A Writer’s Life and Wife

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.

 

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  • Lars Walker

    Consider the plight of the unmarried writer. Why I’m not living in a cardboard box, I have no idea.

  • ETK

    She doesn’t.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a writer (many theatrical scripts, 5 books… so far!) and my wife is the absolute patron saint of patience!  She lets me vanish into my office for hours on end, scribble outlines while on vacation, etc.  But it wasn’t always this way!  It took her several years to learn the meaning of “a stopping point.”  No, you may not call me out of my room to kill a spider, talk to so-and-so on the phone, or eat dinner until I am at a stopping point!

    All is grand now.  She gets it.

  • http://sarahahoyt.com Sarah

    My husband is my connection to reality as well as my mobile exo-body self-confidence unit.  Without him, I’d never have been a real writer — casual comment six months after marriage — “Real writers write every day”.  And without him, I’d never have been published, as I prefer to hide under the bed gibbering in fear people would laugh at my stuff.  Without him, like you, I’d have lost myself so many times I probably WOULD be living out of a dumpster.  He’s very patient when I call from somewhere trying to figure out where I should be because my mind decided a long drive was a GREAT time to space out and plot.  Also, at conferences, he’s the one talking up my books, due to my tendency to hide under tables or hug the walls and mumble in response to “so what do you write?” “Books.”  Sometimes, reluctantly adding “With words.”  Hopefully he never decides I’m too much work and gives me up for a bad investment. 

  • http://sarahahoyt.com Sarah

    Lars!  I know you.  It’s a NICE cardboard box :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/diana.harkness Diana Harkness

    As I try to juggle writing and my “real job”, my husband views my need for solitude as a way to escape him.   Life is a series of compromises.  So what if my novel takes three years to finish instead of one?  So what if most days I only have enough energy to work on a short story or essay?   He’s the one who keeps me in the real world.  He’s the one who leaves for work every morning, just so we can live.  He’s the one who reminds me to see my doctor.  He’s the one who takes care of my car and the house and the lawn and the trash and the cat litter and the dog and the fish and who prepares his own dinner.  All of this while I write. . . or read or research or do something else he considers equally useless.   Less solitude is a worthwhile trade.