Today, I spent about five hours going through the second chapter of my dissertation. This is what that looks like (spectacles, hair everywhere, surrounded by papers):
After a break for dinner (organic hot dog and steamed broccoli, while writing this blog post), I’m planning to work on a column that is due in early January.
This is the glamorous life of a writer. I wonder if Margaret Atwood’s or Joyce Carol Oates’ looks any different. I rather suspect they don’t. We are the story tellers, and we are the dreamers of dreams, but our own lives tend to be rather pedestrian.
Of course, I could tell you the story of my life in a way that doesn’t sound pedestrian at all. The flight from a communist country. The moving around Europe, catching frogs in Italian marshes, seeing parrots and parrot tulips in the marketplace in Belgium. Memories of taking trains through tunnels under the Alps. Coming to America, seeing the lights of New York through the airplane window. Growing up near Washington, going every weekend to the café in the National Gallery. First loves: the guy from reform school, the guy who thought he was Jim Morrison. Going to the University of Virginia, wearing pearls (even to the gym). The Washington Literary Society and Debating Union (being president, and I still remember the motto: quam fluctus diversi, quam mare conjuncti). Where preppy was not a fashion trend but simply what one wore. Riding through the streets of Charlottesville on a motorcyle behind a guy in a leather jacket (wearing an evening dress and, of course, pearls). Harvard Law School, cutting classes to read in Schlesinger Library. Working as a corporate lawyer on the 42nd floor of the MetLife building, wearing a suit and heels. Cocktail party with Katie Couric, and the strange day when a billionaire threw a pen at me. Leaving it all to go back to graduate school, the graduate student life (second hand bookshops and azuki creams at the Café Japonaise). Free tickets to the Museum of Fine Arts, where I spent afternoons writing beneath the John Singer Sargents. And then becoming a writer, the workshops, the conventions, the readings and signings, the dancing boys.
All right, I made up the dancing boys.
There are no dancing boys. Unless you hire your own. (Which may not be such a bad idea.)
The glamorous life of a writer consists of sitting in front of a computer and writing. Unless it consists of sitting in front of a notebook and writing. My life consists of both. There has been a great deal of that in my life. And I have to admit, many of my happiest moments have tended to be just that: sitting and writing. When the writing is going well, when I’m completely engaged in the story I’m telling, there’s nothing better.
It’s as though I have a life inside me that is so rich and strange, it makes what is on the outside seem pedestrian. I bring all sorts of things from the outside world into it: the streets of Charlottesville, the halls of Harvard, girls riding motorcycles behind guys in leather jackets. And then I mix them all up, so those girls marry bears and the guys on the motorcycles are aliens although they don’t know it. (I haven’t written that story yet.)
When I started this post, I was going to write about the supposedly glamorous life of a writer, how it is always a life of work, often a life of solitude. And it involves a lot of sitting. But now that I’ve gotten to this point, I realize that I do, after all, live a glamorous life. It just happens to be the one inside my head.
Think about it. Miss Emily Gray, the sorrow that blankets Budapest like snowfall, the rediscovery of Cimmeria in modern Ukraine (I haven’t written that one yet either), all have to exist inside my head before they can exist outside it, on a computer screen or sheet of paper. I get to live in the stories I create, as they are being created. I get to meet all my characters before I send them into the world. I get to walk down the streets of Cimmeria, hearing the calls of the pecan roasters, the sellers of candied dates and carpets woven by hill tribes. I get to see the red valleys of Mars, hear the poems of Elah Gal, make my curtsy to the Child-Empress. I get to hear what Mrs. Moth and Hyacinth are saying to one another, quietly over the files spread on a mahogany desk, determining fates. I get to answer directly to Mother Night.
That is, if you think about it, a glamorous life indeed. A lot more glamorous that Katie Couric’s.