eaders and their writers (or is that the other way round?) share two things in common.
First off, they create imaginary places peopled by characters. As a work is written and as it is read, these phantomtastical realms slowly form. Interestingly, they are different for different people. I’m sure that the image a writer holds while creating a moment is different from what the reader experiences in the read. And that’s fine. Really, as long as point and plot are met, who cares if the hero looks like Brad Pitt, Ricardo Montalban or that boy you dated in high school? Whatever works.
The second thing in common is the respect that others give us our quiet zone as we interact with our books.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
Here where I work, we have a fine breakroom. And since all my yuppie coworkers are generally eating at fern bars or grimly refueling at their desks, it’s generally mine. So, either with my writing laptop or my current novel, I’ve got a quiet place to hang out, to eat my lunch and enjoy places beyond those which I inhabit.
Unless someone shows up.
Then, suddenly, it’s not so quiet. A person writing or reading is apparently a soul crying out for companionship, a bookworm nerd needing rescue. Reading or writing, whatever, it’s silent contemplation and hence fair game. These folks will generally sit half-a-room away and ask questions about my focus in carrying voices, an echoing half-bellow, derivations of “Whatcha reading?” or “whatcha writing?” Man, why ask? At this moment, I’m so deep it’s a painful rip to come back into the real world.
It’s that collective thing, that grouping instinct that humans have. Sometimes my wife and I will be in the corner of an empty restaurant, just enjoying quiet companionship, and a family with god-knows-how-many DNA-launches come in, to settle with all their toys and iPhones and noise and confusion in the table right next to us. Or driving in the quiet night, only to have a car passed suddenly gravitate to mine, loosely clinging to me, a captive moon. People group. People bunch. And so if there are two people sitting in a break room, especially with the tentative social connectivity work affords, the one beached in reality is going to bother the one swimming in the cool depths of the imagination. They are going to want to talk about media that has nothing to do with our current focus, something on Netflix, in theaters, perhaps the latest StarWars knockoff.
They think, possibly at some deeper level, that they are saving us from ourselves, that we pine for contact and conversation and sulk in our lonely worlds. But no, quite the opposite. We’re the ones with rich and amazing lives, places new and stunning and full – we aren’t the ones seeking human contact; they are. And so they latch onto us with the coils of social nicety and convention.
When this happens, don’t fight it. Don’t divide your time between your story and them. Accept it – once they are pests, they will remain pests (for to grow silent, for them, is to admit their own slide into the uncomfortable realm of silence). Don’t ruin your art by multitasking it into stuttering low-bandwidth awareness. Just close the book. Shut down the word processor. If you must, sigh. And focus on their little stunted world.
After all, you can always return to Camelot once they leave.
Just resolve to find a new place to lunch. A more secluded, private place.