Death of the writer

July 1st, 2024

Jonathan Morali - Winter Woods

I think I've outgrown making a mark on the world.

It might also be another thing that broke under its own weight, just like spirituality feels like a whole bunch of lies now. Have I just grown up or am I just getting old? Certainly, I feel old. People say that 24 is not old, it's very young even, but they aren't in my bones. They haven't lived my life, and while there are people who lived through even worse than me and I'm relatively privileged generally speaking (as in, living in a first world country, already, not everyone on Earth can say the same), I already just feel so old and worn out at an age where I should be at my prime. I don't even have any physical health problems. I just feel incredibly old. My entire being feels old.

The crux of this post, however, is not really about my age, but the fact that the writer in me has died. Not in the sense of the Aral who writes, as words are my strongest suit especially the written one, but the writer as an identity. Or rather, as the identity I was attempting to embody again and again since I was old enough to think about a future career. Something embarrassingly grandiose and utterly childish.

I was eleven or twelve when I decided I'd be a writer. I already wanted to write, I had planned novels and such, but knew I was way too young to pen down anything worthwhile, so I figured out I would wait until I grow up a bit. Then the years passed, and I would write and translate fanfiction from ages 14 to 17, which was fun. I wrote a lot of poetry when I was 15-16, to a girl I still think about from time to time. I had various original projects after that which never fully came to fruition, partly because I was afraid of fucking them up, or because I didn't have the energy to finish them, or because things around me were shifting too rapidly, or I felt they were shit and no one would care anyway. The only things I could finish was art, and even, many ideas did not make it to the paper or to the drawing software.

During the pandemic, I decided that I'd try and become a figure of Kazakhstan's literature, as a building block of this young country, and switched from French to Russian, even though I was still learning it. In a way that was quite an achievement, as it's not easy to write in a foreign language, much less in one that you don't master. I wrote in Russian for three years until I badly burned out. But still.. held on for three years. It impressed everyone that I showed bits of text to. A friend even told me I was writing native level, though I think she got carried away by her enthusiasm.

The first work I ever did and completed in Russian was a short story in September of 2020. I tried to write a novel after but I basically wrote 60k going nowhere. I did finish one first draft of a proper novel, which was 44k and that I wrote over the summer of 2021, but after writing 16k of a second draft and accidentally corrupting the file by taking out my USB drive too early when it was still saving, it's been sitting in an USB drive since, just like the 60k one that I copied from Google Docs before shutting down the associated account.

I suffered for two years trying to write another one that was particularly important to me but that never seemed to work out no matter how hard I tried. I accidentally deleted the first version when decluttering files (which was about 30k and not yet finished), then later on tried to rewrite it. It would always get sidetracked because I was getting influenced by things happening to me, and I ended up abandoning it bitterly after those two long years going absolutely nowhere with it. There are such projects, I guess. Some stories just should never be told. I may resurrect it later, but for now, it appears it's not meant to be, and usually, I stay in one thing for a long time, but when it's done, it's done. It's like playing video games, for the most part it's done once I finished it the first time. Rarely do I replay one.

The major thing with my Russian writing was a pharaonic project that would span thirteen novels and which symbolism was based on the Eastern Zodiac although slightly changed in the second half. Goat became argali, monkey became ermine, rooster became eagle, dog became wolf, pig became seal. Each was associated to a historical Kazakh minus one (argali) who was just the spouse of another (tiger). There was a thirteenth sign, the cat, that was both completely out of the zodiac yet the one holding it together: it was my sign. The only one still alive, the only non-Kazakh, so out of the system, but the creator of it, so utterly indispensable, holding the whole project together. The novel I just mentioned was, rather, became, that of the rat. They were all human characters or sometimes appearing as pets, but there was always an animal motif in a way or another that would indicate their archetype, or a very pointed historical reference that implied who it was. You really had to know your topic well if you wanted to spot all of my little oddly specific references and other things. Theory enthusiasts would love my stuff, I feel.

My author avatars would either die or go MIA, but they'd always trigger the story. In the one that was supposed to be the first, she went on a road trip to Atyrau and died in a collision on the way back, her diary revealing her secret: the close relationship she shared with her spirit guide (tiger), who started haunting her roommate who was the narrator (rat). Not only it was unclear whether the cat's death was a suicide or an actual accident, it was also ambiguous whether the tiger, despite saying it was indeed an accident and that he tried everything to help and prevent it, may have actually caused her death.

In the second, the cat was an introverted schoolboy assassinated by a teacher (horse, enemy sign of the ox, to which the cat would "bind") and it provoked one of his classmates (ox, narrator), with whom he shared a passion for writing and history, to channel him and write a novel that would actually give clues to his murder. In other words, the ox had either a dormant spiritual gift awoken, or the cat gave him his own gift, as he was one of the people who would not treat him like a weird kid.

In the third, the cat was guiding a recovering young woman (tiger) who lost both of her legs in a flying accident. Through seven levels of a dream world, turning her into various things, including, well, a tiger, until she became the whole universe. But when the tiger went to meet the cat, who initially refused to let her come to her room, it was revealed the cat was dying of a paralytic illness the whole time and had mastered astral projection, which explained why she would often disappear mysteriously after hiding somewhere.

I never got to conceptualizing the other ones, partly because I ridiculously restricted my creativity with all the rules that I had added to that system. I had added the elements, the trines, added a lot of rules tied to both, the relationships between the signs influencing the characters' roles (the sign that is enemy of the main one is the primary antagonist, for example, the cat binding to the narrator... many things) but it was just so damn much to follow. I think my biggest creative thing was the zodiac system itself really, lol. It didn't even have to be put into practice, it was like the freaking astronomical clock of Prague with its apostles and the figure of Death pulling the little bell.

But it's dead, at least for now. That project doesn't resonate with me anymore. It was from a time when I believed in spirituality to a degree that I find now borderline psychotic, and at a time I was delusional enough to even think what I was aiming for was even realistic. Not only that, but it's unlikely I'll publish any of it. I may just turn the novels into short stories and release them as part of a collection much later down the line. I was just way too ambitious and now that I've completely lost that bone, it all feels like little more than a sort of a weird hallucination that spanned two or three years of my life, from 2020 to 2023. All of this feels like it has ended in futility. It was an impossible achievement.

How many novels first even make it to a publisher's mailbox? Few. How many get read and accepted? Fewer. How many are actually good enough that they leave a lasting impression? Even fewer. And I can't imagine how shitty I would feel if I learned that I was incapable of leaving any lasting impact on my reader. I want my stuff, if it's not leaving an impact on society at large, to at least remain burned in my reader's memory for many years to come. Whether because it called personally to them, or because they found it so real that it was as if they really did see something that seems unbelievable, or because it was just so well pulled off. But that requires exactly capturing it, and transmitting it. Something I might not be able to do.

In all, I think I was just a complete narcissist whose delusions of grandeur got broken. They had to be. They deserved to be. I always have this thought at the back of my head that no one cares, and that what I do is bad and embarrassing. That I shouldn't look down on Wattpad girls because I barely do any better. The truth is rarely what we want to hear, after all. There is a reason why they call it the "cold, hard truth". It cuts you deep and your ego may never recover, especially the bigger it is. And perhaps this "cold hard truth" is that these were worthless, and that I was incredibly arrogant, immature, and that I indeed am pathologically narcissistic, borderline, or some sort of schizophrenic. In any case, there is delusion and lies involved. The liar is worth peanuts.

Was this identity of a writer ever real, or was it another of these elaborate fantasies, like I'm so good at making them, which then grew to such an extent that it became my identity? In other words, had I simply become the mask? It did come to a point where I would go by my pen name and even tried to use it IRL, after all, but now I'm embarrassed about having even introduced myself by my alias. It sounded foreign as hell, though not as weird as if I had taken a Japanese name like a big old weeb. Real life is not the internet, you can't just switch up your identity as you wish, especially when you want to dissociate from either the past, or from your own shame. Besides, people could think I'm a criminal or hiding something, when all I wanted was to be a person of my own making rather than the product of imposition. I wanted to have agency. To feel like I had some, at least.

Now I'm back to my usual name (which is technically chosen since it's not the first on my ID card), but still. I'm embarrassed about having pulled this stunt. I'll have to see people at work (some boaters) who knew me by my alias, oooh god. That's the only thing I dread about going back to that job, the shame that people will remember. It just didn't go the way I wanted it to go. Not only that, but I can't stand hearing this name again, because it reminds me of this period where I tried so hard, and of what happened and threw me off which I will not go into detail again. I hated the idea that I would not fit into the society I wanted to move into, so I would change myself as much as possible to make myself be as local as I could, as not to stand out. And being a foreigner with a foreign name and that pesky accent would betray me more than anything else. I fit in well in Kazakhstan physically, passed well as Russian, up until I would open my mouth. It was a fool's errand. A losing battle. The one person you cannot change is yourself no matter how hard you try to fit in.

Maybe all of this was just using my works as a proxy to get love without having all the attention on my own person, which causes me a lot of discomfort as I hate personally being in the spotlight. Another case of twisting myself into a pretzel, doing all kinds of jumps through hoops like a circus puppy, to be something, to give the impression that I am more interesting or better than I really am.

And I still have it in me to feel like I have to prove that I am good, valuable, lovable, and to play tricks, be beautiful, to be lovable. I still have a lot of trouble feeling I can be loved as is, that I don't need to overachieve or do great things to gain others' love and acceptance, because deep down, I still think that if people really saw me, at best they'd see me as boring, at worst as a monstrosity. I guess I know how to charm people, but superficial charm can only go so far, and I would never dare reveal myself entirely. My teenage years left me feeling repulsive and abnormal. I guess a friend of mine, who told me two years ago that I wanted to be accepted, was right. It deeply triggered me because I was this psychotic narcissist, but in hindsight, it was true.

I was a child who always wanted to be the best, very competititive, and would be extremely upset if she wasn't number one (not necessarily in priority, but in skill and /or performance).

At age four, I remember that I would say "why am I always the last?", because I was the younger sister, the baby of the family, the smallest, the one who got the least freedom, and I always felt frustrated because it was like no one really was bothering to listen or see me. I was imposed things. I was told "stop complaining" or I remember dad trying to make me laugh when I was upset, and while I'd laugh, a bitter feeling remained and has not left me since.

At age six, I was the top student of my 1st grade class, but I longed for my teacher to write "excellent work" on my copy, something he would write to many others but never to me. Maybe he never felt the need to tell me I was excellent, but a voice started saying I would never get "excellent work". And yet, according to what he'd tell my parents, I was the "engine" of the class. The one who pulled everyone upwards.

At age ten, my team won silver at a pony games competition and I was upset about it, even if silver is good. But it wasn't good enough. I wanted to get gold. I was never told that I need to get 20/20 or gold each time, but I always felt like I was a complete failure if I didn't reach those standards. Oh well. Good old perfectionism, I bet. It has to come from somewhere.

I enjoy writing the snippets of text about my shipgirls, though. I don't feel like a massive narcissist who's trying to play a part when I do it. I just have fun and feel a whole lot of emotions that I try my best to retranscribe. The letters they would send to each other (a little exercise to develop their voices and perhaps add some story), some scenes and moments of their lives. But I have no desire to make money out of them or making it publishable, though I think their stuff would make a fine comic or graphic novel. I'd lose all the joy that I find in it if I did. I'd start stressing out about making it presentable, getting it to be liked, making sure not to ruffle too many feathers due to some characters' behaviours and dispositions, I'd just lose what makes it feel good to me. I take it as a hobby, don't post much about it on the internet, and indulge in it when I can and when I want.

There is a certain freedom to be found in the privacy of your home, with mostly sharing on a Discord server that's quite close-knit and where there are other creative people and friends of yours minding their own business, occasionally peeking at yours, rather than being obsessed about making the whole thing presentable. And also, there are days I think of other things. That's okay. I expand little by little, develop my characters... and I don't pressure myself to make it into more than just what it is, a hobby. And perhaps I will never publish anything, or I won't write seriously again until I'm 30, or 50... or dead. I really have no idea. Still I don't think I would publish under my actual name. I just love pen names too much.

Is this maturity, or is this resignation? I will not know. I just feel like the writer is dead. She may just be sleeping, but for all intents and purposes, the ambitious writer is gone.