A friend sent me a photo of a little room in a convent where she had taken a course. There was a bed made of walnut wood, a small night table with a lamp and an equally small wooden desk with a chair. The white walls had no other decoration than a small cross.
I often fantasize about being in a room like that, far away from the distractions that too often interrupt my writing, the people who noisily walk through the house, the pounding of the machines from a construction site around the corner and above all my own tendency to look at emails or messages when the words don’t come.
I think of the writers who chose to withdraw from life to write. Philip Roth woke up early seven days a week to walk forty-five meters to a two-room studio. Emily Dickinson rarely left her bedroom in her father’s house, lowering a basket from her window with gifts for children so she wouldn’t have to step outside. Marcel Proust holed himself up in a cork-lined bedroom to keep out the Parisian noise for the last three years of his life.
I tell myself that I cannot be so rigorous and that it’s all a question of finding the right balance between living life and reflecting on that life. I know that Roth, Dickinson and Proust would laugh at that, for them you either dedicate yourself totally to writing or you do something else.
Of course, I’m no Roth, no Dickinson, no Proust, far from it. But is that good enough an excuse not to dedicate myself totally to what’s so important to me?
If I enjoy my life out in the world so much that I don’t want to give it up, why do I fantasize about withdrawing from it to focus on something else? Does the non-committal element of a fantasy make it so attractive? Unlike an idea, a fantasy is not meant to be put to action. But can a fantasy grow very slowly and almost imperceptibly into an idea?
I read that Jonathan Franzen seals his internet connection and wears noise-canceling headphones while writing. Perhaps I should consider buying the same device.
A next step may be to look for a small room close to our house in which, instead of a cross, I may put the photos of Roth, Dickinson and Proust on the white walls.
But then again, if I do all that, what would there be left to fantasize about?