Monday, July 23, 2012

The Writer's Bubble

Summer months from about the middle of June through the early weeks of September have a special attraction.  Unless you have signed for summer classes, your chances for long stretches of time alone with writing and reading projects are at their highest.  There is a luxurious laziness, a not having to be so concerned about shaving laziness, a t-shirt and jeans laziness, a stripped-down to basics laziness where priorities change, needs change, tides wax and ebb on a different schedule than when you are more defined by professional and occupational terms.

If you’ve planned well, there is enough put by to bring you to September with the growing tang of regret at the loss of summer light and the loss of summer spent with ideas and characters you’re trying to understand and the considerable sense of being unrecognizable, marginal.  You are doing the equivalent of leading the literary equivalent of the beach bum’s life.  There is the sense of amusement you had yesterday when, at a brief outing at Orpet Park reading the Sunday New York Times and spending some time with the crossword puzzle, you’d dozed and awakened with the amused dreamlike conceit of thinking a person who’d come upon you could easily have thought you and your dog residents of the street and left you some spare change.

You are culturally a part of a religious minority.  You’d been tangentially aware of it by virtue of having attended schools in Los Angeles where you were majority, but then came World War II and the frightening experience of being told by the mother of your best friend how lucky you were to be living here instead of Europe, where “people like you” did not have it all that well.

Soon enough you were in schools and circumstances where your minority status was pronounced.  You’d already made the connection that the cultural personality about you was oriented in another direction.  In your early twenties, you had experiences of being the only one of your culture in a particular gathering.  Then, because of your interests in music, you were frequently the only one of your race and color in a particular venue.  And then, because of friendships, you were the only one of your culture and race and color in a particular venue.  You thought little or nothing about being the only white-Jew in an all-black, all-Asian, all-Latino landscape, all the while forging the sense of comfort first of all within yourself and then of comfort where you were.  Such experiences helped you forge the sense of those with whom you were comfortable and with which parts of yourself there was ease and lack of any need for defensiveness.

Thus you moved into your later twenties and the beginnings of what you called your professional association years.  And thus you moved from the vigorous bubble of intellectual and artistic and social contacts you experienced during your university years at UCLA to what you’ve come to think of as The Bubble Years.

You surely live in a bubble. Although you believe it is a heterogeneous bubble, nevertheless, it is an enclosure.  You’re given frequent reminders such as the fact that the newspaper that has published your weekly book column is the organ for a political bubble quite other than yours.  There is also the instance of a conversation among friends at a restaurant a week or so ago wherein one of your number gave vocal thanks that he was not a member of “the right-wing lunatic fringe,” his actual words.  Moments later, a man stopped at your table to deliver the information that he was, his exact words, “a member of the right-wing lunatic fringe.”  How easy it is to shrug such things off as California, or Los Angeles, or even Central Coast California.  There are, in fact, portions of California where you are in a bubble of comfort or an intruder in some other bubble.

You will not call Art a friend but you are on a first name basis with him from your mutual membership at the Y and your attendance at the Wednesday Writer’s Lunch at Casa del Sol by the Bird Refuge.  Although Art is modest about his writing, he has two books to his credit.  He and you are in a writer’s bubble but your political bubbles are worlds apart.  You are cordial to one another because of the writer’s bubble.  Otherwise, you suspect you’d scarcely speak.

Through this commodious vicus, you arrive at the writer’s bubble, wherein you meet all manner of cultures, races, philosophies, interests, and ranges of ability.  The writer’s bubble is the most comfortable of all because most of the individuals you meet within it have given up such things as culture and race and religion and politics even while professing these very things, sometimes in extreme renditions.  There is a purer, freer sense of being within this bubble, in which you can be impatient bordering on intolerant  with those who might claim some measures of cultural or artistic or intellectual heritage with you.

Within the writer’s bubble, you are the individual you have forged by design and taste, your allies often surprising you, your potential enemies surprising you even more, your strengths and weaknesses coming to you through unexpected discoveries you’d not anticipated.

Being within this bubble does not allow you any equivalent of the summer vacation you look forward to.  When you have moved through these various bubbles, you have become the true outsider, the one who is delightfully free to wrestle with his otherness, his not belonging to any place or thing.

As a writer who has become an editor and thus a teacher, you have become a hyphenate, a writer-editor-teacher, to which you must add yet another, you must add student and observer.

You might, if you chose, say you inhabit your own bubble, which means few allies or compatriots.  Perhaps an occasional companion.  The danger that lurks is the danger of all your characters coming from the same bubble, all your ideas born within the same bubble, all the persons you think attractive or reprehensible coming from the same bubble.  In that sense, you must make sure you are not in any one bubble for too long.

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