Friday, May 7, 2010

Breathing Room

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwi...

"What are you doing, Beggar?" asked my mother .

"Nothing," I replied.

"What's 'nothing?'"

"Nothing special."

"Well, if it's not special, why are you doing it?"

"Because there's nothing else to do."

Samuel Becket, the playwright, must have been a fly on the wall during that conversation, because he wrote, "nothing is more real than nothing." A. A. Milne, too -- it sounds like something Christopher Robin would say. To me, it meant simply, "I'm playing by myself, I'm happy; please, don't insist we stop and analyze it." How a kid like that turned out to be an extrovert, beats me, but he did.

At some point, even the most lively writing collaborations turn into late nights at the computer, all alone. At least they do for me. I've mentioned before how Lynn Smith and I burnt up the phone lines and closed down the restaurants putting our book together. But when it came to unscrambling the notes and wedding words with ideas, it was solitary work.

Interestingly, I don't think writing is necessarily introverted. I "hear" these words as they appear on the screen. In courses on rapid reading, one of the skills a person learns is how to see the lines without hearing them at the same time. Reading a novel, you naturally want to become part of the story, but plowing through a tome like Kaplan and Kaplan's two volume Textbook of Psychiatry, you want to get to the point.

I suppose it's like the difference between singers and entertainers. A singer focuses on interpreting the song; an entertainer is trying to capture an audience and bring them into the experience as participants. I can't write without conceiving of someone reading and listening to these words, spoken their own voice, just as I hear them in mine. This not imagination; I don't daydream you into flesh and blood. More akin to conversation than a letter, writing is delayed dialogue and the space between what I'm doing at this very moment and you're doing when you read this, is called breathing room.

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