January 27, 2023

The Writing Life by Jerry Levy

My shrink thinks I should give up writing. “It’s too isolating.” he tells me.

“Be with people,”

Is he kidding? Has he scanned the newspapers lately? Does he know about the hole in the ozone, about the wars and rapes and murders, about the eradication of large tracks of forest?

Hey, Mr. Psychiatrist! Check out this headline in yesterday’s newspaper: Man Freezes Dead Mother to Collect Benefits.

So, be with people? No thanks, I’ll gladly hole myself in my small apartment and write my stories instead.

But as with everything that has value, there’s a price to be paid. I mean, I’m really pretty isolated. Since I started on my novel, what few friends I have I hardly ever see anymore. It would be nice to – I don’t know, have a dinner out, see a movie, go for a drive in the country. I suppose I could call a friend or two, maybe even do these things alone, but it all seems like too much of an effort.

Anyway, from time to time I think about forging a different life, maybe getting a real job, the kind that pays decent money. The problem is that I’m not really suited for much. I once worked as security guard but got fired for writing. Then I worked in a bookstore for a short time but would try and talk people out of buying the trashy romance books that they brought to my cash. Needless to say, I didn’t last long.

Yes, a real life. That would be interesting. Not too long ago, I read an article about the great French writer Gustave Flaubert. It seems that one afternoon, as he was passing a playground wherein he spotted a family having fun, he turned to his companion and muttered: “1Ils sont dans le vrai.” What are we to make of such sentiments from the lifelong bachelor? That real life lies elsewhere, other than in the writer’s lair?

So I guess you’d like to know why a seemingly sane man in the prime of his life would willingly sit in a chair for hours on end, scribbling away.

Well, it isn’t for the money, I can tell you. I barely scrape by. At the end of the month, when the rent is payable, I usually take the back stairs to leave the building. I can’t deal with running into the landlord, he of the grubby open palms and scorching eyes that burn holes through me.

“Rent due,” is all he says.

He just despises excellence, that’s what his problem is. He’s all wrapped up with money and banks and cheques and has lost touch with the more aesthetic things in life, things like literature, like my stories.

Let me say this as clear as I can: I don’t write as a cry for help, a desire for fame, or because I have something especially important to say; heaven forbid that I should say that I’m enamoured with the process. On the contrary, writing can be pure drudgery. Finding the right sentence to move a story along, agonizingly searching for just the best word to breathe life into a character…it’s enough to make you go mad. Oh, and let’s not forget all those times when despite your best efforts, the story comes to an impasse and there’s nothing more to say, no ideas left to tinker with. You’ve fallen into the dark chasm of nothingness. ‘Writer’s block,’ they call it, but I call it pure torture.

Let me tell you what it’s really like to devote yourself to writing. First, get used to your own company. Unplug the phone. Cancel your cable. Close the curtains – if you don’t you’ll long to be outside and won’t write a word.

And speaking of being outside, don’t write in cafes. No real writing takes place there. It’s not 1920’s Paris when Hemingway and Sartre and Camus would write in ‘Les Deux Magots’ and ‘Le Café de Flore.’ If for some reason you decide you must write in a cafe, have a close look at the brunette at the next table – that’s not Simon de Beauvoir. And the guy pretending to write on his laptop in the far corner isn’t James Joyce.

As I mentioned, it’s a lonely affair, this business of writing. Once when I was at my wit’s end and sick of my own company, I called an ad I saw in a tacky newspaper. Are You Looking for a Friend? it said. So I called. The guy told me he was offering services as a professional friend. Can you put up with my cynicism? I asked. That’s what true friends do, I reminded him. No one understands your genius, he told me. They’re jealous of your excellence, he reminded me. That’s why you don’t have many friends. I was liking him just fine until he told me that he charged $ 40-$80 for ahem…various assorted jobs.

Then there’s the whole thing about being poor. Everything in the city entices, and everything is beyond your means. Movies, fine dining, plays. But you make do. You dumpster dive for food and haggle with the sales clerks for the prices at second-hand clothing stores.

Anyway, getting back to why I write, I think I can explain it best by referring to one of my stories in which I tell the tale of a man and his double.

The double looks exactly like the original but is a bit brighter, more suave, certainly more together.

There you have it – that’s why I write, why I have written all these years…in order to create a double.

And out there in the vast city my double has taken on a life of his own and walks the streets. He’s the one who won’t be writing because that’s much too solitary a craft for him. He’s already been through all the therapy he needs. He’s now a man in motion. A bon vivant of the world.

Restless within the confines of my writer’s hole, I’ll venture out in the early hours one night. My head looking up toward the heavens for divine inspiration as I contemplate my next story, not looking where I’m going, I’ll bump into him, my more inspired likeness. And then the strangest thing will happen. My body will dissipate quickly, my atoms and molecules starting to merge with his…and I, noble writer that I purport to be, will disappear into a greater whole.



Jerry resides in Toronto, Canada and his short stories have been published in many Canadian literary magazines/anthologies. He has recently completed a full-length Y/A fantasy novel as well as a children’s picture book and is actively seeking publication for both. You can find him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jerry.levy99

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