Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gil McElroy : writing life

I’m one of those people who have great difficulty sitting still. ‘Twas ever thus, and I know when I was younger that I drove some of my teachers – and fellow students – nuts.

Nothing much has changed, I suppose, so sitting down at a desk or what have you so as to focus on writing is always fraught with difficulties. Since I don’t write with some particular subject or need in mind, I come to my writing by way of the line – something I’ve heard (or, more interestingly, mis-heard), read/mis-read, etc. and build from there, letting the poem take me where it might rather than the other way around. To me that’s more interesting and thus more likely to brave the rigors of sitting down before a keyboard and translating the words in my head into the motions of my fingers.

Over the course of the summer I’ve been somewhat homeless, boarding with a friend until I manage to find another apartment. I’m not a horrendous fuss-budget who needs things organized in a very specific way in terms of a place to write, but I do prefer a desk. Or a table – something with a surface on which I can put my notebooks, coffee, and some of the beach stones I keep just to touch and hold in my hand. And I prefer my desktop computer to my laptop in terms of something to write on.

Right now it’s a board – a chunk of wood laid across my lap. And it’s my laptop sitting atop said board sitting atop my thighs as I sit on my bed. I adjust. But I can only stand it for so long before I have to throw it all off and get up and move around, do something involving my body and not merely my head. So writing proceeds in fits and starts. But it’s always been that way. The only sustained, intensive periods of writing I’ve ever done, when I was held to my desk by an idea, was when I was working on Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War, the book about my father and growing up a military brat. I think best through my hands, through writing out words and sentences, and I learned years ago that writing about something is how I learn what I feel about it. It’s a process of discovery, and writing about my father in a sustained way was how I came to terms with who he was and how he fit into my life.

It’s different with poetry, though. It’s a process of discovery, to be sure, but discovery of something I’m making up as I go along. Does that make any sense at all? It has a very different feel about it, and it doesn’t root me physically in place. Sometimes I need to escape it, flee, just get the hell away and be someone else for a little while.

And oh yeah: I’ve never had an office, never had a separate room in which I do my writing. It’s always been a desk somewhere in some corner of some room (bed, living, etc.). I like it that way. I’ve never considered writing something so exotic, something so separate and apart from the rest of my life that I needed to wall myself off in an enclosure so as to do it. That would drive me nuts. I like being near and very much a part of the rest of my life when I try and turn ideas and thoughts into something my fingers can yield forth.

So, for the time being (until the start of October) my wooden board and laptop and rock will suffice.

(Postscript: October indeed found me in new living quarters, and my desk (actually, it’s two set at right-angles to one another) is, of course, in my living room, near my music, near my books, and right smack-dab in the middle of my life.  As it need be.)

Gil McElroy is a writer and artist currently living in Colborne, Ontario. He has a new chapbook coming out from Apt. 9 Press.

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