The art’s portability.
All that’s needed to make writing is our own discreet, finite bodies: eyes and ears and noses and arms and legs—and in the cases of certain remarkable, courageous souls, not even those things are strictly necessary.
The rest is the intangible magic of the mortal mind.
We imagine. And we remember.
One of the loveliest consolations of identifying as a writer (to oneself mostly, because I’d caution that declaring one’s calling can prove tricky in certain settings)—is the invisible lightness of its being.
The late, beloved E. B. White once described the joys of being an essayist; he talked about going to a figurative closet every day and deciding which coat to put on. It’s like that, indeed. And then it’s about deciding where to go. And then about seeing what surfaces. And then about considering what you might do with that, and then beginning to work with what you started. And by that point you’re past help and past stopping, because the thing itself is dragging you along like a huge, pent-up dog on a spring day.
All this joy is accomplished invisibly, perhaps while sitting still in a silent room—but is also quite do-able while walking, driving, jogging, cleaning house, or looking dreamily attentive and convivial at noisy dinner parties. (My best friend calls this vacant, pleasant non-presence “checking out.” Trade secret! Don’t tell!)
How many other working artists get to travel so light?
Musicians need instruments; sculptors need raw product; visual artists need supplies. Agreed, poets and writers eventually need pen and paper and (for many) a computer—but don’t suppose that things aren’t swirling and cohering and taking shape before those implements show up.
It’s soothing to recall that however mad, driven, or chaotic the external world becomes, the writer’s still able to stroll unarmed, innocent-looking: securely in possession of a weightless, hidden sanctum sanctorum, where—make no mistake—someone’s home, and the lights are on.
Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Life, just nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.