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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Thursday, May 19, 2005

interruptions, blogs, and why read?

Morning notes: True Believer; A History of the Jews in Babylonia.

The writing session: pushed on with chapter 15-16, flipping back and forth between my chapter notes and calendrical notes. The writing seemed lame. Maybe it's just letdown. I've been planning this scene for so long--years--and now it's just a regular scene, maybe a bit tougher than some others, more difficult to motivate, more expository. All the things I fantasized about putting in here are being left behind: clutter. Now all I can think about is: How do I get through this thing quickly?

I was interrupted by a phone call from Chris, a high-school friend who is now an executive in Munich with a multinational high-tech firm. Most interruptions are welcome, but this one especially so. It was 8:15 p.m., his time, and he was just getting ready to leave the office. Twelve-hour days are normal for him. His lifestyle could hardly be more different from mine: successful corporate career, long hours at the office, much jetting around Europe and to North America and Asia, an active lifestyle that has him hitting the road for bicycle tours, and so on. I live more like a hermit crab: hiding in my dwelling in the semi-dark, avoiding society, forgetting about family and friends for long periods of time, until they take the initiative to contact me.

Why am I like this? I think I enjoy it. Going out, socializing, are mainly tedious to me. I'm not excited by new restaurants, new shows, new products. I adventure in the mind. Give me a good book, a good magazine, a decent TV show. When you're in a social situation somewhere you're stuck--might as well be in a leg-hold trap. Few people share my interests, and the art of conversation as a social skill appears to be dead as far as I can tell. People yak about their families, their toys, blockbuster movies, interrupting themselves and others to take calls on their cellphones. When it's not actually irritating it's a dull chore.

Uh-oh, is this degenerating into a typical blog? I'm no expert, but from what I can tell blogs tend to be a mix of three main ingredients: 1) quotidian problems; 2) kvetching; 3) self-deprecating humor. Political blogs are made up of: 1) fault-finding; 2) kvetching; 3) hostile humor. These don't interest me, except maybe if they're well written, but that's rare.

The real power of the blog, in my view, is that of being a window on someone's life. You see right in, close enough to recognize yourself in there. You commune with the blogger. The line from Shadowlands: "We read to know we're not alone." Yes.

Kimmie summed it up well a few years ago after she and I had gone downtown to have a Tarot reading at the Normandy Restaurant on Granville Street. The reader, a woman probably around 50 who sat across from us in the old-style booth, told us that she had recently read her first novel, and had really enjoyed it. She had no idea that fiction could be so interesting. When Kimmie and I talked about it later, I wondered what it was the woman thought was so special about fiction, having discovered it at this late date.

"Because it's about people's inner life," said Kimmie. "You're with their thoughts, reading what they really think. Usually you can't get that."

It hit me like lightning--yes, that's it! Here I am, a writer, and I didn't even know that. You can show the honesty of someone's inner world--the world where we all really live. If you're good enough.


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