I’m obsessive. This blogs are an expression of that. I hit my deadline week after week. A post on Saturday. Little stories about my life. Ruminations. Machinations. Salutations. Flatulations. A regular stream of words.
There’s worse things to be obsessive about than writing. My mother was pretty regular about ingesting vodka. So was her mother. I watched what that did to them. It wasn’t great. Some people are obsessive about sex, drugs, or, God forbid, standardized tests. So keeping my little blog humming isn’t such a terrible vice. Even if, for the most part, it is a blog about nothing.
Of course, I’m taking that line from Seinfeld. What a masterpiece. I don’t have HBO. But I watch little clips from Curb Your Enthusiasm on Instagram sometimes. Larry David kills me. He’s just so damned funny. This blog isn’t nearly as entertaining as an episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm. It isn’t as funny, either. But these weekly posts share something in common with Seinfeld. For the most part, they are about nothing.
I looked up the definition of nothing. Felt kind of existential.
Nothing, as a pronoun, means “not anything” or “not a single thing.” I like that. I don’t think anything is ever a single thing. Things are multiple. That’s a line that keeps coming up in the really strange book I’m writing. My latest creative work is something of a science fiction novel. But it keeps blurring into memoir. God knows how I’ll move it out into the world. I’d kill for a literary agent or a book contract. But the kind of nothingness that falls out of me hasn’t found a benefactor yet. Beyond the self-publishing fortitude of one Samuel Jaye Tanner. Check him out on Amazon, kids.
Anyway, in that blurry book I keep bouncing from one thing to another and reminding the reader that things are multiple. And I do think that is true. Things are always more than one single thing. People are connected. So are places, things, and ideas. It does more good to pay attention to the energy that emerges out of those connections. People in my business call this an intra-action. Agency isn’t individual. It is a dynamism of forces. Post-human thinker Karen Barad said that. Something like that. Nothing is ever a single thing and, if that is true, I’m happy to be writing about nothing.
As an adjective, nothing means “having no prospect of progress” or being “of no value.” Well, did you see the description of the book I’m working above? Not much in the way of prospects. Kids aren’t buying sci-fi novels that blur into memoirs. Not sure I can sell the book for a fortune. And this blog certainly doesn’t pay for itself. Quite the opposite, really.
Now, it might be that my definition of progress and value differs from all those highfalutin capitalists out there turning tricks. Cashing in. I see progress and value in making something worth making. Building things is sacred work, friends. Kurt Vonnegut says it makes your soul grow. Even if you don’t make a buck. So I don’t know. It might be that there’s some value in the nothingness of these blogs. I’m certainly pouring myself into the page. Giving something of me to you. Letting you into me. Feels important to me. Intra-active.
Finally, nothing as an adverb means “not at all.” The example given on dicitionary.com is this: “he looks nothing like the others.” Nothing like the others? I’m fine with that.
I’ll admit that nothing holds more potential to me than something. Trying to stick to a brand? Formulaic genres? Finding a mold and sticking to it? I’ve never been great at that sort of thing, usually to my detriment. I’m better at improvising. Entering into a spaces of nothingness with the expectation that something will emerge. And then doing it again. That’s the sort of creative work that draws me in.
I lived in Northeast Minneapolis for a number of years. A working class neighborhood that was rebranded as an arts district when I moved in. There was a sign painting outside of an old warehouse that had been turned into an arts collective. The sign said something like: “there’s no place on earth that is like this.”
At the time, I was a high school teacher. Probably getting in trouble for something. I always got in trouble for something. Or nothing. And my drama classes were probably creating and producing wild, collaborative plays. I remember thinking, as I walked past the sign one morning, that it captured the spirit of my teaching. My classrooms were so weird. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, and often ugly. But they really were singular spaces. You should have seen the plays my students wrote. Or the strange final projects they built in English class. Or the strange things I said and did during the flow of the day. I could never help it. I was a wild man, and gave students permission to be wild too. Not great for standardized tests. Or administrators hoping for aligned curriculum. And pedagogy. But there was life and possibility each time students came stumbling into that makeshift blackbox theatre. The sign captured some of what I liked about being a high school teacher. Some of what I was trying to make with kids, I think. Without really trying. Classrooms about nothing.
It’s that same possibility that I saw in teaching that attracts me to writing. Whether it’s blogs about nothing or a blurry science fiction novel. The chance to let something new emerge is too much for me to pass up, even if the last thing that emerged wasn’t any good. So I keep going back to the well. Trying to build something sacred. Again and again. If that’s what it means to be obsessive, I’m cool with the word.