Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alone. Together. Alone. Together.

If you haven't already noticed, most of my blog posts are about a lonely person looking for some way to connect with other people.

In a way, that is the opposite of the American Dream: to get so rich you can rise above the rabble, all those people on the freeway or, worse, the bus. No, the dream is a big house, off alone somewhere. A penthouse, like Howard Hughes. Or a mountaintop castle, like William Randolph Hearst. Some lovely isolated nest where you can invite only the rabble you like. An environment you can control, free from conflict and pain. Where you rule.

Whether it's a ranch in Montana or basement apartment with ten thousand DVDs and high-speed Internet access, it never fails. We get there, and we're alone. And we're lonely.

After we're miserable enough -- like the narrator in his Fight Club condo, or the narrator isolated by her own beautiful face in Invisible Monsters -- we destroy our lovely nest and force ourselves back into the larger world. In so many ways, that's also how you write a novel. You plan and research. You spend time alone, building this lovely world where you control, control, control everything. You let the telephone ring. The emails pile up. You stay in your story world until you destroy it. Then you come back to be with other people.

If your story world sells well enough, you get to go on book tour. Do interviews. Really be with people. A lot of people, until you're sick of people. Until you crave the idea of escaping, getting away to a . . .

To another lovely story world.

And so it goes. Alone. Together. Alone. Together.

The one drawback -- or blessing -- to writing is the being alone. The writing part. The lonely-garret part. In people's imagination that's the difference between a writer and a journalist. I majored in journalism in college, but I never practiced the craft. Yes, in college I dreamed of pursuing the profession of the newspaper reporter. The journalist, the newspaper reporter, is always rushing, hunting, meeting people, digging up facts. Cooking a story. The journalist writes surrounded by people, and always on deadline. Crowded and hurried. Exciting and fun.

The journalist writes to connect you to the larger world. A conduit.

But a writer is different. Anybody who writes fiction is -- people imagine -- alone. Maybe because fiction seems to connect you to only the voice of one other person. Maybe because reading is something we do alone. It's a pastime that seems to split us away from others.

The journalist researches a story. The novelist imagines it.

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