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The Loneliness of a . . .

   My favorite band at the moment is a group that is not yet very well known outside of the U.K.: Elbow. Fantastic music with lyrics that resonate in your head long after the songs have ended. Elbow has great tune called The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver, which, I’ve read, is about the loneliness that can result from ambition and success. It's worth a listen.

   Anyways, wife and I were talking the other day about a friend of a friend, the producer of the film CUT[1]. Apparently the actors, staff, and producer of the film were all in New York promoting the movie at the Tribeca Film Festival.

   “How nice it must be,” my wife said, “to be able to go together as a team and say, ‘Look what we did!’ Nothing could be more different than writing a novel.”

   I couldn't disagree with her. No other profession is as steeped in loneliness as that of the novelist. Ideas are borne out of the individual’s imagination, developed in the mind, and then composed in silence. It can take years to complete a single work—my second novel Rokuban (No.6) took three years to write and I’m still tweaking and editing it a year and a half after “publication”.

   Kurt Vonnegut once said that the reason writer’s give speeches is to hear people clap: “I used to make speeches all the time. I needed the applause.” And, I do, too. Unfortunately, that applause, which is virtual in nature, does not come in standing ovations, the screams of teenage girls or canned laughter, but rather in subdued messages e-mailed to me by kind readers. Followed by more silence.

   I struggle with words and sentences, trying to hold on to this mother tongue of mine as it slips through my fingers. Twenty years learning and “mastering” another language so different from your own, and then spending more time with words that are like borrowed clothing that don’t quite fit so well or look quite right on you, trying to produce something that other’s can read, enjoy, identify with . . . Sigh.

   And then, some bastard gives you one star and says it was excruciating trying to read what you had spent years in unpaid solitude writing.

   There’s no accounting for taste, of course. One man’s meat is another man’s poison, or so the saying goes.

   To console myself, I went to to read the pans of two of my favorite authors: Kurt Vonnegut and Gabriel García Márquez. Vonnegut’s classic Slaughter House 5 received a one-star rating, the worst, by thirty-four reviewers and Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera had no less than 59 detractors, one of whom deign to give the Hunger Games Trilogy five stars. Some people should limit their reviews to dog food. 

   One of the major problems with writing as an art is that it takes great effort to appreciate a work. A video on YouTube can be watched in two or three minutes' time and, if you like it, you can click “thumbs up”. No effort needed there. A photo on Facebook can be "liked" almost as quickly as it is viewed which is one reason I never get excited when people praise my photography. When it comes to a novel, though, you’re asking a total stranger to invest a week or more of his time, to use his imagination as he reads every single one of the fifty to seventy thousand words that make up the work. Just finding the time to sit down and start reading something takes effort. So, it’s no wonder people can be unforgiving of typos, the occasional “creative” phrasing, or bad writing.

   I sometime wonder if I would have been a less maladjusted individual if only I had pursued a different art altogether. Tap-dancing, for instance.


[1] CUT - an Amir Naderi film in Japan

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