was, beginning a week ago until last night, on a hook because I was so frustrated that a certain book of mine is not a commercial $ucce$$.

"Hypocrite!" you shout from the battlements, or from your window if your castle has no battlements. Perhaps you only mutter it. In any event, it's true. At times I fall into the same old pit of despair everyone else paddles in. This time I found myself reading this same book of mine, over and over again, stunned that it captures me so completely yet out there it only achieves the literary equivalent of crickets.

Years ago, working on a fantasy idea, I entered a study of ancient religion. Since I was at the same time in search of a "higher power" as part of my Twelve Step recovery program, I took the opportunity to make my tasks serve each other. I did my best to follow seriously each religion I studied. I didn't sacrifice any bulls or ignite any disbelievers, but I did what I could within the limits of the law. I even built my own massive Celtic temple from boulders in the Maine woods.

I learned many important things from this study. The most important of these was this: It doesn't matter what you pick and use for a higher power, it will work; they all worked. I don't want to get too deep in the weeds here, but the end result was that whatever or to whomever I prayed for help, I got the help I needed. What point this study has to the current topic is this: When wallowing in a mire of depression, frustration, and self-pity all of which I cannot escape on my own, I need help. Talking it over with friends and relatives only seems to deepen the morass, and searching the insides of my own head is a blind leap into a void of the damned. The fact that I know from long experience where to get the help I need, [pardon me while I say that politically incorrect word] prayer, and choose not to resort to it is a symptom of my disease (30 years clean and sober come this December 30th).

So, I dug out a complete runic system I invented for my original project, and have used on-and-off ever since, and asked, regarding my current situation, what I needed to know. This was the reading indicated by my Alien Runes:

26 Tower

Things that enrich,
Things that enslave,
Possessions ask:
Do you earn to live or
Live to earn?
Honesty may be the key
To your transformation.

(+) Positive. Money, property, treasury, community wealth.
Aspirations rewarded, desires satisfied, this is the rune of material success. The things we possess can indeed bring into our lives increased comfort, security, entertainment, even happiness. They can be messages from reality that your passage is progressing well.
A warning against mistaking the collection of wealth and possessions for the passage itself. No amount of money, no amount of adulation from others, can replace not feeling worthy from within. How much wealthier is the content beggar than the king who needs more. Your heart's answer will reveal if this warning applies to you.

Did it ever.

This morning, that reading in mind, I went outside to allow one of our dogs to make her bladder gladder. It's cold in Maine today, snow on the ground, the sky gray and dreary. It all matched my mood. Then I happened to look at our apple tree from which we have gotten the fillings to many very tasty pies. This is a tree, in fact, that grew from an apple core I planted there many years ago.

It's almost December. The leaves and apples have long since departed. But, I looked up at the tree and saw one rotten apple, half eaten by insects and birds, but still hanging on (see picture). I laughed because I so identified with this unwanted and unusable piece of fruit. What made me laugh was that the rotten apple was happier than I was.

That apple isn't crying and whining that nobody chose it to eat or to put in a pie. The tree is in the middle of a lawn. That apple's chances of growing into a tree, thereby fulfilling the tree's purpose in bearing it and the apple's purpose in growing to maturity, are next to nothing. And there it is, still hanging onto its branch, because that's what this apple does.

So, why do I write? Why is that apple still up there? Or, to put it another way: How much wealthier is the content rotten apple than the writer who thinks he needs more.

Okay, I'm on medications that get me down. I have a physical problem that makes it so I can't ski or even sleep at night; it gets me down. There's the whole economic, political, world Occupy-my-ass thing; that gets me down. In fact, I got so down I began envying a piece of rotten fruit.

What's even more peculiar, ever since I first wrote and used Alien Runes, I've had a sure-fire way to set myself back on the right track, but often find myself too arrogant to reach outside of myself for the help I need.

If all of the above seems like so much piss in a pond to you, then so be it. It was what was in my heart, and that is where I go for both writing fuel and direction. I get to write. I have the ability, the skills, the equipment, and the time. The fact that this novel of mine I can read over and over again and still be captivated by the story means that I have achieved exactly what I wanted: art: a genuine communication of self on all levels.

That's right: I get to write. I have the ability, the skills, the equipment, and the time. When I catch myself thinking I need more, before I step out on a ledge or pick up a gun, I need to reach for the help I know is there and has worked for me every time I've asked for help. I call it "the Universe" and it communicates with me through this other work I wrote: Alien Runes. I never published it, although I thought about it once (too small an offer from the publisher). This is another work of art, communication of self, but this time self with the entire universe.

This time tomorrow I will be arriving at the hospital for an operation that has been described to me as fairly minor, although whacking open a vertibra and running a drill around some important nerve roots still strikes me as something more than lancing a boil. When I go, however, I will bring with me one of my Alien Runes as a talisman, Monster, the rune with three claw marks as its sign:

27 Monster

Behold the monster,
Storming, bellowing,
Raking its claws across the stones,
Belching flame and smoke.
To stop the monster it must be faced.
The test of the universe's plan
Is not desire fulfilled.
The test is becoming the universe.
The answer is action.

(+) Coming. Success in a crisis, meeting the challenge, setting boundaries, facing the monster.
The beast is in the cave. It has wreaked chaos upon the land of happiness, love, and serenity for long enough. To end the tyranny of this creature, the monster must be faced. Is it an enemy? a co-worker? your employer? your life partner? your love mate? a memory? a parent? the streets? friends? competing teams? competing businesses? competing armies? a dark corner of yourself? a challenge? a risk? These are only manifestations of the greatest monster of all: your fear. Confront who you need to confront, say what you need to say, do what you need to do, face the monster with the support of the matrix. Know that courage is not being without fear. Courage is being afraid and doing it nevertheless.

When I get back, if that rotten apple is still hanging on up in that tree, I think I'll take it down and plant it somewhere. Sometimes, goddammit, even a rotten apple deserves an "E" for effort.

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What About This Blog?

For writers & readers. For writers, this is stuff I've learned, am in the process of discovering, and stuff that is imparted to me by other writers. For readers, I believe the more one knows about what goes into the writing of a story, and into the life of being a writer, the more one appreciates an author's writings.

This is a two-way blog. Your comments on the blogs are welcome, as are your questions. Comments on blogs can be made directly on each blog entry. For questions and comments not related to specific blogs, use the eMail link below.

Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the Circus World and Infinity Hold series, Sea of Glass, other SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.