Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The biggest feeling I get from not working on my novel is dread; ironically, this is almost exactly the same feeling I get from working on my novel. Still, this non-work dread seems slightly more dreadful than the working kind. It's like having a staff or seal of office taken away from me, so that suddenly there's no difference between me and the next guy. How strange! How deeply terrifying, to go overnight from an aspiring member of the elect to someone whose life is not in any way connected to a deeper narrative of work and progress! And is there a writing beyond this kind of narrative? Or am I "giving up", and betraying a dream I've had since I was a kid (though now that I think of it, my dream was initially to make video games, then role playing games, then poems, and finally, novels)...?

The question seems to turn around the word "patience", which Kafka called, not just a virtue, but the virtue. I agree with him; but I think that the real problem for the patient man comes a few steps earlier, when he has to decide whether or not a particular trial is worth being patient about. Let's take a hypothetical: a man is told that he'll inherit a million dollars if he can refrain from drinking alcohol for ten years. In this case, to me, "patience" seems like it would be one of the easiest things in the world to display. The reward is there, the time is definite. Beset though it may be by difficulties and hardships, success becomes essentially a matter of muscle. Will prevails over circumstance or doesn't.

But can we really call this patience? I don't think so - and I don't think Kafka would either. In Kafka's (deeply patient) universe the hypothetical runs more like this: a man is told that he must refrain from drinking alcohol. He is not told why, or for how long, or what the reward for his abstinence will be. Nevertheless, the messenger who tells him this assures him that his task is a matter of the greatest importance - that it is, in fact, the single event that his life has been building up to. He departs in a flurry of what could be wings, or a duck that he's hidden under his trench-coat. He does not pay for his beer.

Putting these two scenarios together, we get a sense of how difficult real patience is. It has nothing to do with willpower; if anything, it insists on the kind of anti-willpower displayed by stones and peasants in Italian movies. To talk about it "requiring" faith sounds wrong: it imposes faith, demands it, in many ways creates it, in reaction to the overwhelming miasma of doubt that it dumps over the patient man's head. In order to counter it, people evolve systems and stories; but this is a last-ditch and somewhat pathetic - if ubiquitous - response. For the world of patience, unlike Harry Potter, will always be there.

I think - and it's true, I could just be blowing smoke up my own ass here - that by putting the novel away after a solid year of hacking at it, I'm trying to exchange my will for a little patience. Does that make sense? I don't want to make it sound neat: it's not neat, or at least I don't think it is. I'm trying to burn my house down so that I can take it with me. My intuition/guess/wager is that the story I've been telling myself about what writing is has become so huge that I can't see whatever is, or isn't, behind it. And I don't think I can write if I can't see.

The next question is, who cares if I write or not? Do I? Or do I just want to be different from everybody else, in a way that my mind knows I've never been and never will be, but my stubborn and human and deeply juvenile heart insists is still possible? To be absolved, and the world alibi no matter where you look...

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