Margaret Forster, an English novelist, died on February the 8th. Never heard of her? Neither had I--although in her obituary I read that she published 25 novels and 14 biographies, including Georgy Girl, which inspired a movie and a song by The Seekers .
Why am I telling you about Margaret Forster? Well, her obituary noted that she refused to do book signings and gadding about the place, because writers are "solitary creatures and not performing monkeys."
Writers may indeed be solitary creatures, but nowadays there is a way to be very social: social media. From the comfort of our garretts, we can engage with the whole wide world on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and blogs like this. If we want to, we can fill our days with noise and chatter.
Noise and chatter are everywhere. Let me tell you a story: I'm a great fan of acupuncture. Here, in Portland, Oregon, I've found a low-cost clinic called Working Class Acupuncture, which practices group treatments. About a dozen recliners fill a long room. Soft music hums, and the acupuncturist goes from patient to patient, talking quietly about the needed treatment. Once needled, people often doze off--as I did yesterday, when I was woken by the noise a smart phone makes when a text message arrives.
Yes, the woman next to me, needles all over her head, hands, and feet, was carrying on a text message conversation "Yikes!" I thought, "can some people never relax?"
I don't think you can disagree with the fact that writers need solitude and quiet (as do acupunture patients.) To burrow deeply into our creative minds, we need to shut that figurative--and possibly literal--door, and have the time and leisure to think.
In August 2012, Junot Diaz, who wrote the stunning The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was interviewed by The Guardian. Here is part of what he said:
|Author Junot Diaz|
"Books are surviving in this intense, fragmented, hyper-accelerated present, and my sense and hope is that things will slow down again and people will want more time for a contemplative life. There is no way people can keep up this pace. No one is happy. Two or three hours to read should not be an unattainable thing, although I hope we get to that stage without needing a corporate sponsored app to hold our hand. The utopian in me has my fingers crossed that we haven't quite figured out the digital future just yet. After all, the one thing we know about people: they always surprise."
(Junot, I'm trying to prise out my eye-teeth for those two to three reading hours you mention. I'm lucky to get thirty minutes before nodding off to sleep at night. Still need to work on that!)
Then, from a longer piece from an Oregon writer, Matt Love, who's a great essayist:
Commentators frequently place the primary blame on cellphones, but really, fault lies with the addicts who habitually wield them. I say all this with a unique perspective because I live near the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state -- the Oregon Coast -- and routinely see tourists on the beach allowing cellphones to conquer their solitude. And I'm not talking about using them to take photographs or write poetry. I'm talking about willfully abandoning a temporary isolation to engage in what the Sex Pistols called "blah, blah, blah."
(I tell you, the "Smart Phone" has taken over the known universe. I may be an alien life form: I don't have one. But I've certainly watched enough parents ignoring their children at playgrounds and swimming pools in favor of staring at mini-screens.)
It's easy to sound holier than thou, but I really think a writer can benefit from taking a detour off the information super highway--even for just a couple of hours a day. Do you agree? What steps do you take to usher in the sounds of silence?