Irish author Edna O’Brien spoke candidly in an interview about the difficulty of writers having a social life, even – and especially – when the writing is going well. Admitting that this leads to a necessarily “lonely” life she said, “Every writer dreads losing the momentum, and to keep it you can’t be truly sociable.”
It’s a creed I’ve lived by and written about. Friends kindly describe me as “dedicated” and others say “obsessive,” for I try not to let anything or anyone interfere with the hours I need for writing, I am too attuned to time running out to have tolerance for “wasted moments,” meaning non-creative days.
But today I’m writing words I never expected to, for my head is turned in a different direction. It’s because of a shocking phone call from one of my newest friends. Actually it’s a friendship that’s never had a chance to fully blossom. I met Emily in my synagogue, the only woman there I felt kinship with. Apparently Emily felt the same rapport, for in-between our frequent chats she suggested we have lunch together. With my usual reluctance to let anything interfere with my writing schedule, I kept postponing the date. It’s true I had an overly loaded plate, for I was also teaching a memoir writing class and lining up talks about my books. She also has a busy life, with a large family. So for several years it was “one of these days…”
Finally we did get together for what I thought would be an hour or two. Even then I left my desk with a grudging feeling of “should,” promising myself to keep the luncheon short. But I quickly jettisoned that, for being with Emily was a rare experience. She wasn’t interested in idle gossip or chatter, but brought up subjects that opened wider doors – provocative books, the ethics of art and religion, as well as our mutual concern for the downward slope of our country. As we parted – after four hours! – we agreed it had been a wonderful stimulating afternoon and we should do it again soon. But “soon” can be a relative word.
Life, as the saying goes, gets in the way. My partner had a near fatal fall, resulting in permanent disability and a changed life for both of us. Helping him has consumed so much time and energy I’ve become more frantic than ever about salvaging my writing. So I kept assuring Emily we would get together again “when there’s time.” What a futile phrase that is. There’s always “time,” but not always us.
In December I called to say let’s start the New Year with a belated lunch. She said it would have to wait, she’d just been diagnosed with cancer. She would call me when she saw how the chemo treatments were going. The disease was merciless and rapid; she’s now in hospice.
Yes, writing is a number one priority in my life, alongside of my children and grandchildren. But to what extent should it crowd out other things, other people? This is not a mea culpa, for it isn’t guilt I feel about my friend. My “mea” is an abyss of regret, of loss, for what I let slip away.
For years my mantra has been an anonymous quote I once found: Writing is who I am. I have said it repeatedly and proudly. But today I revise it: Writing is my passion, it’s what I must do. But it’s not all of me, nor should it be. The challenge we would each do well to ponder is: How do we best divide ourselves between our work and the rest of living?
BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.