And by the time I get back from therapy, in the lay-over between the Sunday night and the Monday night shift, I'm a bit talked out. I've made a run to Glen's Market on the way home, and thinking parts are fading a little bit, and maybe there will be a nap involved. I had to empty at the cooler of all the bottles for some plumbing to be done last night, and I'll try to get in earlier than usual.
Every day, Shane MacGowan draws a mandala, a circle, a horizontal and a vertical line for axes. He believes it orients his day, that of a self-described nut for things spiritual, at least at the time of writing/being interviewed by his wife for A Drink With Shane MacGowan. I think I know the feeling. Maybe you do too.
My point to the good doctor is that there are enormous psychological and spiritual benefits to the act of writing. What to do with it beyond that? Do you get an MFA in fiction writing to be around other nervous writer types? Does writing have to be commodified like everything else? Is it in your life for you to make a living at it, or is something you might quietly preach about.
I watch a movie version of Kerouac's later novel Big Sur. I flinch watching it. I've read the book enough times to know what will happen next and the general tone of it, a harrowing trip into breakdown and alcoholism. Yet at the end of it you have the sense, in the book at least, that when he the writer returns from the adventures to the safe isle of writing, then he's going to be okay.
Why is that venturing out into the modern world and the egos and personalities attuned to surviving in that modern world is so troublesome for some of us. Is it blood-type, or something else constitutional? You sit down and write, it's like you're able to navigate again; you don't sit and stew, things picking at you relentlessly.
First it was an unnamed need. In someways, there wasn't much support from it. Either you read and analyzed, or you took a creative writing class, the two separate. The act was viewed as a duty of scholarship. Not a jumping off point for one's own writing process, your own life as a writer, even as that proposition stares one in the face with each and every line. Like a child watching an adult walk. But the act of the classroom, which anointed literature as being something okay and healthy, good even, still amounted to the basic truth of reading the works of other people who'd gravitated toward the process, for their own sanity and intuitive health. Even Hemingway, remembering his vigor and health.
I myself was drawn in by the simplicity of Islands in the Stream, (posthumous, from Hemingway's notebooks) the writer's own version of Zen, a recording in intimate detail, for posterity, of the little regular things of everyday life, accounted for, aligned, so that the person would know where to find them the next day, reassured. The textures of life recorded, along with the habits of the house pets, the cat, his boat, the sea, the fishermen and the places they ate, and again, peeling oranges and putting the peels into the flames to watch the fire, in this case driftwood, turn colors. The act of writing seemed immediately to quell the anxiety. It had some antidotal property, rejuvenating, calming, salubrious, cleansing, a breathing out of stale air in order to get fresh air in.
Is the point of it to be a professional, to get good at it, write fiction, have an editor, produce a book for the marketplace? Or isn't it rather a bit more organic than that. More an inherent human need, an extension of biological function. Something that keeps us from going off-track (like Kerouac quite dramatically does in Big Sur--and we know the experience exists within the realm of possibility.)
If you write, it stands to reason, you have all that better a chance to listen to your inner voice, your inner self, and know a bit better how to act, what you need, what a realistic attitude would be.. If I'd taken up writing earlier in a supported way, I might have done a few things differently. I might have been calmer, and reacted better, more attuned to my own heart, less stung by superficial critique and illusion. Calmer, more positive. Less self-destructive.
And yet, instincts told me I needed to write. Early on enough, but not knowing how or what exactly to write about. To write, you need experience, right? You need to drive a nitroglycerin truck across the Yukon, take in first hand a civil war, travel to exotic places... Otherwise, what possibly would we have to write about, that anyone else would want to read out of anything more than politeness, tolerant of your solipsistic doldrums not worth recording.
Yeah, but I took an immediate liking to the simple stuff, like Nick setting up his camp, or Kerouac surviving on the road day by day. These were the sort of textures I liked. Aren't we camping out every day, in life itself.... Are not we all hanging by a thread...
Those of us who write, and who write well, might simply be those who need the process more. Writing acknowledges the need to slow things that happen quickly down enough to be assessed (still at the intuitive level where things must be assessed), the need to see out of the dense clouds of their own psyches and daily moods.
Perhaps the modern urban monastery of one's own writing practice isn't such a bad thing.