A while back, I was writing on a computer that clumped along like ol’ Dobbin the work-horse, its eyes too bleary for more than a frame or two of YouTube, its pace too slow for quick links to websites. The poor thing would freeze at the sight of my email, hitched as it was to a dial-up connection. I promised myself that when the manuscript got done, I’d retire my faithful old friend and buy myself a brand-new, wireless computer. Engrossed in writing, I ignored the inconvenience. I was safe in that protected space that all writers carry within them, the silence in which imagined voices speak, a space nourished by good reading, long walks and gardening. I’d worked to cultivate this inner life — my house is quiet, my husband’s supportive, my time is my own. The writing flowed.
Now I’m trying to find my way back into that space again.
With the new computer came wireless email. Some of it arrived with bulky videos, quick to download. My world exploded with new possibilities. I got a spiffy new website and two Facebook pages, one of them for a brand-new podcast. I’ve kept up my reading, my quiet walks, but life has gotten noisier. There’s software to learn, people to “friend” and “like,” a thousand opportunities to promote my work. Only now I’m beginning to wonder if I can still write. My inner space has gone into hiding. I now live in a world of infinite distraction, clicking on weird stuff I’d always lived without, googling my way through a library’s worth of semi-useless info. It feels like the bite of a serpent’s fruit, a fall from grace. Paradise deleted.
In the myth of Eden, the serpent tells Eve that the fruit would make her like God. Compare that to the old computer joke in which a room-sized IBM model answers the question “Is there a God?” by saying “There is now.” The folks in Eden got it wrong, and so have we. In the arts, as in life, it’s all about human limits. Gorging and splurging on infinite choice is nothing more than gorging and splurging. Every time I interrupt my writing to google the answer to some impulsive question, I’m affirming the nutty belief that I’m capable of knowing everything and anything I want, of having whatever I want whenever I want it, that my desires always come first. Go on, eat the fruit and you’ll never die. Hard-wired with the Eden myth, we still bite. Only the power to create thrives on boundaries and discipline, silence and protected inner space, the effort of staying focused on the work at hand. All of which affirms a more humble set of values: what we know is hard-won; what we can understand is limited, what brings joy is not self-indulgence, but the careful tending of words and truth. For a writer, nothing else matters. What always matters is to find a way back home.