Friday, October 23, 2009

On isolation

The writer hates our world.  The writer wants to escape.  The writer builds a time machine, a magic door, a tunnel through the center of the earth.  The writer puts on the skin of a cat, a horse, a Frenchman, a woman, and plays pretend alone, always alone.  The writer daydreams.  The writer does not have time for you.  The writer will not accept what's given to him.  The writer builds his own world instead.

But the writer also loves our world.  The writer wants to know the names of all the trees.  The writer wants to know how the glovemaker makes gloves, how the hotelier designs hotels, what's really in a sausage.  The writer eavesdrops on the cab driver, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the ladies who lunch.  The writer observes.  The writer cannot go home alone, not tonight -- stay for another drink.  The writer takes what he gets.  The writer wants to communicate.

This paradox doesn't just apply to writers, of course.  The act of making art, real art, is both fundementally public and deeply private, both a form of communication and an obsessive, anti-social behavior.  There's something unhealthy about it.  We long to be discovered and, like criminals, fear discovery.  When Henry Darger was dying in the hospital, his landlord came by to see him.  "We found your paintings when we were cleaning out your room.  They're beautiful," he told the artist.  He knew Darger had never shared his work with anyone and feared he might be upset.  Henry Darger smiled, then shook his head.  "Too late, too late."

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