Monday, July 11, 2011

Neurotically Yours

Woody Allen:  Neurotic Looney-Bird
Dear Blog,

Today, I was absolutely certain a man was following me in Wegmans. I turned down the soup aisle; he turned down the soup aisle. I skipped four aisles and went straight to frozen foods, which I never, ever do, and so did he. Then, abruptly, he grabbed a box of ice cream sandwiches and briskly passed me on his way to the checkout line.

I don’t know what his game was. It’s very possible he just needed soup and ice cream sandwiches. But that seems unlikely.

This incident prompted a conversation with the husband.

Holly: I think I have the neuroses.

John: Excuse me?

Holly: Neurotic. I think I’m neurotic.

John: What do you mean?

Holly: Don’t you know what neurotic means?

John: I know one definition of neurotic.

Holly: What?

John: Never mind. Why do you think you’re neurotic?

Holly: I’m not telling you until you tell me your definition.

John: (Sighs.) Well, when a girl starts acting all crazy, guys will say, “she’s neurotic.”

Holly: Oh. (Pause.) You never say that, though.

John: No. Never. I would never say that.

Holly: I should hope not. Okay- I think I worry too much about little things that don’t matter. I worry constantly. I’m highly anxiety-prone. I apologize like a fiend for silly things. All indicators of the neuroses. (Silence follows, followed by what sounds like snickering.) Are you laughing at me?

John: No! I would never.

Holly: See, now I’m feeling like it’s not neuroses at all. Perhaps my anxieties are well-founded.

It went on like this, but I’ll spare you the rest, and move on to a conversation that took place yesterday:

So yesterday, my brother and I were discussing Betsy Lerner’s classic book for writers, The Forest for the Trees. In it, Lerner addresses six different kinds of writers, including: The Ambivalent Writer, The Natural, The Wicked Child, The Self-Promoter, and The Neurotic. Despite my self-diagnosed neuroses, I do not quite fall into the category of “The Neurotic” writer. I’m an Ambivalent to the core.

(Josh never said what he was. He’s probably “The Natural.” That would figure. He’s hitting ‘em out of the park like Ray Hobbs while I’m picking daisies out in left field.)

Here’s the first paragraph of Lerner’s chapter on “The Ambivalent Writer.” My thoughts are in italics.

Do you have a new idea almost every day for a writing projects? (Yes!) Do you either start them all and don’t see them to fruition or think about starting but never actually get going? (Yes! Both! Indeed!) Are you a short-story writer one day and a novelist the next? (I wear many colorful writing jackets.) A memoirist on Monday (Well, there’s you, dear blog…) and a screenwriter by the weekend? (Nope. No screenwriting. Too technical.) Do you begin sentences in your head while walking to work or picking up the dry cleaning, sentences so crisp and suggestive that they make perfect story or novel openers, only you never manage to write them down? (Yes! Such a waste.) Do you blab about your project to loved ones, coworkers, or strangers before the idea is fully formed, let alone partially executed? (No. But only because I’m shy.) Have you ever accidentally left your notes, diary, or disk behind on a train or plane and bemoaned the loss of what certainly had been your best work? (Yes, yes I have.) Have you ever been diagnosed with any combination of bipolar disorder, alcoholism, or the skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis? (No. Dear God, no. Maybe the first a little, but no skin diseases. I do abuse Benadryl.) Do you snap at people who ask how your writing is going? (Yes.) What’s it to them? (Indeed.)

Do you fear that you will someday wonder where the years went? (I do. I do.) How it is that some no-talent you went to high school with is being published everywhere you look? Or some suck-up from graduate school is racking up prizes and being interviewed in the “At Lunch With” column of the New York Times, a series you used to enjoy. Now you can’t read it at all without thinking back to your classmate and the fawning way he used to schmooze your professors. (I know just the student. He wrote magical realism novels. He thought he was freaking Marquez.) God he was so transparent. (He really was.)

If you can relate to the above, you certainly have the obsessive qualities, along with the self-aggrandizement (Ouch. Was that necessary?) and concurrent feelings of worthlessness (It’s true. I am dirt.) that are part of the writer’s basic makeup.

It goes on. It’s a great book.

In order to arm myself with evidence that I am neurotic (because neurotics are forever in search of tangible proof), I took a test by the foremost authority on psychological matters: the website Psychologist World. According to Psychologist World, I am 86% neurotic, and should probably have my head shrunk on a daily basis.

These results are rather shocking.

Thankfully, I do not have OCD tendencies like some neurotics (it seems like very hard work to be a neurotic writer. How annoying it must be to have to have 12 perfectly sharpened pencils and a coffee with exactly two teaspoons of sugar before you started writing at exactly 8:32 in the morning? Gore Vidal had to have coffee AND a bowel movement before he could start writing.)

Instead, I worry about bizarre things. Is spending an hour writing a travel article as lucrative as spending an hour clipping coupons? Will wearing my hair in a pony-tail every day make me go bald? Why has everyone forgotten that Arkansas was raining birds a few months ago?

All of this to say that for a person who is suffering from both the neuroses and the ambivalence, I wonder how it is I'm faring so well. In fact, I think the quiz results might be greatly exaggerated and I'm rethinking my fervently held for 1 hour conviction that Psychologist World is the foremost auhority on all things psychological. 
So- no major self-realizations in this post.

And with that, dear blog, I must go. I have to finish my novel before the man from Wegmans finds me, murders me, and throws me in a freezer right next to the ice cream sandwiches.

There are worse ways to go, I'm sure.

Neurotically Yours,



Toaster said...

I am licensed by the state of New York to declare you sane. :)

Elizabeth said...

Wow who would be a Writer? There is such a lot of angst.
It is a gift you know so I hope the guy from the shops doesnt find you and and make you into a icecube ;-)

hokgardner said...

You and I could be twins, I think. I worry about everything all the time, even the silly stuff. And if something bad happens, I'm convinced it's because I didn't worry enough about it. Fortunately, I take meds for all of this.

Amanda Gibson said...

Well, I'm glad I stopped by here today. You crack me up, Holly.

Natalie said...

Goodness! This post had my dying! I need to read that book and figure out which of those I am! :) Oh, and I would have totally freaked about the freezer guy also. Similar thing happened to me while grocery shopping last week. I can totally relate! :)

Anonymous said...

oh i loved this post...and then found out that i am 91.25% neurotic. now i have to make my husband take the test!