I took the weekend off from writing. I needed a break and was not feeling inspired or driven at all. It felt as though ambivalence was setting in or perhaps this new routine has simply become that: routine. I’m not crazy about that, so a break from analyzing myself and my little world seemed like a good idea.
I know I’m not the only one experiencing this. Some friends have said they can’t sit down and read. We seem to be living on an information diet that is almost exclusively coronavirus news and politics. I’ve been trying to cut back to capturing the minimum information about the curve and the attempts to rein in these nuts who think opening the economy is a good idea.
In November, when I took my long train trip, I assumed I’d be on another one this spring, in better weather with longer days and more experience in managing schedules and expectations. I did find that I enjoyed being on the train at least as much as any destination and in some ways more. That sense of moving through the world with no single person or thing tracking your whereabouts or activities. These days everyone knows where I am, though I doubt many think about it much.
When I think about it, our ability to work remote in our homes and even live without contact with others makes this distancing bearable. On the train you are not distant, you are surrounded by others in exactly the same state of mind. It’s a weird combination of sharing and not sharing experience. Now everyone is on the train and we are making our way through a long journey with no distinguishable end.
For those with ambitions, this is obviously very uncomfortable. Ambition is built on predictable paths that others have blazed. Political and power ambitions have been wildly upset and dreams of entrepreneurship put aside as the world no longer follows the age-old rules we have assumed were ‘normal’. We can see the underlying panic this causes in those with little imagination (guess who?). It’s on the TV somewhere every afternoon. Pure panic and anger at being helpless. It’s a scary combination when it has power behind it. A child running rampant with a deadly weapon it doesn’t understand.
Meanwhile, we bake bread, cook, do whatever work we have and communicate in novel ways. Perhaps the most novel is the long phone call, a habit I think most of us fell out of. But texting doesn’t cut it when we are checking on each other’s mental and physical well-being.
I have sought inspiration in this changed world but lately it eludes me. Insights seem to take a backseat to simply marking the passage of time. It is remarkably easy to simply surrender to making a drink before dinner and sitting on the couch having small talk while staring at devices. A pretty muted life. I have tried to unmute it with meditation and writing, and both help, but life is based on experience and experience is understandably limited these days.
My third novel is lurking under the surface right now. The second one is still a thing I struggle with even as I decide it is complete and then change my mind. It needs to go into other hands and they can decide if it’s a hot mess. But the new one is lacking an essential element.
Reading about Somerset Maugham, a writer I enjoy, though I don’t always admire him, I was struck by his need to directly experience the places and things he wrote about. If he was writing about the South Pacific he went and hung out in very remote and primitive places. He roughed it and relished the role of uninvolved observer, the narrator who is outside the action and non judgemental.
I know this is what is keeping me from starting a new book. I need to get out there and fill myself up with some new things, and this is not an option. I could write about this massive experience we are all sharing right now but we are too close to it to know anything about the stories. They have no endings or epiphanies just yet. So I write these journal entries, a form of writing I have always avoided as self-indulgent, not ‘real’ writing.
It is self-indulgent! That’s the point. What else can I indulge in? I prefer to not write another introspective novel right now.