He said “Tuna, tuna, tuna.”
I’m talking about condemnation and judgment and destructive self doubt and Terry’s talking about tuna. I’m telling him about the tape that runs inside my head. The same inner tape I’ve told you about. The tape that reads of the crimes I’ve committed against the courts and the treasons I’ve tainted against the Crown and all Terry can tell me is “tuna” and his tuna is shutting me down.
I’m expecting pie charts and bar graphs and linear debate. I’m expecting a calm re-telling, re-assessing and re-enactment of the facts. My facts, my imaginary facts, the ones I make up inside my head and repeat to myself daily are the ones I’m putting in a column on the left and I’m expecting Terry to point, counterpoint and create a longer column on the right. That’s my idea of how it’s done. That’s how I think I’m going to undo the years of inner abuse I’m doing to myself with “You’re not a writer! You’re a fake! Put the pen down and stop pretending! Stop acting a part and start accepting your lot!”
This is the same way I approached Terry a week ago when I raised my white flag, waved my red banner and proclaimed over coffee, “I am not a writer and here’s how I know: I have a list of editors telling me so. I don’t rewrite. I don’t rough draft. I can’t write on command and I certainly don’t love to write the way other writers do. These are my facts and this is my gun. Tell me, is there any place you can run?” Terry’s response was much simpler and easily bulleted by one point. He casually unbuttoned his blazer, reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a playing card and tossed it on the table. It was the ace of spades. It was his trump card and it sounded something like this: “I’ve got pieces you’ve penned and words you’ve written. Writers write and write is just what you’ve done. But you didn’t invite me here to tell me you’re a writer. You already know that. You invited me here in the hopes that I’d tell what you’d like to hear, that you’re a good writer and you have a gift and that is plainly clear.”
I did. More than validation, I wanted praise. I wanted to hear from someone who knew what he was talking about that I wasn’t spinning my wheels or wasting my time. I wanted to be told I was good at what I was doing because real writers are good at writing and just as he said writing is what I’ve done.
As comforting as Terry’s card was, what he tossed on the table next, a deuce, a measly, lowly, red diamond deuce did more damage than his ace had aided. “I have a friend who loves to write,” he continued “in fact, he loves writing so much, he’s just finished his ninth novel. He self publishes.”
“Okay. Your friend writes and he’s published. Whats your point?” I asked.
“My point is he’s written nine novels and all of them suck. That doesn’t make him any less of a writer, however. It just makes him unread and, even then, an audience doesn’t decide who’s a writer and who’s not. They only get to say what’s bought.”
Hmm….that’s not what I wanted to hear. I wanted a connection between creation and quality of content.
In much the same way today, I wanted a connection of both substance and style. I wanted “How do I overcome my destructive condemning inner tape?” to be patched with a prescription of facts to the contrary. I didn’t get that. Terry didn’t give me a debate. He didn’t give me a laundry list and he didn’t engage. Instead he passed me a placebo.
“Peter,” he said “the trick to overcoming your tape isn’t with logic or a few rounds in the ring. It’s with avoiding the event. It’s with sidestepping the obsession altogether. It’s with repeating a word, any word, long enough for your brain to refocus off of the destructive influence of doubt and judgment onto the arbitrary imprint and beautiful repetition of any non-engaging, non-academic, non-relating word that returns you to right now. Take…” he paused momentarily before continuing “…’tuna’ for instance. Random as it may be, try repeating ‘Tuna, tuna, tuna’ and tuna may be all it takes.”
I know what I was expecting and I wasn’t expecting this.
In fairness to Terry, this self doubt about writing is actually less about words and more about self worth. My writing is only a symptom. The real issue and the issue that plagues me is whether or not I’m a worthwhile human being who’s serving a worthwhile purpose. I want to know if I’m contributing to the lives of others and whether something I do, something I put my hand to, has any meaning or significance. And maybe something so non-sequitur as Terry’s suggestion is right. Maybe I’ll find that purpose just by letting go of my worries, repeating a word and refocusing on the right of what’s right here and what’s right now.
So, though I wasn’t expecting to be stopped and stalled and shut down by Starkist or Chicken of the Sea, I’m willing to give “tuna” a try at fixing what’s wrong with me.