Friday, February 15, 2008

Selling your soul to the pen

I've had another couple hours with POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS, and I'm about halfway through it now, and I just finished reading the story "Locket Out." The story includes an account of Burroughs' escaping from alcoholism by giving himself over to writing. Taken from the text:

"I just sat down. And I wrote. Silly. It made me laugh. I hadn't laughed for a year. I kept writing. I wrote until seven that evening. Then I drank. But I never reached my Place. Instead, I thought about what I'd written during the day. I went to bed. The next day, I wrote more. I started drinking later in the evening and I drank less. By the third day, I wrote until midnight and I didn't drink anything at all except lime seltzer water. By the seventh day I had written a book."

Reading that passage filled me with so much excitement, so much nervous energy and desire, that I had to put the book down. For more than a decade I've been longing to have the time to write, to seriously write and produce work and shout my thoughts out into the bedlam of the world. And yet things always seem to get in the way. Sometimes those things relate to my own shortcomings, my lack of discipline, my depression. Usually those things are intrusions from the outside world, and demands placed upon me by living in it (getting rent money together is an obvious, and recurrent demand) that I can't seem to escape from. Right now, for example, I'm at work. I'll be at work until 5, then I'll ride my bicycle home. Within an hour of my arrival my girlfriend will be there, and when she's home I don't like the idea of neglecting her, ignoring her and huddling up against the computer screen. So I probably won't spend much time writing, and the whole time I'm writing I'll be distracted. Tomorrow morning I'll get up at 7 to get to work by 8, and I'll be there until 5. The cycle continues.

It's incredibly frustrating to me. What I want to do is write. What I'm driven to do and tortured by my failure to do is write. And yet I can barely manage to squeeze together a few pitiful hours a week for writing, and those hours are plagued with distraction and despair and all the trauma carried over from my work week. I have to give the bulk of my life over to something I despise (work) and I barely get to scrape together a few spare moments to do what I really want to do. It makes me want to smash my face against this cubicle desk, and drag my fingernails across my neck.

It brings to mind Virginia Woolf's essay "A Room Of One's Own." It also makes me think of POST OFFICE, by Bukowski, where he includes an account similar to the above by Burroughs. In Bukowski's account he's drinking continually, while Burroughs finds an escape from drinking through writing, but in both situations the author throws himself wholeheartedly into his work, goes through a marathon period of writing, and comes out at the end of a relatively short period with an intact novel. Come to think of it, it makes me think of Kerouac writing ON THE ROAD.

The above picture, by the way, was taken by David Shankbone. I don't know who he is, but he's allowing this picture to be freely copied and distributed, so I wanted to give him credit.

1 comment:

Alonso said...

I felt the same way when I was working at my dumb jobs. It was like being on fire in slow motion, nothing you can do but burn.

The depression is natural, it would be irrational not to be depressed in that situation. But once you finally break through it falls away like nothing and quickly becomes a shadow of a memory. It's just hard not knowing how long it will take to break through.

Time. I found lot's of time by giving up the internet at home, and only using it at work. Is there anything you do that you're just killing time with?

Girlfriend. I know that one too. I feel like I can never get work done until my family's asleep. But they're willing to give me a slot of time to work on my stuff if I wanted. If that could work for you maybe you should try it. Negotiate, something like "I'm going to work solid for an hour and a half tonight, because it's important to my sanity, and tomorrow night we'll go out and have a night just for us." The negotiation is really for your own guilt, she probably doesn't need you to make it up to her, but it be a way to give yourself permission.

You're going to be wasted from work. Some nights will be shot, you can't get around that. Ironically I find that I'm actually more productive when I go to bed on time and am not sleep deprived, which means not staying up late working on my projects. The progress I make 1 night staying up, is lost on the following few nights when I don't have the energy to be creative. Aren't you kind of a morning person, you could try waking up super early (5am) and working before your mental energy gets used up at work.

Maybe you should take vacation time and just work hardcore solid, just to see what happens, without any proconceptions or extra pressure that "this has to be it". Or maybe it's time to quit again. Use that Granny money, it would be like stay at home grad school/starting a writing business.

I don't know, it really sucks, I really wish I could help you. Just have to hold on until the cards come up in your favor and then you won't even remember this time.