In our Finishing School book we talk about how to structure time, and we talk about the distorted relationships some of us have with time–believing there’s none of it, believing it’s infinite, fighting with it as if it were our enemy, but we don’t really talk about exhaustion. In the Finishing School workshops, though, it crops up all the time, and I must say, I miss the workshops right now. I miss having the opportunity to sit in a circle with other people and say, Yeah, I hit the wall. So:
Last night about 8:30 p.m. here in Italy I hit the wall. I’m doing a lot of things besides finishing the novel. There are things related to the upcoming publication of the Finishing School book, and there are things related to just living in Italy. Living in Italy is complicated! And I definitely tend to push myself.
So I thought I’d talk a little this morning, in this ongoing blog about finishing my novel by January 10, 2017, about the need for rest and solitude. My friend Pat Schneider, who wrote the book Writing Alone and With Others, says that when she goes on a retreat to write, which she has done often in her life, the first 24 hours she sleeps. That sounds pretty good to me right now. I slept late today. I didn’t get up and go swimming in Cortona. I didn’t get up before the sun and meditate and turn to my manuscript. I slept. I dreamed I was still in the band, the Repeat Offenders, in the early 1980s, rehearsing in that ratty Tenderloin basement on Turk Street across from the Sound of Music punk club in San Francisco. When I awoke, I found myself having a moment of regret for how I left the band. As I see it now, it was exhaustion. I push myself and push myself and then I hit the wall and want to quit. I lose perspective. I say Fuck it!
I can’t afford to lose perspective now. I can’t afford to say Fuck it! So I just need to sit quietly. In pursuit of big, long goals, there’s going to be exhaustion and the need for rest and solitude, even with a hard deadline looming. So I sit here on the floor in my little room. I know I have to write this scene where Lydia, the protagonist, goes to the little library in her home town and finds a book and puts it in her bag. That’s all it is, really. That’s all she needs to do. It’s not a big scene. I suppose it carries a lot of weight for me because I had neglected to write it. She just had the book. I had to deal with the plot problem of how did she get the book. It’s not a big deal. But these things bedevil me because they touch on the problem of genre: Am I writing a realistic novel? No. Well, sort of. Am I writing a fantasy novel? No. Am I writing a mystery, or a detective novel? No. Am I writing a surrealist novel, or an Anais Nin-type thing, or a James Joyce-type thing? No.
I am writing a comic novel about a punk runaway who becomes America’s biggest sitcom star. It appears on the surface to be a satire about America’s entertainment business. Yet for me the novel is really about the intersection of the imagination and “real life.” For me, personally, she does not have to get that book at the library. So the conflict is not really so much about the difficulty of writing the scene. The conflict is me going, “Why do I have to write this scene?! Is that what the novel is about? No! It’s about the interconnection between imagination, or the spirit world, and the visible surface of life!”
To wit: I just realized: Yesterday, after our meeting with the commercialista, which went well, I was walking up Corso Italia and I realized, I have tried many times to visit the library in Castiglion Fiorentino and many times have either got lost or chickened out because my Italian is so meager or not been able to find the right door or found that it was closed. So I summoned up my courage yesterday and marched right into the library. My ostensible reason for visiting the library is to research this next book I am planning to write, about this medieval convent that was bombed in World War II by accident and then was rebuilt by the man who lived next door to it. But I think also there was an unconscious motive.
Library. It just occurs to me now: The library scene in the novel, and the library scene in my “real” life: I was drawn to the library. It was time to go to the library. Maybe it’s time to write that scene. Maybe I’ll use this Italian library as a setting for Lydia’s library. This is the kind of thing I mean. Real life, imagination, back and forth, the two worlds.
And here’s another thing. Just sitting here, drinking tea, talking about exhaustion, talking about the novel, I’m back in it. I’m coming around. I think I can write that scene. But not right this second. Not quite yet.