Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts on a Writer's Life -- c.anne.gardner

To the question: How do the authors of sketches, stories, and novels get along in life, the following answer must be given: They are stragglers and they are down at heel. —Robert Walser

I am just too exhausted to rant this week. In the last three weeks, I read three books well over 400+ pages each and with that came four lengthy reviews. I did the final proof of my own novella Antiquity, not to mention the writing of my regular weekly columns, so my thoughts will be brief and focus more on the writer’s life and my own personal take on it.

Many quotes, such as the one above, allude to the eccentricity of many writers. My favourite such quote is from Brendan Behan who claimed he was a drinker with a writing problem. I can sympathize, as I too have a writing problem. I also agree with Walser in that I find that all artists tend to be a bit down at heel and are stragglers by preference not by their very nature. Now, I would not choose to define stragglers or down at heel as destitute or less evolved as common usage would dictate, I would choose to accept those terms more as metaphor for being world-worn and prone to wandering from the socially accepted path. I think writers, as well as most artists in general, tend to prefer the periphery. Artists are observers, less apt to “fit in” if you will, and so artists tend to be a motley group with a fair amount of personality ticks. Least I am sane enough to admit it. I suppose that’s why you see a lot of drinking and drug addiction in the art world. Living on periphery with such an acute sense of being can be a bit torturous at times in its isolation. I suppose that's why a lot of artists seem reclusive to the casual eye. Living figuratively in a literal world has its challenges.

For me, like most self-published writers in today’s age of technology, the “life” has become even more complicated and exhausting. Many writers, like myself, have full time day jobs or careers, and many also offer up their services on blogs and other social media outlets. Throw in spouses and family and what you get is a conflicted person with a serious personality disorder. Some days I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ... and Mr. Hyde gets a mite bit pissed off when he is relegated to the wee hours, forced to put his pen to paper in the darkness. I am sure my husband, even though he would never admit it, thinks I resemble Mr. Hyde in attitude and appearance when I am in the throes: dishevelled, t-shirt and old boxers, pacing the floor, hair a snarled mess, with a cocktail in one hand and a smoke in the other, stinking to high heaven because I haven’t bathed in two days. When I start talking to myself and acting out scenes, he would probably feel the need to leave the house, if I subjected him to it, that is. It would be just as well, for when I am in serious story mode, I am deaf to the world at large, anyway: The world I live in at that moment is the world I created, and all those voices in my head make for an unpleasant din. I cannot tolerate the real world's intrusion, can't stand anyone in the house even. So, when my imaginary world and the real work collide, it isn’t pretty. Couple that with a few weeks of sleepless nights with post-it notes in the thousands sticking to sweat-soaked bed sheets, and you’ve wandered into straight-jacket territory -- I am the madman drooling in the corner. But don’t worry, I rarely bite. I might flash my bare ass and flip you off, but I mean well. If you humour me, I’ll offer you some bugs to eat.

Now I am not that manic all the time, but when the need to write comes on, it's all-consuming, and I have been fortunate over the years in that I have been able to connect with a few artists who share my dementia. Thanks to technology, the isolation doesn't feel so overwhelming anymore. Not like in the case of my idol de Sade. I think Geoffrey Rush's portrayal of the persecuted writer in the movie Quills was probably not far from the truth, as the letters, penned in his own hand, expose the conflicted artist at his most vulnerable. His need to write, his need to shed light upon the hypocrisy of the world he lived in, was obviously worth his soul. I think that need applies to all serious writers. Our need to express truth as we see it is worth the suffering it takes to get it on the page.

The art this week is the double exposed portrait of Richard Mansfield playing the illustrious dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde circa 1887.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Great post! I feel this way about writing only rarely, when I am writing something personal. It's something that others probably won't see, either.

Jim Murdoch said...

In my third novel I include this line: "Writers don't have lives, they have ongoing research." I think it's one of my better ones. It's certainly how I feel. I have always lived on the edge. Occasionally I have fallen over it. More often that I've liked I have been dragged into the middle of things and that's fine for a bit, a change of perspective, but as soon as I can I scuttle back to my corner where I can see better.

I have mixed feelings about being a writer and I don't think I'm always best equipped to be one which is probably why my output has been so poor because only a part of me is good at being a writer and he has to fight for supremacy. Once he's on top I'm fine and all I want to do is write but so often life gets in the way. Which is why I do far more research than I really need to.

I would say the need to write is permanently with me but the ability to write comes and goes, and by that I mean the ability to write what I want to write. I'm writing now, expressing my thoughts, enjoying the feeling of my fingers flying over the keyboard . . . but I'd rather be working on that half a novel in my office. The thing is I'm writing and I have come to recognise that I'm only partially in control of that process and so I write poems when I can or stories or blogs or reviews - it's all good, even a little comment like this.

Brent Robison said...

You capture very well what goes on for me too: "...when my imaginary world and the real work collide, it isn’t pretty." So I make the unfortunate choice of surrendering to the real world far more than I really want to; I have a highly developed ability to squash my dreams, as if that is what my family needs. But that never pays off because I become "a conflicted person with a serious personality disorder" and my wife lets me know it ain't workin'. Therapy is helping me get closer to knowing my actual needs and expressing them, so I hope that my next book won't take twenty years to wring itself out of me like the last one did.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I like when I don't feel alone, thanks for the support.

Art cannot be rushed. Even Girondo said: A book should be made like a watch and sold like a sausage. Not the other way around. :) I've read enough sausages.

I needed to live twenty years before before I could put one word to the page, so I am well into twenty plus now. I am 5 years into my series of novellas. I learned my lesson about patience early on. Like Jim, my "ability" to write waxes and wanes. If I rush it, I get crap.