I spend a lot of time alone writing. It’s easy to do. I work well by myself. In fact, I’ve grown to really like quiet time as a writer. I can still write in the middle of noise, chaos, and seemingly disruptive activity, as long as I am not interrupted (give me a coffee shop with no one I know around and I can crank out the text). I trained myself years ago to work in the midst of conversation, phones ringing, loud music, and a lot of visual disarray. However, if someone speaks my name or actually makes me stop thinking, I’m often peeved. I want concentration and when I lose it, I can be irritated–it can feel like a burr under my saddle, and I’m as likely to pitch a fit as anything.
And worse yet. My train of thought gets derailed a lot easier these days than it used to. I know that is partly because I’m torn between several obligations that really tug at me which include small humans dependent on me, cherished colleagues, students, writing deadlines that matter to me, and more. I feel a tension in my upper back that rarely abates. It’s the muscles that hold up my arms and connect in complex ways to my hands and make them function as writing tools on a keyboard. I recognize the pain from having to hold my arms in second position FOREVER in ballet classes as a young woman. I certainly don’t have a physical center like I did then, but I can feel the similarity in the action after 10 hours at the computer–I ache.
I’m not complaining–really–this is so much better than dancing with a dicey hamstring and two broken toes. And there’s something incredibly deeply satisfying about dancing around with words on a page, making something of nothing for a reader which doesn’t put my body in harm’s way… much. And there’s no music to stay in time with. That’s a relief, too. Can you imagine if I had to write to the accompaniment of a live band? So much pressure to keep up or slow down. And how would I account to the conductor/musicians for jumping around and changing my mind, backspacing, adding/deleting? What a nightmare.
Writing makes me sore after awhile. Truly, it actually hurts sometimes, but it’s so much less painful than ballet slippers (torture devices), I can’t even explain–no words for that sort of pain. Even writer’s block isn’t so bad. I just walk away and think about something different knowing that the words will come. Sometimes talking is my way out of a rut. Usually a few conversations and a thing I need to write will just come to me. Miracle. And then, tension, pain–all gone.
And while I do most of my writing by myself, the act of thinking which inspires the writing, almost always comes from conversation, collaboration, my interactions with others. I couldn’t be a writer without my friends and colleagues. I need someone to talk to, to listen to, to think with (as much to work as I need it to break me out of a dismal place of non-production). I need collaboration in order to think. I don’t think very well by my lonesome. Sure, I come up with some whopper-cool ideas when I’m alone, but that generation is made possible by others–in books, in passing, in quick emails, glancing at magazine articles, and more. It’s the exchange that makes me what I am, or rather, enables what I can do in text.
It all really comes back to my core belief that education is worthless until it’s shared. The years and years I spent filling my intellectual baskets with knowledge were going to be wasted unless I shared in some way. I might as well just tump over my baskets if I’m not going to share, throw everything out–it’s no good to me unless it’s good to someone else. I chose to be a teacher of writing, and the reading of writing, because I couldn’t stand to be alone with knowledge. Too dull otherwise. I love reading and learning and thinking alone, too, but I also need talking with friends, students, colleagues, too–which means so much to me as a writer. The eighth rule of open source software development is: talk. I’m so hip to that. (Caveat lector: if you talk too much to yourself, though, others will wonder, and eventually, the others might lock you up. Sssssh.)
So. I want to be alone with words, but not all the time, not exclusively. I don’t want to eliminate the human factors that keep me alive and kicking and questing. I want words to enrich me, because they do, but collaboration is the most important element in making me want to write and think and spend time writing. It might could be that my experiences with Writing Spaces (which I’m missing a lot right now–I’ve been on a hiatus of a kind this fall–not intended, but there it is) have changed who I am, or I was changing anyway and that experience only revealed that which was happening or going to happen: me writing a lot and all over the place and finding a way back into writing after years of doing it but finding little joy in the experience.
Or maybe that’s not what I mean. I always found joy in writing, but rarely did I find joy in writing and not sharing with someone. I love having others read my writing in workshops. I felt that I learned so much from having many readers with many ideas inform my text. When I lost that, I really missed it. Editing is a collaboration I missed, too. I love to muck around with the words of others–with them as collaborators–to find solutions to communication. Being with others in the midst of words and ideas is glorious, as a writer or an editor–it’s like a stunning kiss.
Do you remember the last time you were kissed like this? That’s what writing can be like, the fooling around with language, the kiss that embodies so much more than a kiss. Writing can be breathless, unexpected, thrilling–and such work can leave you dazed (in the best possible sense). Writing as a kiss can stand for so much more–the writing kiss is a metaphor for the collision of ideas with words, with images, with oneself and others. Silly romanticization of writing? Oh, so what. SWAK.
If you’ve ever been kissed by words, you know what I mean. You can stand back and gasp at what you’ve written and think: wow, I did that. I wrote that.
You read someone else’s words and are moved to laughter, tears, sadness. Did you ever read anything and whip through pages with your heart racing, in your throat, choking you so you could hardly breathe? If you haven’t, then you really need to step up your reading game. Try LOTR, Harry Potter, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, The Hunger Games, and anything by Robert Ludlum (the early stuff).
As a writer, the wordly kiss is so much better when you can also stand back and say: I wrote those words that thrill me because I talked about this idea, or that idea with my writing group, or ran that phrase by this friend who loved it, or told that friend about what I wanted to consider through writing. I shared and I got feedback that empowered me that made it possible for me to think beyond where I could get alone. That’s how it’s done, baby. SWAK again.
The kiss in the above photo (sometimes referred to as “The Kiss”) was taken in celebration of the end of WWII on 14 August 1945. It appeared in Life Magazine shortly after it was shot. Of all the iconic images of postwar celebration, I like this one the best because it reminds me so much of writing. The kissers are not totally discernible just as the process of writing is sometimes not discernible. But one thing is clear: it’s a grand kiss. And if writing could always be like this, everyone would want to write–shoot, everyone would write all the time. (It’s not always this earth-shaking–I know. Sometimes it’s like a kiss where noses bump and someone goes for the cheek as the other heads for the lips: awkward.)
Perhaps, I protest too much about not being left alone with words in the title of this post. I might be a bit like Br’er Rabbit, a trickster, in this respect. If you threw me in a patch of words, I would be just fine. I might, in fact, find a way to turn it all to my advantage, mine some terrific metaphor from the depths of the word pit, and celebrate with a fabulous kiss in Times Square, or by writing a blog post that links “The Kiss” with collaboration and talking about writing. Or lacking that, I might just be able to hack my way out of a wet paper sack with a sharp pen.
I could totally do that. But I’d rather do the hacking with someone rather than without.