This morning, I opened my email to find a note from a long-time friend. It said she and her husband of 50 years, both vaccinated against Covid-19, were headed for a weekend resort to join former college chums. Her words seemed to leap from the page as she expressed her anticipation.
Naturally, I was happy for the pair, but even so, I sat a moment feeling sorry for myself. Where are my college chums? Where is my escape to the beach?
Realizing I’d chosen the path of a scribbler, my self-pity soon evaporated. To quote a fellow author, Daniel Mendelsohn, “When you’re a writer you need to be isolated during much of your working life” (“How to Check Twitter,” Town and Country, May 2021, pg. 92.) For him and me, the pandemic has done little to change the routine of our days. If I am honest, the lockdown has given me greater focus. Interruptions are few and the increased solitude enhances my connection to my inner world.
Of course, a danger exists in this mode of existence, as Mendelsohn warns. Without structure, solitude invites profligacy. Time and opportunity slip away. When no obligation exists outside oneself, an author can behave like a child who, hating peas, shoves them around the plate rather than confront the task at hand.
Procrastination has its reasons. In my mind, I am a genius. Yet on the printed page, my skill compares to that of a blind carpenter. When I read the poetry of Arundhati Roy or a novel like Susanna Clarke’s, Piranesi, I wonder at my audacity to set words to type at all.
Like these great writers, I, too, want divine grace–sufficient skill to squeeze the universe into a ball and recreate its substance in my thoughts. Once captured, I seek the power to mold its shape into an idea that’s fresh yet recognizable to others. The work is arduous and must be taken seriously, as Mendelsohn observes. (Ibid, pg. 93.)
On the surface, the pandemic has given me as much solitude as I desire. The curse is time. Seldom can I look at a page I have written and say with certainty the work is finished. Just as cells continually grow then die in my body, so, too, my thoughts rise and fall. In the morning, I’m apt to frown at my previous efforts and discard them.
Each day, I am a new person governed by new cadences that clang in my brain. How, then, can my words ever be finished? If life is change, I’m bound to ask, “Is there ever a moment when I’m allowed to catch up with myself?”
My example is about writing, but everyone knows my complaint. What else do we mean by, “Time is fleeting?” An internal clock exists inside us insisting that we make haste. And yet, the mission seems to morph with each swing of the pendulum. A beach trip is canceled because someone has a cold. A Covid-19 shot gets delayed because the vaccine supply is exhausted.
Confronted by time’s avalanche, we are never in command. So how, as a writer, have I the audacity to memorialize one moment above another and insist it is true? Time will expose my lie, and only the grave will spare me from prolonged embarrassment.
Forget truth, I’m forced to say, and settle on the quest. That is true enough.
Given my latest turn of mind, I rely upon the patience of friends and readers of this blog when I announce I have reviewed my memoir and found it wanting. Today, I begin anew.
*Special note: May 20, 2021, this WriteAway blog turned 11.