Have you ever heard a recording of your own voice? What does it feel like? I suspect you feel a sort of creeping dread and denial. No, you think. That can't be right. Who is that? Is that me? Why do I sound like an idiot?
Chances are, very few people in your life actually despise the sound of your voice. Some part of you knows, logically, that the person playing the recording is not doing so just to produce this sudden disappointment and disgust in your gut. And yet... you can't help but suspect that maybe, just maybe, everyone you've ever met was only too polite or too embarrassed to tell you the truth. Maybe you really do have the most insufferable speaking voice that's ever left a human mouth.
But where does that feeling come from, and why does it feel like that? You have an understanding and an expectation from inside your own head, and as long as it stays in there, you can feel secure. A recording doesn't respect your experience or care how delicately you've balanced your self-perception. In less than a second, a recording of your own voice can shatter the portrait of what you believed you sounded like — so solidly woven in interior space, but revealed to be made of rather fragile thread when spooled out into the exterior world.
This is almost exactly how I feel every time I write something down. I may not be disgusted in the same way, but I'm definitely shocked by how unalike the mental and physical versions are. There's an idea in my head, and it's beautiful — fully formed and quite impressive while inside the pressurized container of my imagination, but quickly deflated and insubstantial when flattened onto paper. It almost feels like I've played a trick on myself. “Bring it out,” says the part of my brain that needs validation and attention. “It's not real unless you write it down. No one will ever see it if it's locked up in your head.”
So I do, or I try at least, and I'm inevitably disappointed by the results. Sometimes I like what I've written, or am at least pleased with the effort, but I've never felt the satisfaction of perfect recreation. It could be a simple matter of skill; if I were more practiced and studied in the ways of fiction, I would be able to accurately express myself. Maybe it's just a lack of creativity. I tend to think of myself as a creative person, but I'm probably wrong there, too. If my ideas were stronger, wouldn't they be more resilient to the transition from brain to page? If my cargo is so fragile that it always breaks during transport, maybe it's not worth shipping. Maybe I should stop.
I could almost give into that, if not for the Desire. I can go days or weeks acting like it's not there, but it resurfaces too easily to be ignored forever. The Desire is an old friend and rival who's been with me since I was ten years old. It's the voice that says, “This is what you should do with your time” after I've experienced certain kinds of art. But it's not the art itself that arouses the Desire. Instead, it's the jealousy I feel right after the art is over.
The screen goes black, or the last note fades, or the book closes, and I'm left with one perfect Moment of absorption before analysis or boredom or distraction can set it, basking in whatever I just finished. It's that Moment of gut evaluation, when you know how the piece made you feel before you know why. You remember the whole story without knowing any of the details. You have a perfect distillation of the experience temporarily trapped between the outside and inside worlds. Soon, it passes through to a fragile and ethereal imagination space where it'll float around with all the other unwritten ideas… in my case, doomed to never get properly expressed or processed.
I suspect that this is both the root of my dissatisfaction and the source of the Desire. I don't actually want to write an amazing story, or play a beautiful song. I want to create post-experience impressions. Those are the parts I'm jealous of — not the piece itself, but the memories it creates. I want to be the giver of those memories. The only problem, you may already be aware, is that this Desire is incredibly vague. It’s a concrete feeling about an incorporeal goal, with no instructions on how to start….
Anyway, that's why I haven't responded to your texts in three months. I had something perfect to say, but I couldn't wrestle it into reality.
Caleb Sierra is a writer living in Richland.