Thursday, April 1, 2010

You must lead such an interesting life. Right.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that our characters live more engaging and interesting lives than we writers do. As if this weren't enough, many other persons live more engaging and interesting lives than we do. To be sure, there have been stories in which the protagonist is a writer, but in most of these cases the writer protagonist invariably sets down the notebook, replaces the pen in the pen holder, arises from the typewriter, pushes away from the computer screen to do something confrontational, investigative, physical.


If we do not live entirely in our heads, we spend a good deal of time there. By day's end, we have burned off sufficient calories to balance out the two-thousand-calorie diet. We may even experience the delicious funk of emotional fatigue, so used and shuffled have our emotions been employed during the working day. We may indeed be as righteously tired as our auto mechanic or landscape gardener neighbor, but we were inside, nominally alone, our most severe external obstacles the ambient noises of society, perhaps a cat wanting in or our and somehow terrified of the cat door, perhaps even a bored dog, standing or sitting guard at the cat door, and speaking of doors, the occasional evangelical going from door to door. Again, truth prevailing, our interior obstacles may be every bit as taxing as the automobile mechanic, the produce manager at the neighborhood supermarket, the landscape gardener with a severely allergic client. We may have come face to face with an unpardonable cliche, sprung from our very center of creativity; we may have hit the wall in terms of not knowing what a particular character needs to do next; we may have discovered the presence of two untasted cups of coffee adjacent the one currently in use (for some of us a substitute for the discovery of more than one cigarette burning away on some inappropriate surface).

When we discuss among writer friends the published works of writers we do not know personally, we may find ourselves using such phrases as "Characters bigger than life" or "cleverly implausible behavior," failing to note that characters who are smaller than life are not going to get any one's passport stamped, nor that plausible behavior may easily devolve into the sorts of things we do about the house between writing bursts, things such as excuse trips to the supermarket, by which is meant the sudden "discovery" that we are out of applesauce or paper towels or perhaps even smoked salmon slices, three elements vital to any story or essay. Perhaps there is the notion that in a scant two thousand miles, our vehicle will be due for servicing, thus we must calculate the average number of city miles driven in order to calculate the next time for maintenance. There is also the unbearable noise of the neighbor's lawn blower, the chatter of a dysfunctional family of crows, and the arrival of a perplexed pizza delivery person who has the house number correct but the street wrong, and who insists on telling you, when you tell him the street name, what the principal ingredients of the pizza are.

There is the explosive angst of being driven out of the house to the more hospitable ambiance of your favorite coffee shop, where Writer's Law Number One obtains. In any public gathering place, one particular voice, male or female, will resonate over the others, inspiring you to new, unparalleled dimensions of irritation. That person will speak often and at great length, impinging on your ability to make the most of this change of venue.

It is by no means that you long for the life of a plumber or an accountant or a lawyer; you know just about as much about pipes, balancing check books, and the law as you want to know. Rather it is that you have become used to attributing more functional problems and their solutions to such individuals and have begun in the process to romanticize them. You are too familiar with the problems writers face. It makes perfect sense for you to flee from a perfectly compatible computer with a large external monitor, then rush forth to the coffee shop with a note pad and handful of pens, where you settle in behind a frothy latte and begin to work until you are interrupted by a young woman, ringing cell phone in hand, who asks if you'll be kind enough to keep an eye on her computer until she returns.

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