If you’ve spoken to me much over the past while, or indeed read very many entries on the blog, you will know that the past few months have not been that easy for me. I say this being very well aware that, comparatively speaking, I live my life in paradise and that there are plenty of people who would be absurdly grateful to switch places with me for a while. I really do try to keep that in mind.
Even so, the winter/spring have been a bit of a rough ride and I am content to admit to Struggling With Things. I’m not sure what that says about me, but there it is.
The point is though that I have been profoundly grateful to have my writing during all of it. Writing is one of the only things that completely takes me away from whatever ridiculous bullshit the world is currently trying to subject me to and really gives me a break from the endless grinding of my mind’s gears on the problem(s) du jour. Reading kind of does it, but not as completely and not for as long – a good book provides some shelter for a while, but eventually I can feel reality bleeding back in around the edges and the time has passed.
Writing, though. Some days it takes a minute (or a lot of minutes) to get the ol’ writing cortex into gear (and there is very nearly an audible thunk when it finally drops in) but once it does, man, I am gone for a while. There’s a Sherlock Holmes story (I think it’s Hound) where he spends the day working on a problem, entirely mentally (well, he’s studying a map) and “comes back” to be dismayed at the amount of coffee and tobacco his body has consumed in his absence. (He’s kicked that cocaine habit by then) Subtract the tobacco, and I know that feeling, except that instead of solving a crime I’ve been writing about people who aren’t real doing things that didn’t happen.
Sometimes they turn into stories that I want to do something with. Sometimes the results are a pile of utter crap that I try to forget ever existed. In either case, though, I get that break from whatever problem I was gnawing on. I sort of expect that other kinds of artistic endeavour might provide a similar time-out effect, but I can’t do more than conjecture, there. I know it works with writing.
Maybe it’s as simple as the amount of concentration it takes to do it well. Maybe I could learn to do it with any kind of task that was sufficiently difficult to require that level of focus and that I liked doing enough to keep at it for a long time, at that level of concentration. Maybe there is something kind of special about the process of Making Stuff Up that is particularly helpful. I kind of prefer one of those explanations and I’ll let you guess which one.
The idea of writing as therapy is far from a novel concept (ho ho ho) so there may be no particular insight here. Heck, I don’t even know why it works aside from a vague idea that writing must engage some of the same grindy mind-gears that I would otherwise be using to fret about things. Probably someone with one of those brain scan things could point to “well, this is the exact moment where your ‘tearing yourself to pieces’ lobe stopped lighting up.”
I guess a) I’m just very glad that it does work in this way, and I have a vague idea that maybe it’s worth suggesting to anyone who may happen to read this and might like to give it a try. I don’t have a psychological or biological scientific explanation as to why, but I know that taking some time to create different people, to follow them around for a while and see what they get up to in the strange worlds they inhabit, helps me settle things down. I know I’ve been very glad to have the work on The King in Darkness (which progresses very well, thank you very much indeed) and the New Project (and also the, ah, Distracting Project) to keep me from grinding the gears too excessively much.
So thank you to everyone in my life, parents, teachers, and friends, who have ever encouraged me to write and keep writing. It’s a gift to have in my life.
Possibly you’ll find it the same.
Over the past few days I have sometimes felt like I should write something about the massacre in Charleston. To say it was absolutely horrifying, although the words are correct, doesn’t quite cover it. More people were killed there than at the Boston Marathon bombing that caused international grief and an immense public reaction. I do have strong feelings about it.
However, I am also acutely aware (despite my bellyaching above) of my privileged position in society and I realize that approximately the last thing that is needed at such a moment is the perspective of another white dude. It is much more important, right now, for people like me to be listening rather than speaking, and so that’s what I’m trying to do. (Well, also with the reading. Always with the reading.)
Beyond that I have only the same reaction I have after the shooting attack in Ottawa last fall – to suggest that we go out and be wonderful to each other. Obviously that doesn’t magically fix all the problems in the world, but in the end I think it’s how we win against the people out there who have nothing to offer but hate and division.
Love is stronger than hate. Go be wonderful.
I’ll try to do better the next time.