Yesterday, while posting the piece for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, I went scrolling down through posts on Thousand Movie project’s homepage to remind myself of which other 1950s movies address McCarthyism, the paranoia that was running through America about communist insurgency and about being accused of being a communist insurgent, and I was mortified, in scrolling, by how few posts there’ve been this year. Mainly the gaps are there because I’ve been working on a novel since December, which I finished at the beginning of March, so it’s not like I’ve just been fucking around—but still! I saw, with just a few flicks of the scroll, shit that I posted back in January and, I shit you not, I felt like I was being chased by something, like the water level was rising, the noose tightening.
Yesterday I was prompted by an acquaintance to go back and read two posts that went up toward the beginning of the quarantine and, good lord, they were fucking unbearable to read. I saw typos right away, but it was all so painful to confront that I couldn’t will myself to go in there and actually fix the typos, or play around with the sentences until they were more to my liking.
There’s an argument to be made about quality over quantity: it’s OK to have five posts instead of ten if those five posts are comfortably readable, and engaging, whereas the production of ten would mean that the substance thins and it’s just a buncha fodder.
But there’s something about the quantity of one’s output that’s a testament to discipline and work ethic. Sylvia Plath said of her myriad rejection slips from literary magazines that she loves them. “They show me I try.”
One of the signs that I’m scraping the bottle of the barrel, I think, is that I find myself writing about writing. Feels a bit like talking to the mirror. But I’ve also found myself in the situation, especially in the long slog of writing a novel, that you feel like you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, there’s nothing left to say, but you’re also compelled to keep scraping, and scraping and scraping and scraping, until one day you realize that it was a false bottom, that there’s actually another barrel beneath that barrel’s bottom, and it’s larger and richer and in its contents.
So if you’ll accord me the same patience a dental hygienist might ask, I’ll continue to scrape.