Borges and Me
Whenever I read Borges, I want to write like Borges. This isn’t unusual. Whenever I read any author I love, I want to write like that author. I’m not sure if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, and I’m not sure I have the skill to successfully imitate any author, definitely not in a way that could be considered flattering, but I think that’s how you get better as a writer. Imitation.
Except it’s not me who becomes a better writer, it’s the other Neff. The Neff who writes volumes of fiction, while I just sit and think about writing while I’m in the shower or watching TV. Overcoming lethargy and putting pen to paper (or more accurately, opening a new document on the computer) to write stories? That’s the other Neff. I envy the other Neff.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy enough with my life. I have a good job as a librarian (like Borges was) and I’ve had the fortune to live in other countries and be exposed to other cultures (like Borges did). I have good friends who are artists and writers (like Borges did) and they inspire me. But I also envy the life of that other Neff, the one who actually takes that inspiration and puts it into practice by writing. The one who starts stories and sees them through to the end.
Even worse, he writes stories that I had ideas for. For example, he wrote a fantasy novel about an epic war between leprechauns and giants. The leprechauns were a thinly-veiled metaphor, people living a fairly simple life of hands-on work and product, living in relative harmony with their environment. The giants were similarly obvious, people who live to dominate their environment and their fellow people with mass industrialization and depersonalization. The giants were expansionist, trying to invade and conquer the leprechauns, intent on using these charming folk as fodder for their polluted, mechanistic empire. It might sound simplistic, maybe even cliche, but the writing itself was full of poetic imagery, fast-paced narrative, and surprising plot twists.
It was a good enough idea for a novel, I’ve just never gotten around to writing it. But the other Neff? He did.
Meanwhile, I do my best to come to terms with never writing long, intricate, fully formed stories like that. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay if I just try imitating my favorite writers, like Borges, but never even finishing what I start. Let the other Neff be the writer who does what I only fantasize about. It’s fine.