Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hours and Hours

When I was young I used to read all day. The habit began because of a fear. In the summer of age eight I refused to go to the beach because of a man who terrified me. When I saw him I lost all sense of breath and safety and sometimes fainted. Soon enough it was decided I could stay back at the house--even if the adults thought it a waste of beautiful beach days. Having a near death experience on a daily basis rendered me oblivious to anything beautiful about the beach. So while everyone else went off I stayed home and read.

I lay on an old horsehair sofa on the upstairs porch and raced through book after book--sometimes three in a day. I kept a list of all the books and handed it to my teacher on the first day of school. I was proud of the numbers but more than that I'd created a waking dream space inside myself where hours could pass without my noting time. Look down at the book at 9 a.m.; look up and it is lunchtime. Same for the afternoon. I could spend hours doing other things with equal engagement but I never lost sense of time in the same way. In my reading I traveled to the world of the characters who did not live in time. A scene could take me a minute to read but I'd know it took an hour to live. Weeks might pass in a nanosecond. Nothing was the same as in my world. This going back and forth between temporal realities offered a pleasure and a release from the boredom of child time--waiting and waiting. I could go into books and get away from that oppressive constraint. Not to mention being entertained and surprised. Books didn't hurt me or cause me turmoil or sorrow. I didn't cry unless I wanted to. I could choose to participate in the author's prompt for tears--or I could skip the pages if I didn't want to feel that way in a particular moment. I had I had a sense of my own agency when I read in a way I had nowhere else.

Now over to writing. How much time? How lost must one be in time and to time? Every writer has to figure this out for herself but from anecdotal evidence it seems that the more time is set as aside and given over the deeper and one is able to go. What's down deep? The symbols; the metaphors; the intuitive connections drawn between words and therefore characters. The skips in time. What is necessary. At some point during the creation of a work the writer must enter timelessness in the same sense as the reader.  Most writers have an inkling that this must be true: therefore all the questions at readings about how many hours a day a writer works. This is not a dumb or pedestrian question. It's trying to get at how the magic happens. Though the answer is individual it is useful to hear the experience of others. When do you begin to lose sense of yourself in the world and give yourself over to the work? That's interesting isn't it?

Every writer I know is frustrated when he doesn't have the necessary time. Many wait until they do because grabbing time in between more pressing daily matters ends up being unproductive and can convince you that you cannot write. It can offer the physical release that writers need--the hand gets very dependent on daily exercise--but it's not going to get where the work wants to really happen.

That sensation of timelessness on the part of the artist occurs at some point in the process of creation of all good art.

I used to teach dailiness and habit but now I encourage time. Take a day. Take a weekend. Stay up all night. You remember what that was like. Light the candles. Close the door. Lose track.

That was my plan for today. Unfortunately ...