Sunday, May 1, 2011

The artistic temperament. Do you have it?

Dear Readers,

I was a peculiar child. Does that surprise you?

What made you peculiar, Q? I hear you asking. (I also hear some of you saying, USED to be peculiar?)

Well, regarding my childhood, I used to snort a lot. Not cocaine or anything like that.

Just angel dust.



I used to snort air. I couldn’t get enough of that sweet oxygen, and it often felt like my nasal passages were too small and constantly shrinking. So I would snort in as much air as I could—pig-like.

Mom would tell me to stop snorting, because it drove her nuts and snorting isn’t exactly socially acceptable behavior. She made a chart and gave me gold stars if I could manage to remain snort-free for a length of time. Gold stars could be traded in for prizes like He-Man figures, which—for a spell—were the crack cocaine of my childhood. For Mom (and prizes) I tried to kick the habit. I usually managed to fight off the urge for a few dozen seconds, but then I would snort twice as much to make up for the lost snorts. I was addicted, plain and simple. Powerless. Such was my fate.

The doctors who looked up my nose were stumped. I suggested that maybe the weight of my huge glasses was closing my nasal passages. But they ignored my theory. 'Nothing wrong with the boy,' they said. Of course, they meant nothing ‘physically wrong’ with the boy. What was implied was that the problem was mental.

Looking back now I can see that I was snorting obsessively. I may have had allergies, and the lenses of my glasses were the size and weight of car windows, but it was more than that. I’m certain.

Snorting wasn't exactly pleasurable. There was no real benefit. It was just something I had to do--like breathing.

Apparently, back when I was a wee lad, I also didn’t like wearing more than two colors at a time. (I still don’t wear more than a few.) A two-color max outfit was my rule. So one fine Sunday morning, when Mom forced me into plaid pants, I was on the verge of a spectacular meltdown. Several intersecting colors made so many wild right angles that shot out into veritable rainbows. After a minute or so, it felt like red-hot electrical wires were strangling my thighs and calves. When I protested, when I tried to communicate my anguish, I was told that I had to wear the pants. Period. There would be no changing. We were late for church.

My solution has become family lore. As soon as my parents turned their heads, I ran outside and slid across the grass of our yard, knowing full well that my parents would never allow me to wear grass-stained knees to church. We were dignified Protestants, after all. There was only one pair of plaid pants. Problem solved.

When my father recalls the grass-stained-plaid-pants incident, he still shakes his head at the audacity his first-born son displayed that day. I don’t think he will ever understand why I slid in the grass.  It wasn't that I was trying to be defiant, like he guessed. I just simply could not wear plaid pants--period. Dad didn't get that. Maybe it’s also why he didn’t understand—at first—why I needed to become a writer. He’s just not wired the same way.

What do your childhood quirks have to do with writing, Q? I hear you saying. What the hell kind of blog is this?

About a year ago, Al and I went to hear a veteran writer speak in Philadelphia. She freely offered many wise gems, but one really struck me. This writer said—and I’m paraphrasing—the fiction writers who find a way to keep publishing for decades are usually the people who are terrified of working some type of ‘real job.’

I knew exactly who she was talking about: people who simply cannot exist in the academic or business worlds, people who don’t function well in nine-to-five situations, people who need to do things their own (usually quirky) ways, people who feel like they are being flayed alive when forced to do what others do routinely and mindlessly. People who see the world askew, who experience life in a unique way. People who will do whatever it takes to keep writing full-time, because the alternative is unbearable. People who cannot wear the metaphorical plaid pants.

But don’t you love writing, Q? Isn’t it your passion? I hear you saying, good readers.

Yes, I do love writing. But writing is very very hard, and making a living as a fiction writer is even more challenging. I've come to believe writing's not something I choose to do because I love it, but rather something I have to do, just because.

It's the new snorting.

When I quit a tenured position at a prestigious high school and started writing full-time, without even a sniff (pun?) of a contract or paycheck, it was the metaphorical equivalent of sliding through the grass in my Sunday best, which pissed off my dad once more. Several years later, friends and family members have come to accept (or maybe overlook) my need to sit in a room all day and make up stories, but I'm not sure most people understand. I've met other writers who do, and that has been a great comfort. Some I will introduce you to on this blog.

The artistic temperament.

If you don’t understand what I’m writing about here, you definitely don’t have it.

But I’m sure some of you are nodding.

Either way, you are welcome to read on. *

So what are you saying, Q? I hear you asking. What’s this all about?

I believe there are others out there. I'm hoping this blog will be a flag...and all-y-all-y-in-come-free freak flag for those who need it.

If you are looking for insight into the publishing world, I'm happy to share my experiences. If you want to talk about fiction writing, we can do that. If you want the real deal on what it's like to be a full-time fiction writer, you shall have it. And if you are just looking to feel less alone in the world, I hope you'll get that here too. There are others out there who understand. I'm hoping to make connections.

I won’t be here every second of the day, but I promise to share my thoughts on a regular basis, so follow my feed (or whatever it's called) and please visit this blog often. You will get the full, unadulterated, non-pasteurized Q here.

I look forward to interacting with you, readers, no matter who you are. If you’re one of my teen readers, I’d especially love to hear from you. Adults are okay too! Feel free to get involved. Follow along! Leave comments! Ask questions! Who knows what will happen!

To be continued, and please keep being you.


PS - Check back on May 3rd. That's a big day.

* DISCLAIMER: I fully realize that there are novelists who work other ‘real’ jobs successfully—even simultaneously! (For the record, this is entirely unfair! Proof that God has a cruel streak, or that nature is a sadist. These job-working novelists shame me!) Not all writers fit the description above. But if you can't relate to any of this, you probably aren’t reading my work anyway, and—I’m willing to bet you haven’t made it this far in this here inaugural Q blog post either. This blog will probably not be for everyone, and that's okay.


Doug Worgul said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Q! In this realm many great and puny things transpire.

I look forward to many happy returns to this venue.

For the record, I am one of those job-working novelists. Though, these days, more job-working than novelist.

Alicia said...

The thought of Small You in plaid pants sliding in the dirt is hilarious. Little did you know that the act was not really about defying the powers that be. Rather, it was about honoring your own internal, insistent stirrings, the same that impel Big You to write.

kent said...

Looking forward to keeping up with this blog. Matt, I know you live and breathe writing and your valuable comments and insights will be priceless. I'm just glad you kicked the snorting habit before we started hitting up the movies together! Hee hee. Best of luck on this and all your writing ventures!

Q said...

Thanks, Doug. Everyone should read Doug's fantastic novel, THIN BLUE SMOKE. It's a good one! And Alicia's book too. Thanks to you also, Mr. Kent. Emerald Productions in the house!

PK said...

WARNING: Un-pasteurized Q may cause bloating in those accustomed to wearing the plaid pants. Looking forward to following along as Q goes, by the looks of it, the whole hog. Go Q!

Doug Worgul said...

Thanks for the shout out, Q! By the way Thin Blue Smoke is being released in the U.S. this month. Finally.

BD said...

Great debut for The Official Blog of Matthew Quick. I wish I had known your plaid pants story when I was a teenager living under my parents' rule. I can easily see my 16 year old self saying, "I'm not disobeying you, I'm just being honest with my artistic temperament."

I like how you draw a distinction between doing something out of love, and doing something simply because you HAVE to. The pursuit of one's passion isn't a matter of pleasure, but rather survival.

adelegriffin said...

Sara Zarr posted this link, and I am so glad she did. Congrats on your blog; it's always a comfort to find another snorty freaky wonderful writer in the sphere.

Q said...

@adelegriffin Sara Zarr is the best! Thanks for the kind words. Hope you will return often. @BD I'm sure you'd find a way to use the 'artistic temperament' card in a present-day situation. Yes, survival! You get it! What would I teach now, if I were still teaching 16-year-olds? @PK thank you for the quotes you sent via e-mail. You should post some of those here. Great stuff. @all look for more Doug Worgul here soon!

Linda K said...

Hi - I just started reading your blog last night. It's so refreshing to read about the journey of your sense of yourself and especially with the plaid pants experience! it illustrates the need to be yourself! It was actually affirming to me too! Thanks for that! Such a neat journey your'e on! Congratulations!

Laura Brandt said...

Love it. Heard you on the radio today while driving and wow, what a kindred spirit. Keep up the great work!