Clerestory

Dry November: Day 5

November 05, 2019

I’m considering whether my life and mind have contracted from stretches of solitude. All I do is read and write these days, fast and exercise, and seem to wait. But what am I waiting for?

It’s not clear. I don’t do well in social situations at the moment — though since my early twenties alcohol had been a crutch in that regard, so going without it must leave me a cripple.

I’m developing ideas, and when I do speak to others, inept as I am, I am less inept if we speak along those lines, about abstract ideas. Even if it’s just an assemblage of the ideas that I (or they) have recently discovered, I find it much easier to interact. Conversations about the particularities of life, its incidents, or what I think of as content rather than meta-content (though perhaps pattern recognition, or analysis of content, is better) I find almost painful to discuss.

This doesn’t make me a very good friend. And most, even my closest and most patient friends, can’t quite see what I’m getting at, what precisely my ideas are. Which is fair enough. The ideas seem chaotic, when I talk of analogue and digital perception, of novelty and safety, of abstraction from particulars to universals, and how such acts of abstraction might be relate questions of physics to questions of sociology, or literature to philosophy.

Neither can the people in my writing group, who have had the misfortune to read an amorphous submissions package for the book. They think it sounds hard work, which it is, and some can’t see why it’s a novel at all, though at the moment that’s what it is. People at Darkly seem sympathetic to my aims, though my thinking must sound strange and disparate to them as well.

There’s nothing wrong with these people (perhaps you’re even one of them — if so my apologies for my recent social reticence, relative to recent years). They (and you) are intelligent and receptive, and give me every benefit, and still I can’t explain. The failure is entirely mine, both socially and in my inability to articulate what is inchoate in my own mind.

But there are a few interesting things about developing what feels like a big idea. One is that, though I cannot express it at the moment, it is clear to me that sometimes I am closing in, and at others I am drifting further away. This is how I feel while writing the novel too: I am not making up whatever I like. There is something in there, and writing is more like chipping away than it is like composing.

Another is that it is deeply fulfilling, animating my days and my dreams.

What I don’t know, and what most scares me at the moment, is whether what I unearth through this current effort will turn out to be the same thing I was attempting to dig out in the novel. When I see the big idea — or, more likely, bewildering network of ideas — will it be something entirely other than what I spent most of this year trying to do? Or will it bring everything together?

There is always the possibility that I’m merely losing my mind, and sometimes it feels like that, especially when I’m unable to articulate what I’m working on, what I have been working on for so long, to someone patiently listening.

But most times it doesn’t feel like that. It feels purposeful, and, however daunting, like there is something of value in the earth, and in its unearthing.


I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.