2020 Words for 2020 (or Don’t Get It Right, Get It Written; New Year’s Edition)

I sit in the the dark of the morning wanting to say something, but not sure what to say. More poignantly, I sit in the dark of the morning not sure what wants to be said. What wants to be heard? What needs to be heard? Because it’s all constant chatter. It’s a cocktail party where everyone has had one or two (or three) too many and they’re all talking very loudly and listening for space to talk again. Nobody is actually following a cogent conversation. Everyone is spewing verbiage and then gasping for air. And spewing and gasping again and again.

[Scratch that…start again…]

Is there anything more cloying than a New Year’s resolution article? A post of reflection. Looking back over the last calendar year and trying to make sense of what happened, often while we were busy trying to make something else entirely different happen. Did we get enough done? Did we make enough stuff? Did we make enough money? Did we spend enough time with our family? Did we move far away enough from our family to finally regain some sanity? Did we finally find what we were looking for? Did we lose something we’ll never get back? Did we need it in the first place? Have we checked down the back of the sofa? Is it next to the 17 sticks of gum that strayed from our pockets along with the 77 cents of loose change? Did we need the sofa in the first place? Should we have kept the futon instead?

Are we asking too many questions?

[Nope…scratch this too…start once more…]

I’m suddenly frightened.

Because a new year implies new beginnings. New starts. New opportunities. New goals. New plans. New schemes.

New choices.

Freedom.

The burden of freedom.

More than just two paths in front.

Countless paths.

Or go off-road and make a path that wasn’t there before.

Freedom.

The burden of freedom.

What the hell am I doing?

[Nada…this is getting away from me…start again…]

I rarely write about the creative process because I find it far too indulgent and far too self-serving (and who really cares anyway about me whittling away in the dark of the morning on anything), but I feel compelled to share how I look at this new year as a blank page about to be filled with wonderful and terrifying things.

But the blank page is like silence.

The blank page can be terrifying.

Because the blank page can be a reminder that we haven’t said anything yet. And it becomes more and more terrifying the longer it remains blank.

So, we often just start throwing shit on the page so it doesn’t look so blank.

But what does that gain us?

A shitty page.

But you need a shitty page to get to a decent page.

You need a decent page to get to spectacular page.

Perhaps a shitty page is a necessary evil.

Much like a major life fuck-up.

Perhaps we need to screw things up royally to finally find what works beautifully.

[Christ! What is this??? Stop meandering!]

My phone barked at me last night with the following notification:

“YOU ARE ‘DANGEROUSLY’ LOW ON SPACE!”

I was struck by the use of language.

‘DANGEROUSLY.’

As if the lack of remaining memory on my smartphone was akin to having faulty brakes on the car.

‘DANGEROUSLY.’

As if my phone’s ability to store any additional photos it might take or adequately use the two or three sports apps on its ‘desktop’ is in the same ballpark with our apartment building’s safety measures to prevent intruders.

‘DANGEROUSLY.’

The crime rate in this neighborhood is ‘dangerously’ high.

I can understand that.

Cholesterol levels are ‘dangerously’ high.

Yes, weighted language seems appropriate.

My phone storage is ‘dangerously’ low?

That suggests a certain lack of perspective.

But isn’t it the fear that drives us all these days?

We’re ‘dangerously’ short of our potential.

We’re ‘dangerously’ shy of fulfilling our dreams.

Our life goals are ‘dangerously’ mediocre.

Our investment portfolios are ‘dangerously’ small for our retirement needs.

But of course.

If we’re constantly scared, we’re constantly buying things to keep the fear at bay.

If we’re constantly scared, something else gets to control us.

And we don’t have to embrace freedom.

Or the burden of freedom.

[Yowsa…where the hell is this going…start again???]

What needs to be said in 2020?

What needs to be heard?

Life happens and time passes and nobody seems able to stop any of it from happening or passing.

Do the small stories still matter? Like someone panhandling down a subway car. We all need a little change now and again. A little recognition that we are all members of the same massive tribe. No one chooses to be here and no one chooses to exit. It all started somewhere, somehow in a distant past and we’re just trying to navigate it now best we can with the best we got. We keep looking for guidance, but really just keep finding ourselves in the mirror with this clueless look on our faces. How did we get here and why did we stumble into this corner in the first place?

[Getting a bit heavy here, aren’t we???]

What needs to be said in 2020?

What needs to be heard?

I find my fingers continue to type in this Herculean effort to avoid the blank page.

Nothing more terrifying than a blank page to a writer.

But there’s always one more blank page waiting.

Just as you have filled the blank page in front of you, you turn and see one more blank page waiting to be filled.

And what more do you have to say?

Will you ever run out of things to say?

Will you just keep typing to fill the blank page?

Capote famously derided Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD as saying that it wasn’t writing, it was merely typing. Kerouac’s beat-style that just rambled and rambled. It certainly seems an unwieldy mess when juxtaposed to Capote’s calculated prose.

But it was Kerouac’s small story. It was Kerouac panhandling down a subway car looking for a little change.

And that’s what we’re all doing.

Panhandling for a little change. A little love. A little connection. A little validation.

That’s where the chatter comes from. That’s why everyone is talking. That’s why everyone had a few too many at the cocktail party and they’re all talking too loudly.

That’s why I’m still writing this post.

Fear of a blank page.

But there will be one more blank page after this.

So.

When do I stop?

I’m still ‘dangerously’ short of my projected word count.

One more blank page to fill.

And then another. And then another.

This is why I don’t write about writing.

Because you end up not writing about the process.

You end up writing about the agony.

And who wants to read about the agony?

Someone somewhere once said, “Amateurs call it ‘genius,’ masters call it ‘practice.'”

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, man. Practice.

It’s the practice far too few people talk about for anything in life. The deliberate habit of doing it over and over and over. The reason someone ‘practices’ medicine or ‘practices’ their religion. It’s ages and ages of habit between moments of rapture. Rapture is euphoric when it happens. But rapture doesn’t last forever.

What needs to be said in 2020?

And what wants to be heard?

To quote David Mamet, “If you have something to say, SAY IT! And THINK WELL of yourself while you learn to say it better.”

Put that small story in a bottle and throw it into the ocean. See where it lands. Don’t worry what anyone makes of it. Someone will need it. You’ll never know who. But someone will need that small story.

Because we are creatures of story.

We sing melodies and paint portraits and write poetry because we need story.

We need to make sense of this strange thing we find ourselves inside of. We didn’t choose to be here and we don’t choose to exit. But we want to make sense of it while we’re here.

No tomorrow is guaranteed.

Life can be dangerously uncertain.

Still one more blank page in front of me.

There will ALWAYS be one more blank page in front of us.

Accept that now and save yourself heartache and anxiety further down the line.

There will always be one more blank page that needs to be filled.

I am terrified and elated for 2020.

I am staring up at the mountaintop from down at the base camp ready and willing to go.

Who else is with me????

I have always loved the ‘sport’ of mountain climbing because it is not a combative sport. It is not one team versus another team. It’s not one fighter versus another fighter. Player vs. player.

Mountain climbing is a sport where you must work with the mountain in front of you as opposed to against it. You often have to follow the trail that the mountain has forged for you, not the route you would select. It’s not always the quickest route, but it is the route that the mountain has offered to you. It will often be an old river bed or an arrangement of rocks that allow for an easier ascent. But it will rarely be in a straight line. Because nature never works in a straight line.

Is that life sometimes? Follow the trail that has been offered to you as opposed to the route you would have forged had you cut the mountain yourself. Because it’s not a sport if you climb a mountain you made. You have to climb the mountain you didn’t make. And that’s the sport.

After the ascent, you must also go back down the mountain. And the strength you needed to get up is often very different from the agility you need to get down. It’s a game of two halves in that respect.

But you’ll get a view so many don’t see.

That’s part of the victory.

What needs to be said in 2020?

What needs to be heard?

This is a note to myself. I seal this in a bottle and throw this out into the ether.

What shore will it end up on?

I hope to find this bottle ages from now and open it up again, finding this note to myself inside, and be reminded of what I needed to say in 2020.

This maddening attempt to fill one more blank page.

Because the blank page in front of me is silence.

And silences terrify me sometimes.

But silences also can be serene.

The classic dramatist Artaud often spoke about speech being the space in between the silences. The silence was where he would often find what truly mattered.

That’s probably truer in theater than any other medium. Because it’s not just silence. It’s shared silence. It’s silence while you’re in a space filled with other people. We’re all silent together. And we’re all sharing silence.

And where else does that happen? Especially here and now.

The Buddhist monk spends hours and hours listening to silence. And they seem fairly content. It seems highly unlikely that they are going to wander back down from the mountain and check in with us because they’ve been itching to see how the newest iPhone handles.

Another blank page to fill.

Maybe it’s time to leave the next page blank for a little bit.

Because there’s always one more blank page to fill.

So, here’s a toast to 2020.

And let’s figure out what needs to be said and what needs to be heard in the year and the decade that is newly upon us.

A blank page to be filled.

Let’s tell stories big and small.

Climb mountains and listen to silences.

Decide when to forge the trail and when to follow the trail that mountain has offered us.

Fill the blank page, but don’t be frightened that there will always be a blank page waiting.

Because there will always be a blank page waiting.

Regards,

Jason C Stuart

2 thoughts on “2020 Words for 2020 (or Don’t Get It Right, Get It Written; New Year’s Edition)

  1. Thank you for sharing this! I love hearing your process and watching your brain work! Your message landed with me. Particularly as I am in a similar place. Love the analogy of mountain climbing. Keep writing. Keep pursuing. Your story(ies) need to be heard!

    1. Amigo!!! Always a pleasure hearing from you (and, while I have become a dreadful recluse from social media in order to maintain 21st centurey sanity, it’s always fantastic seeing your work online). Keep going, and keep me posted on when you’re back in the NYC neighborhood!

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