We’re starting up again. I feel like Phil Winter in Alice in the Cities, lost in the detritus of meaningless travel, deliberately accidentally swamped by advertising. Bright screens, short videos, long ads, everything blurring, deleting apps and accounts only to reinstall them again days later, once again broken seemingly from lack of wine. That’s me, not Winter.
So, I need to be back. I don’t believe in writers’ block. Related to this really useful piece of advice: don’t tell yourself you need to do X important thing. Tell yourself you want to do it. Writers’ block is a castle built on a swamp, it has no clear or meaningful basis and instead a miasma stinks about it: believability. It’s “well documented” says Wikipedia. We all talk about it. Any series comedy or drama that mentions writing does a bit on it. The assumption therefore arrives that it’s a thing. I even found myself trying to capitalise it earlier. Nope. It’s a nebulous gathering of different factors that together result in little or no writing – or quality writing – being produced, or published. It’s life, really. Things happen to you that you haven’t processed. You need time to process them in whatever way.
Phil Winter (played by Rüdiger Vogler) feels disconnected from the world around him to the point at which he’s doubting meaning or existence itself. This of course makes it harder for him to write about something as broad as “the American landscape”. He processes the disconnection by being given sole care of a stranger’s nine-year old daughter for a couple weeks. Well, he is given sole care of the child and processes by deciding to care. The microcosm – so to speak – of looking after an abandoned child helps him to resolve something in the macrocosm of his own sense of existence. Or puts his worries far enough on the back burner so that, in his distraction, he starts writing again. Enough of him is engaged in helping or being with this person that he returns to the real world and stops sponging, returns from his own sea of personal doubt. He spends what little he has on someone else, earns money from nothing for someone else, finds most of his entertainment in and provides regular entertainment to someone else. And he gets to go back home to Germany where he’s more comfortable.
Look, while I’ve just talked about writer’s block really being a complex web of personal factors, there is one uniting theme. Disconnection. It’s easy to get disconnected as a writer, or any kind of artist. It’s easy to fall into the trap of living in your own mental world, because that’s almost what you’re being paid to do. Or it’s what you enjoy. Both. Even if you’re writing about reality, it’s super out-there to be watching reality. Most of us just experience the real. If you’re experiencing it and watching yourself do that at the same time – that’s weird. The whole observational act in art is strange, and so is making up a false world. It’s stepping out of our basic bodily boundaries and woah are we not entirely comfortable with that.
Words and pictures and even a lot of our sounds and smells come to represent other things, mention other things, spool tapes in your head-cinema of stuff that isn’t immediately occurring in front of or around your body. Every word, every mark, is a small disembodiment. Yeah. And how you feel about that disembodiment determines whether you get…disconnected. Either you feel like you’re connected with something else or many other things – you observe common ground. Or you feel like you’re outside of everything and so temporarily lost, floating in the spaces between metaphor and literal description, having seen things ignored by the rest of the world.
Instead of the brutalist, Stalinist, anonymous excuse of a writer’s block, let’s just say disconnection shall we? Especially if this is writers on writers. We can find so many ways of describing disconnection. Oh, you did a Flammarion? Right. Someone cut up your heart? Damn. Is that a thousand-yard stare I spy in those peepers? …You get the idea.
I’ve been out for a while and this time it’s just a story showing someone who seems familiar – that’s brought me back. Nothing too grand. I got the good feels for Phil Winter and so – having earlier felt alone in my particular form of suffering – now knowing that I have at least one notional comrade has dropped the scales from my eyes. For a while anyhow. I just couldn’t handle how Wim Wenders in the interviews and then the blurbs I’ve been reading all referred to Phil as having writers’ block. I’m like no! he even fucking says he’s disconnected and he literally starts writing again as he develops a caring relationship with Alice. Do. Not. Be. Silly. Let’s use our words, the useful words, it’s what they’re for.
Ugh. Well, the blog must go on. See you again tomorrow I guess…? Maybe let’s expand on the disembodiment of words. I like the way that sounds.