BY: ADRIAN SMITH
I hadn’t been able to write in a while. I mean, I could write meaningful blurbs in quick stints, but I couldn’t sit there like I sat last fall, writing short stories in three or four long, thoughtful sittings. I started reading The Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse to get my head back into it pensively, because each time I tried writing I found myself uncomfortable in one way or the other—either physically or in my mind.
“That’s Hesse, right?” John pointed the copy of the novel I had sitting beside me in the cab.
“Yeah, Hermann Hesse. He kills it, man.”
“What’s that saying?”
“It’s crazy. He describes himself, his character, as a split between these two components. The human component, so like his normal emotions—happiness, joy, nostalgia, excitement, compassion,” I was listing them off with my fingers as I explained. “He compares that with what he calls the Steppenwolf, which is that animalistic, beastly, cold side of him. Unfeeling. The side of him that hates all of the emotions his human side falls victim to feeling. And he struggles with finding a balance between the two, or just finding peace with the idea of being both things. Man and beast.”
“He resents everyone and anything that falls under the human side,” I continued, “even himself when he does. Calls them the bourgeoisie. But when he’s the Steppenwolf he’s not happy either. He hates himself for being unable to feel those emotions he seethes at.”
“Jesus, that’s what it’s saying?” We both started laughing. “Have you been writing at all?”
“Not really, I kinda started something a couple weeks ago, but it’s stuck where it started.”
“It’s frustrating man, I just keep overthinking things. I know what I want to say, and how I want to go about explaining that message…for the most part, but every time I write something down I compare what I’m working on to the stuff I wrote last year. Then I’m unsure of myself, and what I have.”
“That’s just in your head though.”
“I know, I know. But it’s still there.”
“You have to remember it doesn’t exist outside of your mind. I was talking to my prof after class the other day… remember that prof I said I had for PHIL 445?”
“Yaya, which class was that again?”
“Descartes and The Passions of the Soul. Man, this shit is nuts. He starts off saying that the world’s made up of two different properties—physical and mental properties. So the mind is absolutely distinct from matter, but it influences our physical properties.”
“You’re allowing yourself to think your way into not writing. It’s holding that influence.”
“True, I remember you telling me about that.”
“Yeah, Cartesian Dualism. What you’re forgetting is that belief that your old stuff is better is just in your head. You don’t have to write that way. You’re not always going to feel melancholy. Write happy if that’s what you’re saying, or be funny. Whatever.”
I picked the book up quietly and started flipping though pages at random.
“There’s a preface, written by the guy who lives at the house Harry Haller’s renting a room in. Haller’s the Steppenwolf. And he finds a manuscript in his room after he’s gone. The dude describes the writing inside as ‘fictitious, but not in arbitrary invention.’ He says they’re the ‘lived spiritual events’ that Haller tried to express by giving the writing a form of ‘tangible experiences.’ And that’s how I’ve been writing, and how I want to continue to write but it feels weird knowing that my tone is completely different.”
“I used to feel that way when people at school, after I said I’m a writer, asked ‘what genre?’ So I thought about it. I overthought about it.”
“What’d you decide?”
“I decided to let thinking about writing and actual writing be two separate things, and just wrote. I don’t have a fucking genre, I have a pen.”