I enjoy my little office. Today it is a therapist’s waiting room. I just had a conversation with some friends about fellowship vs isolation. In 1998 I attended The Writer’s Studio. A small group of aspiring and professional writers met at The Village School in NYC once a week for ten weeks to receive and offer criticism and support for one another’s writing. The Chairman of the workshop would bring a piece in every week. It would usually be a page or two or three from a book. The Chairman felt that it was an exemplary excerpt, one which modeled a certain style or theme. We would sit around the table and dissect the words used, the devices used, and the time taken to create the modeled pages. We would in turn leave to write our own, in that style and theme. The next week we brought our offerings to the altar and subjected them to the pleasure of the temple priests and priestesses- each other.
One week I was applauded for my Memorial Day barbecue essay. Another week I was nearly driven to tears (great song by the Police btw) because I had effectively written around a sensitive topic. I completely alluded the situation to which I was to write. I though I had been clever by so doing. I was called out, pushed around, and completely disrobed. I felt like the Lord Chamberlain, dismantled after losing the Trial by Stone in The Dark Crystal- raw, disfigured and outcast. It was not that harsh, mind you. In retrospect, in fact, it was a constructive and direct offering. In my defense it was also given down the nose of a few NYC elitists. Just saying.
I had failed to emulate two pages from the book Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. It was the scene where Billy Crudup and Jack Black-as overnight hospital orderlies- were stealing pills from the dispensary, and eating them. The major descrition and the bulk of the piece described examining the horrible squeaking sound emanating from a pair of shoes. At least that was the adapted movie version of the book version we studied. I chose to write about sitting in a therapists office, and being nervous and affected. I told of the young man sitting across from the speaker, as a mirror, who still wore a plastic band around his wrist, barely covering the stitches from a failed suicide attempt. I spoke completely around the stillness. I avoided the negative space and the tension. I spoke in codes and used highly descriptive words like, “it” and “something.” I did not want to accidentally identify with the speaker and the other boy, as they had each been a representation of me from one extreme to another. I felt I was being brave enough to mention therapy and mental illness, but evasive enough to protect myself, and isolate in a room full of people. I got got. It was evident to other writers. How dare I? I read the piece out loud. Then the Chairman asked that someone else read it out loud. It sounded clever and cunning and perfectly strange in my voice. It was inadequate and piecemeal and half-truth in the voice of another.
Worse than trying to fool everyone else, worse than wasting class time, I had neglected myself and a chance to really b e known as a writer who tackles his own issues and speaks to them. I allowed fear to speak instead of courage. I used isolation instead of vulnerability in the face of emotion. I didn’t trust the process of creation, the workshop, or myself enough to describe in detail the two sides of the man sitting in a therapists waiting room, being called in separately, so he can begin discussing a shameful addiction. I avoided the topic and thought no one else would notice.
I trust in the fellowship of other writers. Personal criticism for my politics I expect. When there is no ideological argumentation, personal smudgery is the only option. Literary and creative criticism can be taken as personally- it oughtn’t. I need to be sure that as a writer I am never practicing evasion while preaching prudence. The fellowship of writers, keeps me from being too guarded. I had isolated in a room full of writer’s in the past. I can feel surrounded in my office by myself. It is important that I use that fellowship for enrichment. Hey, once in a while I actually step outside and interact in person too.