Recently in the course of one day, my mom and a good friend and my fiance all asked me, “What’s going on with you?”
And for each person I genuinely searched my memory, trying to think of anything, and all I could come up with was, “Nothing.”
My life is not very eventful. During the day I rarely leave the house. Most days I speak to fewer than five people (and I include my fiancé, roommate, and service personnel in that tally). I work on my book. I read. I sleep. That’s it.
I don’t think my life is less boring than most peoples’ particularly. Most people don’t have much to talk about when it comes to their own life. If you’re dating or in the early stages of a relationship, you can talk about that. If you have kids, you can talk about that. Otherwise what else is there? Work.
Sometimes it’s a surprise for me to think, “Oh yeah, I guess this is the life of the mind.” Because that life seems like it ought to be something exciting, and this is not. It’s dull, and it’s prosaic, and there’s very little in it that’s interesting on even an intellectual level. But even the parts that are interesting to me aren’t interesting to most. For instance right now I’m reading William Godwin’s 1794 novel Caleb Williams. Godwin (who’s most well known for being Mary Shelley’s dad) wrote the book as an indictment of the inequities of the British class system. But what’s most surprising to me is that it’s very good as a novel. The main antagonist of the book, Mr. Falkland, is shockingly complex. The first third of the book details Mr. Falkland’s attempts to stand up to the tyranny of his neighbor, Mr. Tyrell. And then the latter two thirds of the book consist of Mr. Falkland’s attempts to tyrannize the book’s protagonist, Caleb, after the latter uncovers the fact that Mr. Falkland murdered Mr. Tyrell. It’s a remarkably multi-faceted portrait of the dangers of power. Here you’ve somebody who’s fundamentally good and decent, but when it comes to his saving his own hide, he’s driven to use the worst possible methods.
It’s an amazing book, but who can I talk to about it? Nobody! I can’t even wholeheartedly recommend it to others, because the book is hardly Jane Austen: I don’t think a majority of people would get into it at all.
All of my friends (the ones who aren’t in tech) seem desperate to get into and stay inside the halls of academia, and I guess this is why. In academia you can theoretically talk about these things.
But the annoying thing about academia is that it’s such a pissing contest. There you can’t just discuss: it’s always, particularly with male academics, about showing off how much you know. Then too there’s so much theory, and you’re always hemmed in by what everybody else has thought and done before you. Unless you’ve read a thousand pages of post-structuralist critique, it’s like you’re not allowed to say anything about anything.
This is why it’s nice to be a writer of fiction, though. Nobody can interrupt you or police you. Everything you read and experience can be transmuted, without mediation or interruption, into fiction. And the concomitant loneliness is, I think, the price of that freedom.