Monday, November 23, 2009

In Praise of the Laptop Dancer: writing and loneliness

When I was in grad. school I asked a professor to help me work with loneliness, a curse on writers or certainly on this writer. I felt pain when I was alone and concentrating, waiting for creativity to put me in a necessary trance. Writing fiction eats hours like crumbs, days like appetizers, years as if they were a first course, the main one being Your Life. In an earlier blog I mentioned the huge and ridiculous stretches I’d devote to book reviews, as if they were the ultimate Elizabeth Bishop sonnet. Something was amiss, friends.

The prof. said she could help but we never returned to the topic. I could have pressed but didn’t; and clearly all manner of this-es and that’s-es barnacled my psyche.

Could be the ability to live with, even love, loneliness may be one of the self-selecting factors for being a writer; if you can’t stand the heat step away from your typewriter, to paraphrase. Or not every writer feels what I did. All sorts of authors happily tell you their characters keep them company. When I hear that I generally think they’re in denial. Even if so, so what. I tend to overlook denial’s benefit, the ability to carry on despite real hardship or personal angst. Certainly booze and drugs, fabled buddies of some artists, have given a hands-up to denial.

I am a baby boomer and like my generational peers fascinated by my process, the every feeling of Sarah Sarai, and, like or unlike my fellow Children of the Corn of the 70s, unable to step away from introspection. So denial was no aid to me (not to say it hasn’t helped me avoid other things).

Since transformation is the greatest healer I know, the True Philosopher’s Stone being one that helps us change hate to, if not love, then acceptance or dispassion, distance, equilibrium, the ultimate goal might have been to transform my great aching loneliness, which bespoke of so much more than that I was a writer, to acceptance, or something spiritual.

H.L. Mencken wrote, “The writing profession is reeking with this loneliness. All our lives we spend in discoursing with ourselves. . . . The loneliest people in the world we writers are. Except that, while we are conversing and laughing with ourselves, we manage to shed our loneliness . . . to scatter it as we go along. (What a Life!)

Shed loneliness? Loofah it, exfoliate, metamorph?

It is possible and I’ll give you my routine, how I learned to live with necessary aloneness.

One major aid has been to work in public. As if helped me to read Henry James novels in the college cafeteria, shutting out the noise made me concentrate, it helps to work in cafes. But I couldn’t do that until I had a laptop, and I didn’t have that until roughly two years ago. SUCH a long time to be without.

But now I’m with laptop. When it failed I got a notebook, same thing, smaller screen. If that fails, I swear I’d get write on a Blackberry. I haven’t healed myself of discomfort with loneliness or identifying that as what I'm feeling (I'm a little more sophistication than I'm letting on but my psychological innards on the table won't help you or anyone). I’ve learned to work with myself. Yes, I still write at home and do much editing at home. Since I borrow, so to speak, Internet connection, piggyback, I can justify buying coffees and the occasional bagel.

This isn’t the ultimate essay on writers and loneliness or the ultimate solution. It’s mine and for now it’s working. I still need to find an agent for my novel The To-Do List Manifesto. I need to spend not much time at all finishing other fiction. I swear I am impetus-impaired. I am one lazy writer but at least no longer alone. The kids at my coffee house of choice know me, know what I’m doing. It helps. I’ll take it.

No comments:

Post a Comment