where the writers are
Neighbours

Excerpt from a letter to a friend ~

Our last neighbours in America were, I suppose, legendary. Those on our street were Linda Hamilton (and for about a year and a half, her husband, James Cameron), Cher, David Letterman (before he sold his house, one of several) and Bob Dylan, before he moved around the corner. Down the street and around another corner was Marty Sheen. Not far away were Barbra Streisand, Steven Speilberg, Genevieve Bujold, Pierce Brosnan, Charlie Bronson, Nick Nolte, Rod Steiger, James Whitmore and many other actors - as well as writers, directors, producers and studio execs whose names probably would not mean much to most people. Robert Downey Jr. lived nearby. Not sure where. But the Malibu Public Library is right next to the County Courthouse, so I saw him often enough.

We all pretty much kept to ourselves - had our own circle of friends, but we were all cordial enough when we met walking along the street or at Coogies or taking kids to school or in the local shops, or at certain events. It was interesting living there in our house behind the tall, tall and very locked gates overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I had no emotion about it. Not really.

But within a few months of coming to Wales, my neighbours became intricate part of my life , and their joys, sorrows, events and news began to mean almost as much to me as my own. I tried to explain it in a letter to a friend back home:

"There is a collective heartbeat in this village that I share. I do not feel entirely individual here and it is surprisingly not a lot to do with values - although that is part of it. I think it is the will to love - to be part of another person's experience - to be slightly less individual and slightly more tribal - a very Welsh version of tribalness. When one hurts, all suffer, though these are  pretty resiliant and cheerful people. There is a feeling of buoyancy here - it may be linked to a very old gene inside me. We went to a lecture last night on The Celts - and it turns out that they originated in central Europe and migrated first to the Iberian peninsula and later into Britain. The lecturer, Sir Barry Cunliffe, pointed out on the map where the Celts settled for centuries and from where they left the mainland for Albion's fair shore - and it was what is now Iberian Peninsula from which my ancestors hailed.

So.

This is a very tiny enclosed village, the resources of which, if you are not part of the university or the town (or both like I am) are exhausted in 20 minutes. It literally takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of the village to the other. It is monumentally difficult to get to from most other places, involving a series of planes, trains and automobiles (none of which connect to the other) that caused my son, an extremely fit male in his twenties to say, "This is insane - it takes longer to get from London to your village than it took to get from New York to London - and it is completely exhausting."

This isolation is what preserves us as a unit - as a culture. This is what connects me to my friends and neighbours, and even to the people I don't particularly like. My heart has grown some very delicate tendrils attached to the mysterious heart of this village, and I prefer that no one from the other world (except my children of course) visit me here. Something happens when I bring my former life and present one together and it alters everything - the perception of what I am writing - my relationship to the material and the source of it -and my ability to write it - a balance is disrupted.

That recursive occlusion in which I live recedes from itself and I find it very distressing and very difficult to get back into the book I live in and the book I am writing. It all disappears and so much richness that has built up is lost. I am not sure why that happens but most writers I know feel that way, which is why they tend to be reclusive while working on their material.

Isaac Asimov wrote in a closet in the middle of New York. I've been in it. Harlan Ellison writes in an invisible room, encastled in Sherman Oaks. I've spent magical hours there, too. But I live in a land that that few other than my friends and neighbours can "be" in - a land that does not exist unless I remain attached to something I cannot fathom. So I am, to put it bluntly, hiding out.

I have never had neighbours before - not in this way - not neighbours who are also friends, fellow inhabitants of this barely believable planet - not neighbours who are sustenance. Someday, I will return to the life that you say you envy. Envy is a wasteful emotion. But if you envy any life, you should envy this one. "

 

Comments
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I wondered if I was reading

I wondered if I was reading fiction, but I presume this is true.

You live a privledged life then. Yet you remain true to yourself in this discourse. That is good. You know who you are and are not affected by envy or distracted easily surrounded by people with household names. Great people who have all in one way or another earned their iconic status. But they are just people like everyone else.

I know for I have lived a privledged life too. The village where I live now is small and quaint and everyone knows each other. Community is lost to people in the cities. There are celebrities here too, but they are here for the same reasons as everyone else. The peace that solitude brings. Where you can truly be yourself.

That is the ideal that I think people envy most, but this idea of envy eludes most as well.

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Yes, it is all true. This

Yes, it is all true. This was, and still remains in part, my world. But the privilege and the "great people" belong to my Welsh experience. I do not denigrate my Malibu neighbours, some of whom were friends, or my celebrity friends, some of whom were not Malibu residents. But for me, my deepest connections were and remain with Wales, and my Welsh friends. I'm pretty much myself wherever I am - but you are right, community is often lost in cities. Malibu is a pretty small town (13,000 people as opposed to LA, the great metropolitan area of which is 10 million people) and I belonged to a pretty cohesive circle. But everyone resonates best somewhere, with some tribe, and for me, it is Wales. Thank you for responding. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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Harrison, you have seen both

Harrison, you have seen both sides and the contrast is wonderfully drawn here. I would like to visit Wales - quite possible, if only for the weekend. Maybe you could suggest a locale? m

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Visiting Wales

First of all, thank you for your comment, which, as always, I appreciate deeply. As for Wales, I don't know, really. My great joys are Gregynog - the Eisteddfodau, the small moments on the street with people I know, magic corners of the land that might mean very little to others. I pretty much stayed in my closed and magic circle. Let me ask others who are better equipped to answer the question and get back to you via email.
You will find your own magic wherever you go. ~H

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Neighbours

Of course, part of the reason you encountered wonderful neighbours, Harrison, is that you are a wonderful neighbour.

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Neighbourliness

Ethan - I didn't know you were on the Red Room! How nice. I really don't know what being a good neighbour means in general, but as regards Wales, I can say I'm pretty quiet and tidy, and I practiced my Welsh on my neighbours every day which you might think tedious but they didn't. :) I adored my neighbours. I guess that helped. Thank you for such kind thoughts.