What it means to be a writer

One of the pleasures of reading Proust is that his prose allows you to sink in—one thought leads to another and another in an unbroken chain that reels you into the text. This type of lavish, complex writing makes it hard to stop reading. It also makes it hard to quote passages. Context is crucial to ISoLT.

But, as an aspiring writer (ridiculous to be aspiring at 40-plus, but alas, there it is), I had to quote a passage which brought a smile to my face, and that flash of comradeship with another human being, long gone from the face of the earth, which makes you feel kinship with all others who have lived before you. The everlasting appeal of art.

After painstakingly recording his impressions of passage along Guermantes way, the narrator says:

…Of course it was not impressions of this kind that could give me back the hope I had lost, of succeeding in becoming a writer and a poet someday, because they were always tied to a particular object with no intellectual value and no reference to any abstract truth. But at least they gave me an unreasoning pleasure, the illusion of a sort of fecundity, and distracted me from the tedium, from the sense of my own impotence which I had felt each time I looked for a philosophical subject for a great literary work. But so arduous was the task imposed on my consciousness by the impressions I received from form, fragrance or color—to try to perceive what was concealed behind them—that I would soon look for excuses that would allow me to save myself from this effort and spare myself this fatigue.

This bald-faced truth, stated after the narrator struggles with description of his surroundings and his sensations, is like a splash of cool water on the face after a long walk on a hot summer’s day. This exactly and unflinchingly describes the experience of being a writer (I daresay any artist), high or low, famous or not, talented or not. As a moderately talented, not famous writer, I was so relieved to read this from Proust (writers always want to know the great ones suffered, too), I could have cried. I wasn’t crazy or inadequate for being tired from simply observing (I have suffered this special brand of fatigue my whole life), from being the type of person who, on each inhalation, draws in the width and breadth and depth of her surroundings.

We are not alone. We are not alone.

Such are the pleasures of reading.

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