I am a writer. I am a heretic — blog 10 — 1.13.22

16 degrees. What is that? It’s been over 19 years since I lived in the north. But I’ve done this before, or have I? Southern Ohio might as well be a tropical region, and my family, simple banana farmers. I was not prepared for this.

Northern Ohio is a frozen tundra. The morons, or Germans, removed all of the trees from the landscape, so the wind rips through all day everyday. They weren’t technically morons because they purchased cheap land and efficiently drained thousands of acres of swamp land and turned it into farmland. That’s pretty smart, but pretty stupid too. Life isn’t that important. Maybe just give up at that point. One step out of the door and I want to give up, the cold dry air feels like sandpaper and needles. The ground is solid as rock, but the blades of grass crack like John McClane running across broken glass while Germans — different Germans but also also very crafty — fire at him with machine guns that were ubiquitous in 1980s cinema.

I thought, “no big deal” at 30 degrees, but as the temperature dropped, it became exponentially worse. 16 degrees is not just 16 degrees below freezing. It’s not 16 integers, it’s 16 factorial. 31 is twice as cold as 32, and 30 is twice as cold as that, and so on. By the time you reach 16 it might as well be absolute zero.

This is where I lose the unsympathetic northerners with missing limbs. The ones who chose an ice scraper rather than a hook. It’s interchangeable what they insert into their arm socket, but during the winter — which is nearly year round it seems — it’s an ice scraper. Then it hits me. Like a bag of bricks.

I am a writer.

I am a heretic.

The first part, I have been telling myself over and over for years but never believing. Sports writing didn’t count. Screenplays that no one has ever read did not count. For God's sake, one script was about werewolves, Nazi werewolves (to me that is a strong defense of my status as a writer, but not ice scraper-handed northerners). Recently, after reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, I have begun incessantly repeating this motto/mantra: “I am a writer.” At some point the identity will take hold. At any rate, I’ll believe it regardless of what others think. 

The second epiphany was much more significant. It answered my “why” as Simon Sinek would say or Nietzsche, probably best to cite Nietzsche than another self-help guy — I’m kind of at my limit here. I’ve had an idea of who I am, an idea of my identity, or, my idea — my purpose, my why, is heresy. The writer prescription is the “how” as Sinek would say — furthering the Nietzsche quote “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” (Viktor Frankl also makes a great deal out of this quote. I only mention him because he is great, and I am trying to offset the abundance of self-help gurus with German Philosophers, but not the idiots that cut down all of the trees). But why write? Because I am a heretic.

Previously, I had a convoluted description of my why, but this sums it up pretty nicely. Although I’m not really opposed to a religion, it seems that is all there is these days. The modern dogmas aren’t much different than religions. Maybe they lack a central deity, but the way of thinking is the same. Our social order is buttressed by an unwavering adherence to the cult. Regardless of what I want to call myself, I am sure they will have no problem calling me a heretic. Anyone that reads these essays likely does not get the sense that I am an easy going follower accepting of conventional wisdom.

I’ve quit a lot of jobs and gotten myself run out of a lot of jobs. I can’t help myself. I am a heretic. I see the flaws in systems and I can’t shut my mouth because I’m a writer. Things won’t likely get better for me with this new found knowledge, but at least I know who I am now.

“That’s great and all, but do you have to be an asshole?” my wife responds. She doesn’t exactly say it that way, but the point is taken, and resoundingly ignored. Yes, heretics have to be assholes. We have to sound right, and aggressively so. To attempt subtle persuasion or peddle influence from the Book of Carnegie is to open the door to the hint of doubt. In attempting this manipulative maneuver, each interlocutor must appear to be  open to the other side’s point of view, legitimizing the opposition's beliefs and insinuating a lack of confidence in one's own. Heretics are burned at Smithfield, or at least that’s what G.K. Chesterton is always talking about, and if this is to be my fate, then I am not going to legitimize my enemies. I am not going to pile the wood for them. After a lifetime of enmity and struggles against wrong ideas from the wrong minded, I could care less about changing their minds because there aren’t minds there. If I have to persuade, then they’re not worth persuading. If you have to be talked off the ledge with kind words, then you might as well jump. 

She’s right that I do not have to be an asshole and my polemic views may have more impact if I dialed it down. At the very least our dinner table conversations would be more pleasant minus the three-year-old that requires bite-by-bite coaching for any meal other than pizza rolls, and coaching is a pleasant way of painting this picture. But I can’t put out the fire once lit. Once admitted, the heat can no longer be turned down. Now that I know that I am a heretic, I take comfort in these 16-degree days with the prospect of an eternity in hell ahead of me.