This isn’t a story about neurosis. This isn’t about *phobia. This is a story about how it’s wrong to want to be right. That I’m concerned about cliché is only stronger evidence.
I sweat a little in the intimidating glare of a blank canvas of any material, e.g., canvas, paper, LCD, blackboard. Each new stroke, each new keypress, seems only to gather me closer to the most imminent and unavoidable failure. I would not have honestly written that in 1989, when I claimed I would write my own exhaustive dictionary of the universe. Somewhere in the interim, I came to join this fear as a daily companion. Think The Last Unicorn, who—upon learning of regret—slowly loses her magic. Except my case might be so common as to be archetypical.
I understand the practical need for a division of things into piles labeled “right” and “wrong,” especially if they don’t include moral things; that’s quite the nasty bog there, and I’ll (continue to) come back to it sometime soon. But think back to your grade-school days, to those waking hours when The Possible World was opened to you only by traversing The World of Correct Answers. While your teachers hopefully taught you of gerunds and multiplication tables and sea anemones and General Robert E. Lee, what you learned most of all was how to fail. Long after you’ve forgotten that 14 x 14 = 196, you remember how little you enjoyed school. You remember feeling that something wasn’t quite right, that you didn’t fit. You remember feeling that you were missing something, some special handbook, a leathery tome of gilt-edged pages with all the answers to both odd- and even-numbered problems, and an entire chapter dedicated to the best mnemonic rhymes.
Maybe you did quite well in school, actually; more’s the pity. That may only mean that you embraced the dichotomy, and that may only mean you’re going to fall harder when it fails to provide footing. The world is just as easily divided into “right” and “wrong” as a MoÃ«bius strip is divided into “top” and “bottom”: it kind of works, until you look a little closer.
We were ending when we should have been beginning. Maybe it’s inevitable that our pedagogy mirrors Darwinian ruthlessness, given that that’s our behavioral role model; and professional teachers merely parrot the species’ generalized expectations, so it’s not at their feet that I lay this. Our great^n-grandparents and their ancestors laid the gravel, the cobblestones, and the pavement on which we tread, and laid it with the best of intentions. It’s still a road to hell; anecdotally, I feel that a world population of more than six billion ever-more-densely-distributed humans ensures that, though the roads are necessarily wider, we’re even more likely to stay on them than to walk in the grass with bare feet. Like the early universe, in which symmetries broke and things started clumping together and the fundamental forces split and spent the next 20 billion years arguing for custody.
This isn’t a story about elementary school, though, and it’s not about population control. It’s a story about my intimate friendship with Fear, and how it’s ruined my friendship with Creativity; Creativity’s pretty laid back, requiring but one thing of her closest pals: bravery. The bravery to feel stupid and keep coming back, to stop trying what works and try something else, to be wrong in the face of an easier rightness. We’re distant friends anymore, though I try to call when I can.
Thing is, Fear, quite the diligent acquaintance, got me smoking and now borrows all my cigarettes. It used to be about the music, man, but that’s over and we don’t even have any groupies. Or a band. Or a smoking habit. Or any substantive writing or sketchworks or mathematical intuitions from the past 15 years.
I called Creativity yesterday and left a message. I rambled for a while, nervously, a little too plaintively, but she always liked that about me anyway. Afterwards, I equivocated for twenty minutes on which of two grey T-shirts to wear.