If I were a man, if this were the nineteenth century, I would have a study, and not only would everybody stay away from my study like it was the cave of a mythic, terrifying creature, somebody (probably my wife) would be making me breakfast, putting it outside my door, making my bed, feeding the kids, making sure the house was tidy, so that when I came out I didn’t get ruffled.
Do I want that, that tyranny of rule, the biggest room in a small house, bigger than the living room, or the kitchen, forcing all the kids together in one small room at the back, so that I can Write? No. Nope, don’t want that. So this is the struggle of finding the time to write, in a house where labors are shared, in a person (me) who has trouble finding and holding attention. This time really matters to me, this time is brittle. Attention broken, attention splintered, attention lost. “I know you’re writing but can you just answer this question tie this shoe find my glasses call school and see if they’re open today remind Siri that Jesse is coming for a play date?” And then you come back to the table and start again.
I read about Flannery O’Conner, who, I didn’t realize, died of Lupus when she was only 39. And in that fleeting time made herself famous, that’s how hard working and talented she was. Speaking of confidence, when asked what motivated her writing, she said, “I’m good at it.” The person who asked the question was so baffled by her confidence that he thought at first she had misunderstood him.
I recall, as I have before, the boy in my playwriting class, who read his play out loud and had to stop because he was laughing so hard, overcome with delight at his own romping imagination. I sat there in my dry, tortured silence, wondering what it would be like to be so pleased by your own words, so taken with your own stories. I asked my teacher, way back then, “how do you get the words to flow like that,” and he said, basically, “I have no idea. If I could tell you, I would be a rich man travelling the world instead of a poor teacher sitting here talking to you.”
What I would say to myself now, sitting here, after all these years, is that it’s much harder if you’re not burbling over with delight at yourself, but you can still sit down every day, for some hours, and find your way to something. That would be Melville, probably, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. Artists who kept after it, doggedly, not always joyfully, finding their skill with bullheadedness.