dilettante. n. 1. A person who takes up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, especially in a desultory or superficial way; dabbler.
2. A lover of an art or science, especially of a fine art.
Interesting combination of definitions, there. On my Twitter profile (something I actually have, now that I’ve been living in the twenty-first century for 14 years), I describe myself this way:
Writer of literary mysteries. Reader. Teacher. Powerlifter. Musician. Bibliophile. Audiophile. Feminist. Optimistic nihilist. Dilettante.**
Which makes me a dilettante, right? I mean beyond attaching that descriptor to myself. Look at the list. What does that suggest, beyond the obvious “existentialist” label?
And yeah, I’m an existentialist. Consider that a note to myself to write about it one day.
Anyway. I came back to fiction writing after a long hiatus (see previous post), during which time I wrote a bunch of academic articles and a dissertation. (Graduate school, in case you didn’t know, has the potential to kill not only your interpersonal relationships but also your creative spirit.) I came back to the craft as a dilettante, but somehow became much, much more serious about it than I ever have been about anything else. I mean, we have gone beyond superficial dabbling; I have decided that this is what I will do with the rest of my life, as a happy addendum to teaching. And it’s infected me; I am infected. I have spent my entire summer plotting and writing. I have become so connected with my characters that interacting with real, actual people has become a challenge. I have become the cliché. And that’s okay with me. I can’t explain why, but it is. I’ve never worked harder in my life. And that leaves me exposed, my raw underbelly right-side up for kicking or stabbing or stomping or whatever other horrible thing could happen.
My therapist, counselor, shrink. Whatever you want to call her. She’s lovely, by the way—she even knows I’m a dilettante. Anyway, she keeps giving me “homework” that involves shit like this: “spend at least four hours with people this week who are not your significant other or your fictional characters.” Also, “interact with strangers more. Be interested in what they have to say.” And, yeah, I met my mark this week, and totally enjoyed completing my assignments (will the strangers appear in the next novel? What about the friends? Only time will tell. Wink, wink). Will I do my homework next week? That, in addition to reminding me of eighth grade, remains to be seen (for what it’s worth, eighth grade was one of the many years in which I didn’t do much homework). She seems to be used to fucked-up creative types. I guess I’m one of them, and I guess it’s reassuring that she gets it. I depend a lot on external validation, so I’m looking forward to seeing her approve of me when I tell her I did what I was supposed to do and that it felt good. That said, depending on external validation is really fucking hard for someone whose creative pursuits are mostly solitary. It’s a goddamn paradox.
Unrelated thought: when I was in my early twenties (I know—it’s shocking that I’m no longer in my early twenties, to me if not to you), my mom, who is a voracious reader, decided that I should write a bestseller. I laughed it off. Me? Write a bestseller? Well, I can’t say much about how well a yet-unpublished book will sell, but I can say that I wrote the book and beta readers like it and my agent is invested and kind and all of those things. And now, when I’m not fucking around with blog posts (stay tuned! A letter to sixteen-year-old me is on its way!) and Twitter accounts, I’m writing the second book in the series as I revise, again, the first. Hemingway was right about a lot of things. Go read his thoughts about writing and tell me he was wrong.
And I’m just gonna say it, the thing I’ve been thinking, through my don’t-blog hiatus and even as I type: I didn’t start this blog with any intention of making it about writing. I mean, among the fucking bazillion things that could link all these posts. . . . It’s just sort of turned out that way. Writer-types tend to be isolated, though, and I guess this is my way of reaching out to the world beyond spending time with friends and talking to strangers at the grocery store. That said? There’s more to come. And I think it might be even more compelling than what I’ve come up with thus far (shocking, I know). I mean, I’m interested in a lot of things (dilettante), so by default I should hit those things here. Right?
Here’s a song. Great title and great guitar solo. Listen if you dare. Ignore the Eckhart Tolle (of all the fucking things in the universe) ad in front of it.
**Follow me on Twitter if you want. I mainly re-tweet existentialist quotations and meaningless writing updates. K.E. Birdsall. You heard it here.