I’m reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy at the moment (City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room), and there’s nothing like the evocation of the peculiar, isolated life of the writer to give me a good, hard slap across the face, because it’s clearly a shortcut to madness. There’s the savant-like repetition of the primary task, there’s the time spent cultivating an inner rather than an outer life, and there’s something, at least in Auster’s trilogy, that reeks of… I don’t know… it’s something other than loneliness…maybe it’s… maybe it’s an indulged desperation.
There is something horribly needy about writers, and I at least have learned several cunning ways to exacerbate my own clingy insecurity. For example, I’ve developed a habit of refraining from talking about the manuscript when I’m with non-writing friends unless I’m asked directly about it. On the surface, this could look like something I’m doing for them, but really, deep down I suspect it’s just another weapon in my insecurity arsenal (which I furnish lovingly with all manner of grenade), and that therefore is really all about me. It started because I figured that they’ll ask if they’re interested, and I don’t want to bore them with it if they’re not. It was innocent enough in the beginning, motivated by a genuine desire not to hog the conversation. After a week on my own, come Saturday night I have a tendency toward unchecked ranting, so I have worked hard over time to reign in my blabber mouth by whatever means necessary. I also reasoned that some of them might keep up to date with the trials and tribulations of my writing via this blog. Although I have no way of knowing this if they never mention it, perhaps they then feel there’s no need to discuss it in person. Doubtless others simply don’t give a shit, and still more secretly think I haven’t a hope in hell and would rather talk about belly button lint than look me in the eye and tell me so (on being told by another friend that I’d made the short list of the Varuna HarperCollins thing, one friend turned to me and said “That must be a relief – that means it’s not completely shit!” – yeah, I guess it does, but interesting that ‘completely shit’ was such a distinct possibility!).
So you see where I’m going with this. The real fruits of my indulged desperation start to flourish when I spend a whole evening with a group of people and not one of them asks me what’s happening with the writing. I don’t offer anything unless I’m asked, remember, so it’s fascinating to me in a sick, sick sort of way waiting to see if anyone asks me a single thing about the manuscript or, in some cases, anything at all. You should try this one at home or next time you’re out with friends – it’s addictive in that shameful, revolting way that picking at and squeezing the human body is addictive. It’s like I’m trying to catch them out. “Aha!” I think to myself. “There it is again! Nobody cares! I knew it!” A weird thing to feel jubilant about, I grant you, but there’s undeniably an element of glee in my misery on the way home from these nights. I feel like my desperate insecurity is well-founded – proven, even – and is therefore a worthy investment of my time and energy. I swaddle myself in hurt like it’s bunting.
Maybe no one asked because they know I didn’t win. Maybe they thought it would make me uncomfortable talking about it, and having to admit failure. Failure makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Maybe they decided I’d talk about it if I wanted to (ah, glorious impasse of the great unsaid!). Maybe. Who knows? And why would I care when I can harness all these unknowns and turn them into a searing song of self-pity? Why wish my friends showed more interest when I can assume on their behalf that they have absolutely none at all?
It’s all pretty self-obsessed, if you want to get right down to it. It turns out that the mean guy who said the shitty thing on the blog a few weeks back wasn’t so far from the mark. I really am “self-obsessed and actually think people are interested in the mundane arrogance of my life.” In my defence, though, aren’t we all guilty of this? As Stephen King says in On Writing, we’re all the star of our own show (or something to that effect). I can’t help but be caught up in my own dramas. But one thing I’m not enjoying about my writing life is this uncomfortable but pressing sense that it’s cultivating a kind of block between myself and the rest of the world. I seem to be filtering things differently, and relating them much more to how they affect me. I don’t think this is a good thing. Even celebrating my darling Darkling’s win yesterday (she had a call back from Australia’s biggest literary agency about representation – MASSIVE!!), which I did with all my heart, I could still hear that whining little voice inside that was bemoaning the fact that nothing of the sort had happened or ever seems likely to happen to me. What’s with that? It wasn’t about me, it had nothing whatsoever to do with me, and that whining little voice had no right to hijack the celebration of my friend’s fantastic success. It was good catching the whining little voice right in the act – mid moan, as it were – because, like Auster’s mirror-on-the-wall trilogy, it allowed me to give myself a much needed reminder that it’s not – and never was – all about me. So… enough! I promise to reacquaint myself with the outside world and stop this forever looking in.