One year ago, I started a weekly writing project.
I actually decided to do it some weeks before that, months even, but took my time building up to pulling the trigger on writing a piece every week for a whole year. I always had something going on, something taking up my time, something too important to allow for any distractions. I quickly realised, as you always do, that there is never a "good" time to do anything. The “right time” to do something new doesn’t ever exist in life. So, eventually, you just have to shut the fuck up and get down to business.
But, right before I sent the website live, I did make one change. I asked to change the name of the writing section of the site. It changed, in the last week or two, from ‘Chronicle’ to ‘Catharsis.’
For one, ‘Catharsis’ sounded more interesting. ‘Chronicle’ doesn’t sound like much, except for that found footage teen super hero movie. Which, you know, is a great movie, but one that doesn’t have a whole heap to do with what I hoped to achieve with the project.
Mostly, I called the thing ‘Catharsis’ as a challenge to myself. A challenge to be more personal with my writing. To use writing to cut open pieces of myself and try to understand them, and to share them, even in an abstract way. Because that’s the hardest thing to do in any artistic expression, and also the most important: to tell the truth about yourself.
And here we are, at the end.
They are, for the most part, quite serious, quite earnest. This is a symptom of my initial quest – I wanted to avoid being flippant and ironic and funny, like I am in most of my filmmaking and comedy work. I wanted to instead write from the heart, using darker genres, about more serious things. Often I would let my mind wander a bit in the writing of these works; even when I knew what the story was going to be and how it was going to end, I would sometimes just throw in little phrases of abstracted nonsense that my brain pieced together from nothingness. Stream of consciousness blogging. I cannot decide whether that is artfulness or laziness, but it sure makes for some confusing shit. Pieces of me on the screen.
These short pieces are both a complete failure and a complete success. I tried to do a thing, and I mostly did succeed in doing a thing. Did I get better at writing? I do not know. But, I do understand a little bit more about why I do it, and whether I want to keep doing it.
There are a few cool science fiction stories in there, which I’m hoping will expand into a graphic novel with my friend David soon. I’m excited by those in a fanboy, distanced sort of way, but the truth is that the best stories this past year have been the clearest ones. The ones where I have taken the ‘Catharsis’ manifesto most literally, and spoken coherent truth. I wrote an anecdotal piece about being a kid and worrying about things, I wrote about how vaguely shit I felt after shooting my new short film. These pieces actually sort of meant something – they were a digital confessional.
So before I go, I decided to write down one last piece of truth.
And here it is.
I am afraid, a lot of the time, about a lot of things. Not in the horror, terror-filled sense of the word, but in the sense of a constant feeling of vague unease and uncertainty. I have named this feeling fear.
I think that I actually live most of my life in a constant state of abstracted fear, which is not a particularly nice realisation to come to. This is what a lot of the fictional stories I wrote this year are, in a way, actually about. Some of them are bogus horror stories that are dark for the sake of it, and mean nothing. The better ones, however, are about this stuff.
I am afraid, mostly, of things that don’t exist. I cannot handle uncertainty. If I conceive of a problem and cannot prove, beyond the faintest shadow of a doubt, that it isn’t actually a problem, it will plague me for eternity. My brain will work its hardest to write an elaborate scenario where my mistakes snowball into blistering catastrophe.
Have an awkward conversation with an acquaintance at a party? On a bad day, my brain tells me that person is actually so offended that they’ve become irreconcilably upset and it’ll cost them their job and their family and their entire life, but I’ll never see them again, so I’ll never know.
Cut a guy off in traffic? On a bad day, my brain tells me that person was definitely trying to get their wife to the hospital and now they’re running late and now they’ll catch every light and now they’ll miss their appointment and eventually they’ll probably die. And I’ll never know if that’s true, so I’ll also never know that it isn’t.
My brain invents fear. At random junctures, if I let it get away from me. I'm often a tangled cluster of frayed nerves, pulsing erratically, jumping at shadows.
Sometimes I will forget about whatever invented problem I’ve become occupied with for the current week, but it will stay somewhere in my brain, and spring up randomly – months, years later. Never to be proven wrong. Always to linger.
I am afraid of making mistakes, and of imperfections. Deeply, deeply afraid. Minor trivialisations expand to Godzilla-like proportions in my brain, stomping the buildings of my sanity. Sweet metaphor.
It’s these tiny problems that I have to fight with on a daily basis.
I moved into a new house a couple of years ago, and set up my bookshelf – full of novels, coffee table books, and comic books – in the back room. I realised pretty quickly that the back room was actually quite damp, and the books were very slowly starting to warp, as paper will in wet air. So I moved them out of the back room, dried them out, flattened them, cursed that all my comics were a little bit wavy on the top. Was annoyed, but life goes on.
And yet, I still, to this day, find myself checking those same books every few days, in a completely new house, to see if they’ve gotten worse. I cannot tell if they’re any different, and that uncertainty freaks the absolute fucking shit out of me, despite the fact that even if they are warped, they’re still pretty fucking readable and if I didn’t ever think about it, it would never effect my life in any degree.
This is not a problem. At all. It’s a tiny, unknowable, non-problem. And yet, I find myself sometimes thinking about it so much that it makes me want to cry. I can't let it go - at which point it would cease to exist - so I just carry it around with me, all the time. Which isn’t super healthy, and means I don’t read anything from that bookshelf very often, just so I won’t remind myself of WrinkleGate.
Once, I left a friend’s house at about midnight, a good thirty-five minute drive from my house. Five minutes into the drive, I ran over some garbage on the road. A plastic bag or something. I kept driving, as you do.
I got about five minutes from home, and couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I had run over someone’s pet or someone’s property or something that shouldn’t be on the road and maybe I should have checked it out before driving off. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done something wrong. I had no reason to believe that I had. But I also couldn’t be completely sure that I hadn't.
What did I actually think it was, lying on the road? What could it have actually been apart from a forgotten scrap of rubbish? I honestly couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that I spent twenty five minutes driving homeward, knowing I shouldn’t turn back, but also knowing, deep down, that eventually I definitely would. And so, as I neared home, I did a U-turn and drove all the way back, scoured the early morning road, found nothing, and drove back home an hour later in a state of loose and unsettling panic.
I do that shit all of the time.
Everyone has tiny, insignificant worries, little anxieties. But I constantly have them. All of the time.
That’s called insanity. It’s insane behaviour, to constantly be driving around my life in u-turns and ever decreasing circles.
It’s actually not called insanity. It’s called obsessive / compulsive behaviour. Being unable to shake the worst possible outcome of a scenario (an obsession) and then being forced to check it in some way to make sure it doesn’t come true (compulsion). The reality, in most of these scenarios, is there is actually no way to be one hundred percent sure about anything, so the obsession builds, and the compulsions continue, and they fuel the anxiety and all that fear that I was talking about before. If I don’t turn the car around and check, I know that I’ll feel worse. So I’ve got to check. Which means next time it happens, I absolutely definitely have got to fucking check.
I don’t really know what it’s like not to be freaking out about something. Any time I deal with one fear, another one is waiting in the wings, ready to slide in and take its place.
Sometimes I'm fine. I’m getting better, and I'm certainly not the only person who has to deal with this kind of thinking and fight through it. It’s quite common, and just a part of being a human for some of us. Many people deal with far worse things than I do. But, while it’s always comforting to know that you’re not alone, that notion of camaraderie doesn’t help me when I’m driving thirty-five minutes in the wrong direction in the middle of the night.
Talking about it helps, though. Writing about it.
I think I seem pretty well kept-together in person. Highly strung, maybe, but confident and ready to rock. That’s because somewhere, deep down – most of the time, anyway – I know that everything is actually okay. And it’s also because I’m quite good at managing my anxiety so you don’t notice. I just talk about football, which is also an obsession, but one that I’ve long since accepted and just gotten on with. Go Crows.
There are a few things that genuinely distract me to the point of relaxation, where my mind can settle in and focus and forget. As mentioned, football is one, though that’s got stresses of its own (I think if the Crows had lost to Carlton on Saturday afternoon I would’ve stayed in bed for the rest of the weekend).
Music is another – I love to listen to loud music and to dance. You ever seen me dance to The Kill by 30 Seconds To Mars? That is one of the worst fucking songs that has ever existed but I will tear shit up to that song.
The other saving grace, the main one, is stories. I love stories. I don’t check my phone when I’m watching a movie. I don’t dual screen social media with my laptop when I’m watching a television show. I sink into the story and give over to it completely. I love stories more than anything, and I wish that writing my own stories gave me the same feeling as losing myself in other people’s stories does, but it doesn’t.
But stories are the most important thing in the world to me, so I guess I’ll keep going with this writing business, even if it stresses me out and the stuff I write always seems sort of shit. I honestly don’t know what the other option would be.
This project was about writing, but it was also about me. Those things are inextricably linked. These 52 stories are, a lot of the time, about this sense of underlying fear. I attempted to put myself into the stories, and that’s what often came out, sort of accidentally, always shrouded in weird metaphors and needlessly overwrought language.
But here, at the end, is some clear truth.
Here is some catharsis.