Profile of Self as Writer
Profile of Self as Writer is an essay that Rivers Cuomo wrote in 1995 for a Harvard writing class. He shared the essay on his personal blog in 2010 .
Rivers Cuomo Expos 17 10/1/95 Hmmm… where to begin? Me and writing: oil and water; errr, I mean: fire and water. Or fire and ice. Something like that. I almost never put pen to paper anymore. I’m too scared to try. I’m afraid of writing line after line of garbage until finally I’m forced to admit that I have absolutely nothing to say. My grammar’s good, my arguments are solid, and I can be clever but my purest, most honest response to a blank piece of paper is to drop it and run. When I do write, it’s only because there’s a gun pointed at my head, metaphorically speaking - most often by myself. I perform this ritual torture because I’ve always assumed that I was supposed to be a writer. When I was a child I loved to write. At least, I loved the attention I got for writing. My first “success” was thirty pages of a smart-ass seven-year-old’s idea of humor. I read my story aloud to the class, who laughed and enjoyed it so much, I was asked to read it again the next day. I was at the peak of my confidence with my newfound power. I was called “brilliant”, “creative”, and was “probably going to be a great writer.” I continued in this “write for praise” mode until sometime in high school when it became apparent to all of us young adults that in writing you’re actually supposed to be saying something, not just entertaining or showing how you’ve mastered a certain literary technique. This didn’t seem like a problem, for I recently had discovered that I held many opinions. I was a proud nonconformist, a pensive existentialist, and a radical environmentalist, among many other ist’s. I was right and they were wrong and I had the facts to prove it. My writing was strong, confident, and incredibly annoying. Well, at some point between then and now, I lost it. My spirit gave out. My constructs of right and wrong crumbled. Now I have the hardest time forming an opinion about what type of cereal I want for breakfast, much less what to do about the crisis in the Middle East. And because writing never came natural to me, never became a habit, I don’t even have the tools, or desire, to write about my confusion. I’ve always kept a journal, but it’s pathetic. I kept it only because I thought I was supposed to keep it. I just assumed I was the journal-writer-type. But it’s garbage, really it is. One page in a hundred says something interesting and the rest are all garbage. I can go weeks without writing and be perfectly happy until the guilty thought occurs to me: “I’m supposed to be writing this stuff down!” Then I force myself to write. I force myself to have some scrap of insight. I force myself to be sensitive and reflective and poetic. Because I am a writer. Garbage. And now, here I sit, forcing some more out. If you must know my particular difficulties (aside from my problems with existential pitfalls) here are a few gems: I’m lazy. I never bother to plan out what I’m going to write. I just dive in and hope that a) I can swim to the other side; and b) I don’t get stuck in the middle of some ridiculous metaphor about diving and swimming. Difficulty Number Two: I’m a slow reader. This one has always puzzled me. It may have something to do with all the PCP I took in junior high. Oh yeah, that reminds me of Difficulty Number Three: general lack of interest in anything and overall retardation of all mental facilities. This is due entirely to the fact that 187 days ago I had a really nasty operation on my leg and was on high-powered opiates for two months after. I haven’t felt nor thought anything except pain and misery in the past five months. I’m only just now beginning to show the first glimmer of spiritual recovery, although I’m still perpetually in a bad mood. My writing habits? I’m a relentless editor. What you’re now reading may seem like the effortless gesture of a great mind (sarcasm), but is actually the result of much nail-biting, pacing, and erasing of what I previously thought was brilliant. I write in brief spurts, rarely longer than a paragraph, and then nothing for an hour or two, or a day or six months. I often read over what I’ve written – like a pole-vaulter sprinting down the runway - trying to build up enough momentum to clear whatever barrier stopped my last spurt. What I would like from this class - more than any specific technical help - is a jump start. I just want to get my brain going again after two years on the road with my band and five months of painful post-op rehabilitation. Ultimately, I’d like to develop a habit of writing, so it’s something I do every day without much fear or anxiety. I’d like to be able to express my thoughts and feelings accurately so that others can read them. I’d like to keep a journal. What’s all this I’m saying? Sure enough, once again I raise the gun to my head: I’d like to be a writer.