It was one of those few and far-between epiphanies. The forehead-to-palm moments.
In Quiet, Susan Cain was pontificating on the need for solitude in concentration and creation. The basic need for peace and quiet when embarking upon any creative – or deep thinking – process. She wasn’t writing about writing, per se, but she did quote a writer or two regarding their processes and their needs.
You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind… That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough. ~ Kafka, to his wife
A revelation I’ve never been able to truly put my finger on before, right there in print.
Forever and ever, I have not been able to abide anyone looking over my shoulder when I’m writing, even when writing a simple email. I can’t do it. The act of writing is such a process, even when quick and dirty, that I am invested in every word. I need the time to revise. I need the time to digest as the words pour out, and that digestion may very well result in realizations of idiocy, failings of moral clout, or worst of all, poor word choice. Writing is vulnerable.
I always thought I was being precious, but my heart would race when I tried to compose with even a passive passing audience, absently glancing screenward on their way to the refrigerator. Precious or no, I am not capable of writing without a nervous breakdown in the presence of others. I recoil and panic like my teenager when you ask her what she is reading. (I did some deep-seated damage to that one’s psyche by once requiring her to share with me a few sentences on each chapter she read in the one-and-only assigned book I ever dared to give her. She was seven. Never again will she answer to anyone in her reading.)
So I get it now. I am precious with my writing, but there is a very real reason that I am. My writing is me. It is so deeply me that I am afraid of letting it go before it is ready. I would never dream of just letting loose the spigot of my thoughts to flow freely through my mouth, for fear of the damages they could, unchecked, inflict on my listener, not to mention on my pride. There is a filter in there somewhere that doesn’t enjoy the foot-in-mouth experience. This guttural need to let it mellow before it bellows – it may or may not play a role in my firm footing in the teetotal camp. Filters, my friends, are important.
Of course, I don’t always succeed in keeping the thoughts at bay. They sometimes latch onto my tongue faster than my censor can work, and I face the horrors of my failures. At the best of times, embarrassment. At the worst, shots fired and battered feelings all around.
And so it is with my written words. They are me. They are me on paper. They don’t just represent me, as is the case for anyone who puts pen to paper, fingers to keyboard (or screen), jackknife to perfectly innocent and victimized tree. As a writer who tries, a writer who desires, a writer who thinks, a writer who is really working to become, my words are a true extension of me, and they, too, need a filter. Allowing someone to read over my shoulder is like allowing someone to crack open the old brainpan and study the seething mass of thoughts before they’re fully cooked and sieved and ready for the masses. It’s just not a good plan for anyone involved.
I would like, after this flash, to say that I understand the teenager’s apprehensions at anyone ever seeing the cover of a book she is reading, but I am failing to make an eloquent parallel. What I do know is that I have had at least one hand in creating the monster, and for that I am well and truly sorry. And I know that logic does not always reign in the teenage—or any—brain. And I know that her reading is personal. It is making her. As my writing is a part of me, issuing forth, making me as it is made, her reading is a part of her very formation. And she probably isn’t keen on folks hovering around the observation deck of that becoming.
So, if you see me typing, kindly keep a wide berth,