Aah, our favorite writers. Why can’t we leave them where they belong? On our dusty and crammed bookshelves, bookmarked as favorite on our browsers, in the magazines and newspapers they often grace? Why can’t we leave them there? Why do we go ahead and hunt them down in the long letters and emails that we draft in earnest, in the lauding comments on their blogs? Every piece of work that they create is magical, out of this world, spectacular; the best thing to happen to this world since the Android. Then there are the budding and eager writers. Tsk. They are at their best manners with their spelling and punctuation and sentence construction when they write them and speak to them. And we send them our drafts seeking for their acknowledgment, their nod of approval, their admiration. And their love. We want them to love us.
When we all read their work, we conjure images of divinity and spirituality. We revere them so much that they become demigods in our minds eyes. Surely, any man who can create such immortality in his words, who has the power to move people with his work, the authority to bring the sun out to shine today with the world he has created is not to be considered human, no? No.
And then you meet them.
You realize that they are ordinary people; like you and me. Regular guys and gals who like the same music that you do, frequent the same bars, go to the same church, dine at the same restaurants. They do pee and sweat. For most of them, fashion is not a priority. We ask them about their work, and they are the least bothered about what they last wrote. Because today, his body language says, he wants to have a smoke and unwind to the Rhumba band he came to see. When he mingles with the crowd, it is to laugh and argue about politics and soccer and whatnot. Talking about their work – the last essay, an upcoming book, the devices he used in his last novel, the style in his collection of short stories – is far from their mind. Without coming off as unpleasant or unbecoming, he shoos you and your obsession away with his demeanor. But not before you ask them to sign your book, and tell them that you are a huge follower of their work. He smiles. Out of politeness.
You walk away and one word comes to mind: disappointment.
Beside my disappointment, two other things remain universal amongst writers. First, their hands: I look at their hands, gifted hands (Ben Carson just left the building). Those are the hands that bring life and order and meaning to these fleeting things called words; delicate and precise. Like surgeons and shoemakers do in their craft.
Second, their eyes: It is an occupational habit to look around the room and pick details about the surroundings; fodder for their writing I suppose. If you have a writer pen 50 words in just a few seconds of walking in, he shall spill out those 50 words faster than an angry mistress: the girl who peeks at them through glasses and jots in her notebook in haste; she seems unsettled. The gentleman at the front row with his muddy shoes and shaggy hair; writing and writers complete him, don’t they? The woman who just came in with her trench coat and high heels, what makes her vulnerable?
It is all in the hands and eyes.
Take that away, and these are mere mortals and regular Joes who go into war and reach greatness when a blank page and pen is placed in their hands, every day. As author Mark Leyner put it: “I emerged with a torn shirt, sweaty—and victorious. That’s what my experience of writing …was like. Battling this pterodactyl in the closet with a pan.”1