Sunday, 24 January 2010
I may have mentioned this before but, ages ago, I read an article by Terence Blacker in which he wrote not about writer’s block but about what he called ‘Life Block’. I hope I’m not misrepresenting his argument with this summary but it went something like this. The writer (we’ll assume she’s female to save all the his/her confusions) sits at her keyboard, immersed in the world of her characters. She knows them all well, is comfortable with them and, while they can still surprise her, she likes the time spent in their company and it flies by. She belongs there, contributes to it all and has a clear role.
The working day ends and she then has to make the transition to ‘real life’. And what does she find there? She finds people (even friends and close family) whose motives and actions she can’t predict or control, whose preoccupations don’t always coincide with her own. In brief, integration into that reality is qualitatively different from the total immersion in the reality of the fiction she’s just left. She feels more comfortable with the expectations of her characters than with those of the real people around her. The former are, on the whole, easier to be with. And that’s ‘Life Block’.
So why am I bringing this up? Because I understand and agree with Blacker on this and because the recent silly blog about wanting to be a guru and the wonderful set of responses to it proved it yet again. And in a bizarre way. Because I know that you (i.e. the person reading this) are real, with your own joys, sorrows, idiosyncrasies and passions and yet those of you who left comments became part of the fiction. In my head there’s now an actual hut (thanks, Michael), in which I (or rather the fictional guru I) sit and dispense wisdom, parables and dubious aphorisms about inserting animals into bodily fluids. And there are others wandering about there, with their own desires (such as Rolls Royces and dreams of women who use long words). And each evening, as the sun slips behind the trees, a group gathers at the Candy Store. Over a low humming sound, one or two tentative voices can be heard:
‘Is she really going out with him?’
‘Let’s ask her … Betty, is that Jimmy’s ring you’re wearing?’
And soon, as the dusk thickens, the sweet voices join in the harmonies of Leader of the Pack.
And it’s the same with that blog I did months ago – The Lovers of Wensley Dale – those fictions are still lurking there and I know that they just need me to get together with them again to live out their lives. And it's true of all the individuals we've created. But more than that, in our completed novels we've given them and their lives meaning, purpose, structure, significance, something which life itself never manages to achieve - because we're always becoming rather than being. Maybe the meaning we've given them only applies within the context of the book but there is a completion, a satisfaction about it which is elusive, not to say unreachable outside of fiction.
I don’t think Life Block suggests that we’re tongue-tied misfits in our daily routines but there’s a real contrast between the intense reality of our fictions as we inhabit them and the relative tameness of normal life, between the layers of meanings and personalities to which we have access as we write and the guesswork that constitutes so much of ordinary social interaction.
Yet again, I think we’re very lucky and very privileged to have been programmed to be writers. Success would be nice, so would money, but having that extra dimension of experience is already a very sweet advantage.