“Writing is something you do alone in a room”

_icon83This novel has finally reached the point where it’s flowing really well. I’m about 73,000 words in and can state with a fair bit of confidence that I am going to finish. Even if the semester ends and swamps me with work, I will finish. Even if I get super depressed (which sometimes happens around mid-winter), then I will still finish. That’s not really a matter of my indomitable will or anything. It’s just simple human psychology. If a human being gets 75% of the way through anything, whether it’s a movie or a book or a hike, then they’re probably not going to quit before it’s finished.

But there are still a lot of hours between me and the end. And looking at those hours makes me think about the hours that I’ve already put into it.

Over the past month, I’ve worked in a more thoughtful and more sustained fashion than I ever have before in my life. And it’s been really fun. But it’s also been really lonely. That was my winter break. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t go anywhere.

It’s not that there’s any specific person or place or event that I regret missing. It’s that all the things I gave up were light time: things that would’ve passed the time in a pleasant way and left behind warm and fuzzy impressions in my memory. In contrast, spending 123 hours at a desk (and counting!) is heavy time. Those hours sit with you very heavily. You can’t escape from them: you have to exist in each and every one of them…which tends to make you very aware of the passing of time.

And living on a different time-scale puts you out of sync with other people. In that way, it’s similar to being drunk all the time. When you’re drunk all the time, life is exciting in a way that it’s not for sober people. Not because you’re doing anything particularly exciting, but because your emotional life is so turbulent. You can go from wanting to kill yourself in the morning to dancing ecstatically at 3 PM to seeing the oneness of the universe at midnight. Because of that, the days separate out, and each one becomes very distinct, and you do crazy and impulsive things because the tomorrow seems soooooo far away. When you live that way, you can’t take very much of it with you–being drunk all the time doesn’t lend itself to accumulating skills, friends, knowledge, or professional success–but the experience of drunken life feels so much fuller than the experience of sober life. The point of drinking isn’t to anesthetize yourself. Or, at least, it wasn’t for me. No, it’s the opposite. The point of most things in life–the consumption of media, in particular–is to make time pass smoothly and easily. The point of drinking is to break up that orderly flow and smash time into little pieces.

Engaging in a project like this is a bit like that too. That heaviness is exactly why it feels like such a worthwhile experience: it makes me feel like I am actually using my time in some manner, instead of just trying to get through it. But the heaviness is also a burden. Because even when heavy time is pleasant, there’s just so much of it. I don’t even know how else to explain it, because it’s totally independent of what you actually do during that time. Even during the happy parts of heavy time, the slowness of the time is quite unpleasant. If someone was to ask us, we’d say that we want life to be heavy (i.e. meaningful and full of experience), but if we were to look inside ourselves, I think we’d find that most of the time, we actually just want life to be over.

I wrote the other day about how I’m only rarely afraid of death. That’s because so much of my behavior (of any person’s behavior, really) seems to imply that I hold my life very cheaply. How can watching fourteen straight hours of television (even excellent television) be interpreted in any other manner than as a desire to stop existing?

*The name of this post is drawn from this essay. I was going to talk about it, but it somehow never came up…