Early one morning—lying in that half-dreaming, half-waking state where one can imagine things and also watch oneself imagining them—I saw myself driving to a reading I was to give. Writers often do them, partly to inform the public about the literary life, partly to promote the sales of their work, but mostly because the writer gets to listen to the sound of his own voice blathering along, largely uninterrupted for an hour or so. Twain described such events as “dignified insurrections.” In my dream, an insurrection was to be fomented before a group of students from some previously unknown school. One of the things writers get to indulge, when giving these talks, is a bit of self-aggrandizing about the writerly life. Of course it’s all self-aggrandizing but, specifically, we get to prattle on about the sources of our so-called “inspiration,” and creative urges in general. It’s all a load of equine excrescence, but we can’t help ourselves.
Anyway, I was driving along, attempting, without much luck, to pry open a few imaginary oysters in search of pearls of wisdom to include in my opening remarks. Soon, without realizing it—as is so often the case in dreams—I arrived at my destination. I reconnoitered the scene, looking for a good parking spot—one that offered a quick escape in the event that the proceedings turned surly.
Just outside, I saw a bus.
A little bus.
You know what I’m talking about, right? I don’t have to resort to a bunch of un-PC remarks about the sort of students who ride those little buses, do I? There are words that insensitive people use to describe them—words that I would never use—words that distinguish them, rightly or wrongly, from all the “normal” children who ride bigger buses.
It was a little bus.
Having already leapt to all the inappropriate conclusions about the audience I was about to address, an entirely different notion popped into my head. It was how my potential audience was strangely à propos, after all.
My realization, upon seeing the little bus, was that I, and the riders of the little bus, had so much in common. I don’t mean to say that writing doesn’t require some degree of intellectual acumen. One does need to know how to string words together in some sort of coherent order, and have some degree of familiarity with the rules of grammar, for example. However, intellectual considerations only apply to the “how” of the writing process.
They don’t address the “why.”
That’s the locus of our obvious shared feeble-mindedness. How, otherwise, can we explain the fact that we’re willing to spend years of our lives poking away at a keyboard (in my case, with just two fingers), for practically no money?
Non-writers often ask, in supposed innocence, “How do writers do it? Where do the ideas come from? How can they face, not just one blank page, but reams of blank pages?” I used to answer, in equally bogus modesty, that writing is easy: just be willing to sit in one place, for a very long time, without being tempted to find something more useful to do.
After seeing that little bus, I know the real answer.
Being a writer is only possible for those who never ask, “why do it?”—or, at least, be sufficiently addle-pated to disregard the obvious answer. Everyone knows Einstein’s definition of insanity, but we continue because it’s also the definition of our chosen career.