Lonely, Miserable People
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I’m still working my way through the backlog that built up during my ridiculous project, but I feel like I’m making progress — one work project is mostly done, one set of tax forms is done, and the other is more or less put together. (And I’m sure that the four or five people who are still reading this site are really happy to hear that.)
I’m actively researching my next project, Fabulous Nutrition Week.
In thinking about the project, I decided that in order to have Fabulous Nutrition Week, I needed to figure out what Fabulous Nutrition is, so I came up with a list of books to work through, and started with What To Eat by Marion Nestle, which is very good and makes me want to read her other book, Food Politics, since so many of the U.S.D.A. recommendations that people like to point to when discussing the inadequacies of various diets are so heavily influenced by industry group politics.
I’ve also been thinking about writing, and was reminded of a book I re-read in 2007 called How to Do Things Right: The Revelations of a Fussy Man, by L. Rust Hills. It was written in the 1970s and reissued with some new material in 1993, which is when I bought it and read it the first time. (I bought it after reading an excerpt from the essay “How to Cut Down on Smoking and Drinking Quite So Much,” which I liked mostly for the title, but also because the excerpt was very funny.)
One of the sections in How to Do Things Right is called “How to Retire at Forty-One” and it includes a chapter called, “Life Among the Pursuits,” wherein the author talks about how one of the key things you have to do when you retire is to figure out what you’re going to do with yourself all day. Hills writes:
Retired people almost always seem to get hung up on the idea of writing. This is perhaps inevitable, and for a number of reasons. There is superficially a good deal of resemblance between the life of the free-lance writer and the man who has retired at forty-one. They are virtually the only two kinds of men who are ever at home during the day during their middle years (except invalids), and as a consequence they share many of the same embarrassments and discomforts: worrying, for instance, what the postman thinks about them.
But a good deal of the writer’s miseries stem from frustrations about his work. Being at home all the time is to him just a sideline disadvantage, an occupational hazard. The man who retires early, on the other hand, chooses this uncomfortable way of life (being at home all the time) deliberately: it is not part of his profession, but part of his avoidance of a profession — and not really just “part” of it, but actually the whole point, purpose, and result of his quitting work in the first place. A man retiring early who adds to thse already difficult circumstances the miseries and frustrations of being a writer, or trying to be one, may seem to be straight out of his mind. But the temptations are many and great and very silky — and many poor retired souls succumb.
The sinister thing about writing is that it starts off seeming so easy and ends up being so hard.
He goes on to talk about how miserable it is being a writer, how it so much more often goes badly than goes well, and how writing not only causes misery, but is in fact born of misery.
Just who is it anyway who wants to write? Lonely, miserable people, that’s who.
Becoming a writer begins when you’re a child and aren’t chosen for games until the very end. That’s why stories about kids who aren’t chosen until the end are such cliches: it’s part of every writer’s experience. Also, lonely miserable adolescents want to write; they’re the ones, not the happy ones who are having fun from age fourteen on. It’s the ‘sensitive’ ones who want to write — and no one would ever begin to think of himself as sensitive unless he was left out and lonely. That’s what sensitive really means: unhappy. Happy people aren’t sensitive, usually; that’s what makes them such bores. And happy people don’t feel the need to write — to “express themselves” or to “communicate with others” or whatever. And especially and certainly they don’t feel the need to write in middle age all of a sudden, when they’re busy working, or should be.
He ends by describing it thus:
Writing is a lot like heroin: it may start as a pleasure, shortly becomes an addiction, ends up one hell of a big self-imposed monkey on your back. The retired man should avoid it as the plague. He has troubles enough of his own.