categories: Cocktail Hour
If you are like me (god I hope not) then you sometimes think everyone is conspiring to get in the way of your writing (because they are, Precious, they are.) You want one thing: to write your great book! But a thousand things–normal life!—intrude. You rage, you shake your fist, you eventually give in.
I call it my Gulliver Complex, an appropriately megalomaniacal phrase, imagining myself a giant tied down and spear-poked by a hundred tiny people. These people want me to fill in forms, go to meetings, prepare classes for god’s sake. And what do I want? Well, I said it already: that one thing.
I had a cartoon to go with this piece, a really funny one I think, but I’ll never publish it. Why? Because on the way to the scanner at school I ran into one of my favorite students. I showed the cartoon to her, thinking she would laugh, but she didn’t. I asked her if I should publish it and she said I shouldn’t.
There was a moment of clarity for me. One of the little tiny spear-holding people in the cartoon was asking for a recommendation. Another was asking me to read his trilogy. To me, in my brain, I am still about my student’s age—early-mid twenties—a young excited writer who has somehow found himself disguised as a staid teacher and living inside a relatively normal adult life. But to her I was a fifty year old professor who had written a lot of books and who she might need to ask for a recommendation and who was now showing her a crazy drawing that said, in no uncertain terms, that he just wanted to be left alone. If I was her, I wouldn’t have been too happy with me.
Which brings me to this: the truth is I don’t really just want to write. I want to be a halfway decent person, too, or, at the very least, not a complete dick. No, more than that. I want to be good and generous to my family, my friends, even my students. And I refuse to believe that you can’t be both a great writer and a good person. But, that said, it’s tricky. This Gulliver guy is not all bad. By being driven—you could call it selfish, and maybe it is, but I think that’s too simple—he makes the space necessary to make the books. He tells people to stay back, give me room, let me make things. The trick is to let him do his necessary work without having him lording over the rest of your life in his pushy, giant way. (As it happens, this time of year, for a lot of teacher-writers, is the toughest. The holiday break gives one a little window into the full-force writing, Gulliver-protected way of life. The new term however insists that you be a different kind of Gulliver, where you are really small with giants putting you in a dollhouse.)
Sanity helps, of course, though too much sanity gets in the way. For instance: Look how logical and neat it is to put WRITING over here, in this box, and get back to it in summer. Sure, but what if your best ideas come on the same morning of the six hour required training course in syllabus-writing and faculty safety? That’s when you bring in the heavy. That’s when Gulliver comes to your rescue and crushes all your tiny people. And that’s when you thank him, crazy fucker that he is.