A friend was talking about the time she was house-hunting in the Beverly Hills area a few years ago and one of the houses she looked at was Angelina Jolie’s (whether this was pre- or post-Brad, and whether Jolie was leasing or owning, I cannot tell you). The house seemed normal and pleasant enough until my friend opened the walk-in closet in the bedroom and saw how the back wall “was covered and streaked with all this candle wax. And I thought to myself, ‘Angelina is my kind of woman!'”
And while on the subject of such tidbits, another story from another friend concerned a friend of his who worked as one of the personal assistants to a major movie star. One of the most stressful parts of the job was dealing with the actor himself: “Whenever he passed you in the house or something he would grab you and act out a little scene from one of his movies and you were supposed to instantly know which movie he was quoting himself from. And he’s been in a lot of movies.” Real trouble came, however, when the actor became more deeply involved with a certain organization that passes itself off as a certain religion and tried to convert everyone who worked for him. “You were told that it was okay if you didn’t, that it’s not like your job depended on it or anything.” The friend did not convert. He got fired shortly after.
Had a good writing session this afternoon. It was good precisely because it started out kind of tough — it had been a rough morning, I was agitated and distracted, and the engine of the book hasn’t really kicked in yet, that part in the process when you can just fold your mind into the story and let it sweep you along. But except for a few minutes spent bitching about it on Twitter, I pushed myself along paragraph by limping paragraph until I found myself with a decent amount done for the day and even within a short span of time, compared to how long it would have taken if I’d been in a position to indulge some procrastinations, which I have become alarmingly good at doing.
As I drove home I thought that one of the best qualities about the place where I wrote those pages turns out to be its location. It’s a lofty, warehouse kind of space used to house the offices of several young companies and I get my own little room off to the edge. It isn’t within a quick, easy distance of anything too tempting for me, and although it’s close to other places where I sometimes need to be it’s a far enough drive from home so that once there, I feel the need to justify not the time it took to get there but the time it takes to drive back, especially if I get stuck in rush-hour traffic. Which, given the hours I write there, at least so far, is what tends to happen.
Although it occurs to me now that maybe there’s more to it than that. I like that there are people around, the rise and fall of their voices beyond my door punctuated by long stretches of silence, the explosion and flurry of lunchtime. I especially like that there’s an eco-friendly kitchenette where I can rustle up some espresso or a diet Coke or even a touch of Indian food (although I’ve been invited to partake, I leave the buffet for the people with the real jobs). And I like, of course, that there are a couple of friends around, much too busy with their own burdens of stress and responsibility to distract me for more than five or ten minutes during the hours I’m there. I do my best to stay out of the way, slip in and out like a ghost and hope I didn’t steal — in very unghostlike fashion — somebody’s parking space. I suppose what I’m saying — and yes, I realize how spoiled this sounds, and yes, I know that I am — is that it’s just cool to exchange solitude or Starbucks for the proximity of driven, hardworking people my own age, accomplishing cool things; to be in that kind of environment without being of it.
Maybe that influence is finally what I needed, that reminder of what it’s like to have to earn a living*, carry your family, which admittedly I haven’t had to do for many years now and, barring catastrophe, won’t need to do ever again**….I believe very deeply that Freud had it right when he said that in order to be happy, you need love and purposeful work. And as a writer with outsized ambitions I can’t seem to shake — which by definition includes roles of witness, observer — I can’t afford to get so severed from the world of work, no matter how tenuous that connection might indeed be.
* or at least your lifestyle
**a few minutes spent googling me will show the obnoxious details of why this is so, so I’ll leave it at that.