“Well if I have one, I’ll have thirteen” is a lyric from a Blake Shelton song called “The More I Drink” from his Pure BS album. Although I do not happen to drink much if at all for the most part, I found myself regularly thinking about this line in my academic life over the past couple years.
The reason I often think about this line is because if you change the word “have” to the word “write” it provides the best answer I have yet to come up with in response to an increasingly common question I receive from colleagues – “how do you write so much.” Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the question itself, and why people ask it so often when they run into me at this or that function. I see nothing wrong with the question, and as someone who regularly contributes to three academic blogs, publishes an at least a few academic works per year in journals and edited volumes, and regularly has a half dozen research and / or creative projects going on at once, I think the question makes a lot of sense.
The problem, however, is that I do not have an answer. I do not know “how” I write so much because it doesn’t seem like “much” to me honestly. I work at my own pace, and I’m lucky enough to have surrounded myself with collaborators who accept and affirm how I operate. I don’t try to write a lot or a little – I simply write whenever I feel like it, and do so at the pace that feels natural to me. Not surprisingly, the statements above are often not all that useful to people who ask me about writing because writing is a different type of experience for them.
As a result, I find myself more and more turning to the line noted above to explain it to people in a way that makes sense from their perspective. In the song, the singer notes another person at the bar who is not drinking, and asks the person why they do not drink with the rest of the people. The person’s response is very simple – if I drink, I will drink until I cannot drink anymore. While the song relies upon a comical portrait of a very serious issue many people face with alcohol addiction, what catches my attention is the non-drinker’s admission that they have no real control over drinking and how much they will do once they start.
This admission catches my attention because that is what writing is like for me. When my brain allows me to start writing, I just write and write and write and write until I cannot anymore. I rarely leave home when I’m able to write except to (a) do things required for my job, (b) do things required to stay alive (i.e., eat, drink, etc), (c) go other places that I like to write that are not my home, and / or (d) spend time with people who are VERY important to me because they want to see me (even though I often – as they know – spend our entire time together thinking about writing and most people in my life have gotten used to the fact that I may disappear for long periods of time once I start writing). In such cases, I don’t pay attention to how much or little I’m writing (a large percentage gets thrown away because I deem it not good enough or because an idea doesn’t work), what types of writing I am doing (fiction, non-fiction, scholarship, poetry, etc), what I will do with the writing when its done (I generally figure this out later), or any other factors – I just write. In such cases, I also don’t tend to notice much of everyday life – I forget to sleep, to eat, and to do other things that are part of ongoing existence, and I often get lost on the way to work or other places. Often, it is like I go into a separate state of being, and sometimes I will wake up to find something I don’t even remember writing. I cannot explain these patterns of activity at all, but over time I simply got used to them and embraced that these things are part of my writing experience whether I like them (I do like some of them) or not (others are terrible).
At the same time, when my brain doesn’t allow me to write, I simply do not write. I miss it, I stare at blank screens, I cry because it hurts not to write, and I feel sad or broken, but I have never found anything I can do to make it happen. I’m done, I’m turned off, I’m a non-writer, I quit cold turkey and that is it. I have written elsewhere about the fact that the absence of writing at such times is somehow painful to me (as painful as I’ve heard others describe the writing process they experience actually). Like with my writing bursts as some people close to me named them, I cannot explain these patterns nor find any way to stop them. Instead, I just accept that for days, weeks, or even months I might not be able to write no matter how much I want to. As such, I spend these times reading everything I can get my hands on, building my music collection through frequent trips to record stores (something about those places calms me), and thinking about potential ideas, writing projects, and research questions.
With all this in mind, I turn back to the line from the Blake Shelton song because the songs chorus is my best explanation for how much I write – the more I “write,” the more I “write,” the more I “write.” I look at the character in the song, and I can relate to the lack of control the character experiences, but in my case, its tied to my experiences with writing rather than with alcohol. Since, within existing cultural narratives, the experience is more understandable for others in relation to alcohol and other substances, it allows me to translate something I cannot really put into words into a metaphorical framework that – thus far – people are able to easily understand.
This leads me to wonder about other ways people may use song lyrics and other metaphorical forms to explain aspects of themselves that do not fit normative expectations and assumptions? How do you – or would you – utilize musical examples to explain aspects of yourself to other people? I don’t know how anyone else might answer this question, but I can come up with a lot of examples for myself off the top of my head. As such, I wonder what studies exploring such questions might find about the ways music may be used as an explanatory component of the presentation of self – or explanation of it to others – throughout the life course.