You know that part of the morning before you leave the house, when you’re standing more or less dressed, technically awake, hurrying through the last few tedious, pointless activities (brushing your hair, tying your shoes), before rushing out the door to work?
You’ve been there, right? So often it feels like every fucking day for the last thousand years? I was standing at the bathroom mirror this week, flossing my teeth because after decades of noble resistance, I finally accepted the utility of flossing. Speaking of which, and I am NOT making this up, I was driving this week when I looked in my rearview mirror and I swear I saw a man who appeared to have only two teeth, one on the far left, one on the far right, kind of like Dracula. I couldn’t believe it. I thought that’s a stereotype of people down south and here I am in Georgia and there’s a man with only two teeth? I wondered if it could be some kind of costume, but the goober in that pickup truck was not wearing a costume.
So floss your teeth unless you’re planning to move to Georgia. What I started to mention, however, before I took off like a puppy after that diversion, was what I was thinking about while standing at the mirror. As I was flossing and going through various semiconscious motions, my mind was in the world of the book I’m writing, thinking about Leola Summer Daye, one of my protagonists. I watched her going to the Food Bank to volunteer, saw the building and the people she was meeting. I was not standing in my chilly apartment, not in Atlanta, not even in my own body. Instead, I was in Leola’s world.
What I’m trying to illustrate is something I’ve alluded to before, the vast chasm between the life my body inhabits and the life my mind is trying to live. On some level, isn’t this true of most people? I’ve seen bumper stickers that say “I’d rather be fishing”, and while I’d much rather be drowned than go fishing, I understand the impulse.
Nevertheless, fishing—so I’m told—is for pleasure, and I’m not necessarily talking about pleasure. Instead I’m thinking of the dilemma for people who want to be engaged in a creative activity, but who can only grab at it in bits and pieces, when time and conditions allow. In my own case, I certainly don’t write for pleasure. I’m usually lonely when I write, at times I grow bored sitting at this damned desk, and writing is difficult. I’m truly working when I do it. And yet paradoxically, when I’m out doing other things, I think about being here and wish I were sitting writing.
I have two friends who are very serious painters, and I’ve heard each of them on multiple occasions complain, sometimes rather bitterly, about the necessity of going to work when they should be painting. How many actors are there who yearn toward Shakespeare or the Coen Brothers, but who are instead doing data entry for a law firm or restocking shelves at Home Depot? How often do they question the badly misconstrued universe?
There are times when I’m sitting and reading that I’ll get a weird feeling I ought to be doing something else. It’s as if I feel I should be doing something useful or productive, but then I tell myself that reading a novel is my job. Writers have to read, in the same way that musicians have to practice music. I’m engaging with words, with expressions of ideas, with literary creations that are trying to touch truths that can’t ever be completely grasped.
As I go through a day I might think about Leola or other characters. Sometimes I’ll walk around in the story I’m trying to bring to life, and I’ll walk out to the edges of the story where it ends and everything turns white. Maybe once in a while I’ll be able to reach my hands out and push, so that colors appear and the story extends. In the evening perhaps I’ll have two or three hours when I can return briefly to my real life of words and ideas and making new things appear. It’s why I’m here.