Monday, October 29, 2012

Support Your Local Scholar!

In Support Your Local Sheriff! from 1969, James Garner plays a mysterious drifter who is passing through a boom town caught up in a gold rush. He is offered the job of sheriff but is surprised to find that the jail has not yet been finished. The walls are there, but there are no bars on the windows and no doors on the cells. His solution is to draw a chalk line on the floor and drip some red paint on it. When the prisoner asks, he makes a vague gesture at "the last man who crossed the line". That's enough to keep him in the cell, at least for a time.

A few seminars back, that scene came to my mind while I was talking about how to secure a space, "a room of one's own", for one's writing. I improvised it into my presentation, but mistakenly remembered it as a John Wayne movie, who only had to explain once to the prisoner that one just doesn't cross the line. "Because it's John Wayne explaining it to him," I said, the prisoner stays in the cell. It's funny, actually, how memory can play tricks on you. I still have, in my mind, a fully formed image, in black and white, of John Wayne drawing the line on the floor. When I saw James Garner do it, in color, last night, it almost seemed like an homage to that, I guess, non-existent film. Anyway, from now on, the scene will be a stock part of my seminars.

What does it tell us about the writing space? you might ask. Well, I always emphasize that the writing space must be "walled in" and have a "door". But this has to be taken in a very abstract sense because many scholars lack an office of their own even at their department. Some share an office with one or two others; some even sit in open office landscapes. Every morning, I write this post at home while my family gets ready for the day all around me (I don't have a study). But since I'm the James Garner of writing, I am granted a magic circle around my process from 6:30 to 7:00. My wife and two children know that I am not to be disturbed, and they allow me this space, such as it is, because they know that at 7:00 I will return to my family duties. The "walls" and "doors" of the writing space only have to function as such for a determined amount of time. And much of its function is social, not material, just like Garner's socially constructed, if you will, jail cell. Once this is understood, a "location" can open up (near you!) for writing on a daily basis, whether you've yet secured yourself a writer's garret or not.

No comments: