Bad Advice Wednesday: My Gulliver Complex

categories: Cocktail Hour


 If you are like me (god I hope not) then you sometimes think everyone is conspiring to get in the way of your writing (because they are, Precious, they are.) You want one thing: to write your great book! But a thousand things–normal life!—intrude. You rage, you shake your fist, you eventually give in.

        I call it my Gulliver Complex, an appropriately megalomaniacal phrase, imagining myself a giant tied down and spear-poked by a hundred tiny people. These people want me to fill in forms, go to meetings, prepare classes for god’s sake. And what do I want? Well, I said it already: that one thing.

            I had a cartoon to go with this piece, a really funny one I think, but I’ll never publish it. Why? Because on the way to the scanner at school I ran into one of my favorite students. I showed the cartoon to her, thinking she would laugh, but she didn’t. I asked her if I should publish it and she said I shouldn’t.

           There was a moment of clarity for me. One of the little tiny spear-holding people in the cartoon was asking for a recommendation. Another was asking me to read his trilogy. To me, in my brain, I am still about my student’s age—early-mid twenties—a young excited writer who has somehow found himself disguised as a staid teacher and living inside a relatively normal adult life. But to her I was a fifty year old professor who had written a lot of books and who she might need to ask for a recommendation and who was now showing her a crazy drawing that said, in no uncertain terms, that he just wanted to be left alone. If I was her, I wouldn’t have been too happy with me.

            Which brings me to this: the truth is I don’t really just want to write. I want to be a halfway decent person, too, or, at the very least, not a complete dick.  No, more than that. I want to be good and generous to my family, my friends, even my students.  And I refuse to believe that you can’t be both a great writer and a good person. But, that said, it’s tricky. This Gulliver guy is not all bad. By being driven—you could call it selfish, and maybe it is, but I think that’s too simple—he makes the space necessary to make the books. He tells people to stay back, give me room, let me make things. The trick is to let him do his necessary work without having him lording over the rest of your life in his pushy, giant way.  (As it happens, this time of year, for a lot of teacher-writers, is the toughest. The holiday break gives one a little window into the full-force writing, Gulliver-protected way of life. The new term however insists that you be a different kind of Gulliver, where you are really small with giants putting you in a dollhouse.)

            Sanity helps, of course, though too much sanity gets in the way. For instance: Look how logical and neat it is to put WRITING over here, in this box, and get back to it in summer. Sure, but what if your best ideas come on the same morning of the six hour required training course in syllabus-writing and faculty safety? That’s when you bring in the heavy. That’s when Gulliver comes to your rescue and crushes all your tiny people. And that’s when you thank him, crazy fucker that he is.




  1. James Attwood writes:

    I was finding it harder and harder every day to find the time to work on my writing. It seemed everywhere I turned, someone, somewhere was wanting one thing or another from me. Like you, I wanted not only to be a writer, but a good individual. Finally, I simply had to take a firm stance.

    I established writing as one of my “jobs”. For a specified period of time, six days a week, I was “at work” writing. The phone was turned off. The email window was closed. I closed and locked the bedroom door. At first I got some push-back on this. But, eventually everyone I knew finally got the message and now supports keeping me in productive isolation when I need it to get writing done.

    This was a great read. I remember seeing the conspiracies to keep me from writing everywhere, and it made me chuckle to know I’m not the only one.

  2. Sage writes:

    I have never thought of Gulliver as an example of my life, but it is a good one! We all have barriers to overcome to be productive, but we also need to be real, too (and that means acknowledging that we’re not the center of the universe and that people do depend on us for things that we may not like to do).

  3. kate writes: