Behind Closed Doors

Someone once told me a story about attending a dinner at Joyce Carol Oates' home. As they stood on the steps of the front door to leave, the door already shut behind them, they heard a noise coming from the open window above, a trilled clacking. Although she had left them merely moments before, Oates was already at work, typing notes, plot, impressions, whatever Oates considers worthy of imputation after a dinner party. Considering Oates' output of work over the years, this story rings true to me; one figures she would have to spend every waking moment working.

But her commitment to her craft in this story didn't strike me so much as the paradox of the writer's relationship with other people. Most of the time I spend not at readings, conferences, bookfairs, and in the classroom I spend writing. Except for jogging, milling the aisles of the grocery store, or the occasional trip to see family and friends, I'm usually at work trying to weave believable characters in slightly off-kilter situations, crazy quilts, if you will.

But it occurs to me that I would gain greater insights about the human race, be privy to their natural environments and tendencies, if I actually spent more time with them. Even when I am in social situations I feel the tendency to want to slip away, to retreat to the upstairs room behind the door and type my own notes about the party, the people, move a plot along that had been percolating in my head. Writing is how as I analyze sensory input, perhaps even control it; writers are notorious control freaks.

But I know I need to keep myself circulating through the maze of human relations, a flashlight in one hand, breadcumbs in the other, if for no other reason to see how those without this strange affliction called writing make sense of the world.