I have a review of David Mamet’s new book on politics – The Secret Knowledge – coming out (this week, I believe) in the Wall Street Journal. But because the book deals mostly with politics and reviews are short, I didn’t have time to make reference to what I thought was the book’s best paragraph by far – which is not about politics at all but about the life of a writer:
“A writer’s life is lived, and, I think, must be lived, in solitude. For it is a dialogue with one’s own thoughts and, often, a dialogue about one’s own thoughts; and the corrosive nature of this struggle is often unpleasant, devouring one’s time and weakening one’s capacity for simple human interaction. This is a minuscule price to pay for the privilege of earning one’s living as an artist; but the price, though small (if it is a price, and not, rather, an attribute), unfits the writer, or, at least, unfitted me, for participation in a wider society. I need to be alone.”
What I love about this is not just its concision and accuracy but also its lack of complaint or self-pity. I have been painfully shy and ridiculously absent-minded my whole life and while this is occasionally embarrassing and sometimes even frightening, I have never minded overall. It seems to me part and parcel of the work I love.
Mamet’s paragraph came to mind one day last week when I used my lunchtime to take a hike for exercise. I drove up into the hills, where my dog and I found a trailhead and tromped up to the top of a mountain. When I returned, I realized I had somehow managed to lose my car key – the last key to the car I had, the others having been lost already. Unable to reach my wife, I – and my weary dog – had to hike down several miles to something like civilization. There, I managed to get in touch with a good-hearted neighbor lady, who fetched me and drove me home. When my wife finally did show up, she took charge of recovering the car and getting new keys made.
This is pretty much par for my life’s course and always has been. I forget things, lose things, get lost myself. Details overwhelm me. I frequently say that, if it weren’t for the care of my incredibly patient and good-humored wife, I would be living in a dumpster. This is one of those truths that can be safely told because no one believes it, everyone laughs and assumes it is either a pose or an exaggeration. It is impossible to describe the bubble of solitude and disconnection a writer’s life creates around you.
As Mamet says: a small price to pay. Although perhaps my wife feels differently.