When I write, I feel like an armless, legless many with a crayon in his mouth
A friend said to me the other day, as though it was the immutable truth (it isn’t), as though I had it all sorted (I don’t), that it was fine for me because I loved writing. I still don’t know what the ‘it’ in that sentence was, but it made me think, nevertheless. Specifically, to question how much I do love it.
It’s not about the book sales, or the money (don’t make me laugh). Which at least I knew before I went into it, clear-sighted, and having done my homework, like a good boy. And it is not even about the Things, even though they have taken me to wonderful places and introduced me to some of the best people. Even though I love doing them.
Sitting here in the warm on a gusty, late-November morning I think of writing and I groan. Just like the wind. I think: do I have to? And then I remind myself that earlier in the week there was a thought, completely from nowhere, in the form of a single line, which I know, I just know, is the start of a poem. I know this because I can remember it precisely three days later without having written it down. Which, for me, counts as a miracle. Where it comes (came) from I have no idea. I’m not really interested in that anyway. Where it is going to take me is what interests me (and I have no idea about that either). Much more interesting, to start at F and and end at Y, or, even better, the other way round.
But all this is abstract. Just thinking about writing puts me in a sweat. Especially when well-intentioned friends ask me if I have been doing any. (Especially if they are writers.) Because at that point I always go blank. The answer I always think of first is ‘No’. Which I think is to do with having been brought up to not to show off. So I lie and say ‘It’s going, fine, thanks.’ Even if it isn’t. Even if I haven’t. Especially if I haven’t. (The same thing happens when people ask what music I like, or which writers. ‘Simon and Garkfunkel?’ I say. ‘Raymond Carver?’) The thing is, it turns out I have. Or am. Or did.
But writing, hearing that thought that is a line and then listening for where it is going to take me then following it, then scraping away everything that is not necessary, then hating it and leaving it on a shelf for six months, then finding it again and thinking who wrote this? and shaping it some more and then waiting for the next line, that is not abstract, and that is the work I love to do, I do love it while I am doing it, I do, even when it is quite boring or looks like nothing is happening, especially then, that horrible phase when you have to push through to what is really going on in the poem, not the thing you want or began with, that’s what I love, the losing myself and total immersion of it, the xzghreaghall of it, beyond words, out of time, gosh, is that the time, where did the afternoon go? of it, notebooks and backs of envelopes littered across the desk, tea cold in the cup, ‘and outside the cabin, falling leaves‘. And the next day. And the next. And then I am walking into work and I meet someone from work or a friend and they say how are you and they know none of this and I say ‘Fine’, all the while knowing that this has been going on in secret below the level of words and polite society. And I am back in the other world, your world which is also mine, the one I love and am amazed to still be a part of, and I say ‘Isn’t it windy?’ and they say ‘Typical you!’ and I say, ‘But it is!’ and we walk on and gossip about work and the government.
And anyway, as I think Anne Lamott must have said somewhere: it’s not like I have a choice.