Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Office Envy


I envy people with offices. Lawyers especially, because they’re surrounded by books. Thick tomes full of laws and precedents and tragedies and spines with golden letters. Offices have an inherent respectability lending a feeling of solemn purpose to one’s endeavor. If you’re a writer, hoping for a quiet space to write when the world and its messy exigencies and blisters and blobs and children and fracases burst in on you at any moment, an office would be ideal.  

Or would it? Would the sobriety of rigid corners and thick oak desks and long shiny conference tables inhibit the impulses of creativity?  

There is something in the atmosphere of an office that imposes a need to conform, be polite, courteous, deferential, efficient. Creativity is the opposite of these. Creativity has nothing to do with efficiency. Or courtesy or obedience or tractability or acquiescence. Creativity arouses defiance, transport, ecstasy, fire, and subversive energies. There is always an element of destruction, of contrariness, of going against the grain. Friction, heat, angst, and selfish, riotous abandon. 

Writing requires a space that is outside the framework of time and its daily responsibilities. The Protestant work ethic, Lutheran sobriety, robotic, insect compliance. You can’t be a drone and an eccentric at the same time. Eccentric means, literally, you are outside the circle. On your own. A selfish jerk. Self-indulgent. Willful. Defiant. An insufferable prima donna. And probably poor and struggling to make the rent. 

Writing requires a space that is primarily mental. It has less to do with the physical dimension of walls and ceilings and more to do with how you feel. What are you capable of dreaming? Cooking up in that skull of yours? It helps to be a Prospero. A magician creating havoc and storms. An outcast with an impressive library and a head full of ganglions bursting with ideas.  

It’s difficult finding that level of sensitivity. It requires an abundant amount of idleness. Space for reverie. Drugs can help, but they’re more likely to create problems. Drugs are expensive and ultimately catch up with you and fuck with your health and sense of well-being. But you can learn to think like a drug. Don’t take heroin: be heroin. Don’t eat peyote buttons: be a peyote button.  

It’s really just a matter of allowing your self space to be. Being, in and of itself, is creative. Being is subversive. Hamlet was right on with his question about to be or not to be. That’s what it comes down to. Every time. To be or not to be. That really is the question.  

3 comments:

David Grove said...

Back when I had silofuls of idleness, I once spent about six hours in a hallowed law library drawing a photo of Suzanne Vega in minute detail. I fairly staggered out of there--almost collided with John Houseman--feeling great, kind of high.

I like to write surrounded by strangers in coffee shop. For some reason the feeling of being at once alone and in company helps me. That's why I don't think I could write well in the middle of a party a la Frank O'Hara: I wouldn't feel alone.

John Olson said...

Yeah, O'Hara always comes to mind when I'm beset with hassles and noise. Coffeehouses sometimes work for me, but lately they just make me feel alien and anachronistic, the only person reading an actual book, everyone else robotically gazing into laptop or smartphone screens, blabbing on cell phones. The library used to work, but now that people have lost all sense of courtesy, I can't go there either. What I truly need is an isolated house in the Nevada desert and a small plane to get me into Ely or Reno for groceries.

Ed Baker said...

many years ago
I got
to the end of the trail

instead of turning around
and
going back

I went straight ahead
and
made my own trail

I mostly sit here
or
on my back deck

with my friends the squirrels
and the Old Holly and my
reveries

I write and write and write

and
when I am not writing
I draw.... both start from
where I am .... on a blank page

I understand what you are saying. just can't explain it.