Anyone who writes much will know all about the weird state of Unbeing one enters when deep in the business of Composing Stuff. I’ll hazard a guess that pretty much all forms of composition – in words, music, paint or anything else – require much the same state: a peculiar detachedness from the self, a distance from everything real that increases with every hour spent immersed in Making Things Up.
It’s fabulous when it happens because when I get that kind of focus, lots and lots of words spill from my fingers. Some of them are even good. It’s like a kind of trance; I’m hardly aware that I’m typing anymore, my mind bouncing about the several universes inside my brain, cheerfully unrelated to the human being in the chair.
All of this is marvellous. Problems only arise when I have to come back to The Real World – in a hurry.
The doorbell rings.
Now, I know what the doorbell sounds like. I’ve heard it before. But it can take at least fifteen long seconds for the sound to penetrate through the haze, and then at least that long for my brain to register what that means.
That is the doorbell, boss.
Doorbell. Something’s happening at the door.
Get up. Cross room. Open door.
‘Crap, the door!’
I bolt out of my chair and sprint forth, narrowly missing braining myself on the living room door as I pass. How long has that been there anyway?
I remember how the door mechanism works and yank the thing open.
It’s the postman! I like the postman. He’s laconic but he brings me stuff. I like getting stuff in the post.
Today, though, I stare at him and I can’t remember who or even what he is. He hands me the electronic thingie with the attachy pen thingie and I remember to hold the pen vaguely near the screen and wiggle my fingers a bit.
Sufficient. He takes it back from me and some small, distant part of my brain says…
Ohhh he’s another human. A real one! I remember what those are like.
It takes me another half a minute to recall that the accepted approach to this brief encounter is for me to say something. ‘Hi’ would do. ‘Thanks’ would also work. Even if I don’t remember to say these things in Dutch, it would at least qualify as an effort. Some acknowledgement of his fellow humanity.
But by now it’s too late. He’s already tripping away back down the stairs, shaking his head. It’s too late to suddenly metamorphose back into a real person instead of a walking imagination.
I shut the door, knowing that, once again, I have been crazy. Eccentric, if we like that word better (and we do). I have stared vacantly at this poor man, accepting his proffered parcel without even a flicker of a smile. He couldn’t possibly know that my mind was still wandering about in steampunk Eisenstadt, pulling the collective strings of a small flock of very annoying pigeons. He couldn’t be expected to appreciate that my brain was too busy looking ahead to chapter seventeen to have time to formulate mere mundane greetings. He just thinks I’m crazy.
And grim. And unsociable.
And in fact, I have been all of those things.
The solution, I believe, is to wear a badge. A big, colourful badge that flashes with exciting red warning lights. On it will be the word “WRITER”.
Or maybe just “ARTISTIC TYPE”.
Instead of thinking me bizarre and mildly unnerving, he would merely conclude, ‘Ah! One of those people who spends a lot of time making stuff up! I understand everything now!’ And he would go on his merry way, knowing that if my mouth happens to twitch slightly next time we meet, that from me is the equivalent of an enormous beaming smile from somebody normal. You know, someone who stays on The Reality Plane all the time instead of spending most of their time floating about somewhere else.
For that’s the trouble: it’s not even just when I’ve been at my computer, writing. If I’m alone, the mind goes into dreaming-stuff-up mode. I can be walking down a street full of people and I’m not really there. Part of my brain manages the tedious stuff like not walking in front of cars, not stumbling onto train tracks and not crashing into my poor fellow pedestrians; the rest is gone. Off someplace else. Who is that strange, zombie-like woman with the blank eyes and the vacant expression?
Oh – see, she has a badge. WRITER. ARTIST.
It could clear up so many misunderstandings.