where the writers are
Cold Turkey

I met a friend for coffee yesterday.  We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of months, but he’s settled into being unemployed now and had some time to get out of the house.

We met 20 years ago, when I discovered he was an amazing poet.  Since then, we’ve founded a couple of writing groups together.  For a couple of years, we met once a week at a café to sit and write side by side.  I adore his work.  I’m in awe of his imagination, his techniques with language, his exquisite broken characters.   He is the most scintillatingly brilliant person I’ve ever had the privilege to know.

“What have you been up to?” I asked innocently, hoping for something lovely to read.

“I used to tell myself that, when I finally didn’t have to go to work every day, I would have lots of time to write.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been working out so well.  One day, I wondered:  what would happen if I stopped beating myself up about not writing?  So I decided to stop.”

“Stop writing?” I echoed.

He nodded.  “I feel much better now.  Other than, of course, that I’ve had to redraw my entire sense of self, now that I’m no longer a writer.”

I was shocked speechless.  I wanted to say that it was a crime for him to stop sharing his fabulous brain with the world.  But I’ve known him so long, I understand that the creative process is hard on him.  He doesn’t enjoy the work, only having worked.  He loves the product, not the process.  He’s never been able to cut himself any slack, or lower the bar.  It’s difficult being so damned clever all the time.

I’ve stopped writing from time to time myself, usually in a fit of despair, which always came before an immensely creative period.  It’s as if I had to be silent, put down the pen, step away from the notebook, to be able to hear the words that want to get out.  I wanted to hope that was what was happening with my friend, but it felt like too much pressure to say so.

Instead I asked, “What are you doing to fill your days?”

“I find I’m enjoying reading much more, now that it doesn’t feel like stealing time from something else.”  And he proceeded to give me a glowing, funny, well thought-out review of a book he’d just read.  If he’d written it down, people would have rushed right out to buy the book.

I am left with a sense of loss.  I want the product of my friend’s amazing imagination before my eyes, in my hands.  All the same, I know he was able to quit heroin, then quit smoking:  something that he says was much, much more difficult.  Quitting something like writing should be all too easy.