24 August 2015

Finding the Time for Writing the Things That Are Close to My Heart

That night, after he had recited his verse, I remarked it was too bad he did not find more time for writing the things that were close to his heart.

"I wish I could," he said almost wistfully, "and each day I plan for the morrow to be the day I begin, but always there is some obstacle and the day goes and another dawns and I still have not begun. The world, the flesh, and the devil seem to be in constant conspiracy against me."

Now, as Dan spoke, Archer, the pharmacist turned novelist, rose abruptly and left us, saying it was time for him to get upstairs and to work. Dan watched him go with admiration.

"The Lord surely has Justus under His wings," he said, quoting the Ninetieth Psalm. "He is afraid neither of the business that walks about in the darkness nor the noonday devil."

The business that walks about in the darkness did not bother Dan too much. But the noonday devil persecuted him tirelessly.

"He is the daylight devil, the worst of all the fiends," Dan declared. "Wine cannot drive him away as it can the demons of darkness for wine cannot exorcise in the sunlight. It has been said that Satan's best trick is to prove he does not exist. I do not think so. I think his best trick is to assure us he is a gentleman. And his next best trick is to persuade us he is unimportant, is just passing by. That is the noonday devil.

"The smiling gentleman devil I can resist. Urbanity has never been persuasive with me. But the noonday fiend is primitive. He distracts, disrupts, takes away purpose and patience and time. He works through incidentals and accidentals. He seeks to involve us in trivia, to trip us up with inconsequential detail, so that we will be unable to do a day's work worthy of our soul.

"He suggests naps in the middle of the day, inspires acquaintances to drop in just to say hello, turns ankles, and tears trousers. He sends the toothache that leads to days with the dentist, breaks shoelaces, gives that boil just under the collar, makes us wait in the barbershop, and sees to it that the automobile battery is dead. He promotes corns and bunions and inspires the long telephone talker when lunch is on the table. He makes the leak in the roof, the rug that slides, and the closet door that won't shut. He snaps the pencil point and the rung of the chair.

"He writes letters marked personal and important' advertising yachts for sale, sends a pair of socks in two sizes, and puts the morning paper at the wrong door. He loses pens and wallets, stops watches, sours the cream, hides the dictionary, breaks fingernails, rings the front doorbell, rings the back doorbell, mislays eyeglasses, gives an itch, gives an earache, sticks with a pin, smashes the window, pulls off a button-- and so on and on, incessantly and relentlessly disrupting and interrupting, persecuting and torturing through endless infinitesimals. He creates frustration and drives to despair.

"He provides explanations for our defections and excuses for our sins. He wastes the minutes that waste the hours, the days, the years, until death is on us and nothing is done. He involves life, complicates it, dissipates it. He seeks so to fritter our labors away that we shall achieve nothing of merit for the salvation of our soul."

He was quiet a moment when he finished. Then, suddenly, he got to his feet, rising with a resolution rare to him.

"I think, perhaps, if you good friends don't mind, I'll go upstairs and see if I can't get my book started." He turned solemnly to me. "You're right. I must try to find time to write the things that are close to my heart."

He said good night and, erect with determination, left the room.

I was quite pleased that I had had some effect on him. But my pleasure was short lived. Doris, after Dan had gone, told me in her realistic fashion that I should not be misled by Dan's resolutions.

"Dan makes these dramatic decisions once or twice a week," she explained. "He goes up to his study to work-- and a half hour later I find him up there siting back in his armchair sound asleep."

This was a blow to my conceit. Nonetheless, that night as I rode home alone on the streetcar (Briggs not having returned from taking Doris home) I could not persuade myself that Dan was merely being lazy. I could see on this second visit what I suspected on my first, that he was troubled, at war with himself. Everything about him, his books, his music, his manner of life, and, paradoxically, even his bright talk and his ebullient good spirits tended to be proof of this. There was more, I felt certain, than conversational invention in his fear of the noonday devil.

--from Dan England and the Noonday Devil, by Myles Connolly

No comments: