I am now lying on a bed looking through blankets of billowing wool to where I am told there is a world beyond the bed. Yesterday I tried to venture off the bed and internal forces — some of them responding to the name Phil — held me down. You could call this laziness, but I call it reality. It was easier to leave the bed in 1996. There was a most beautiful world beyond that bed, but that was when we didn’t have the Internet. No wi-fi. No laptops. No inanities.
This is a Brooklyn apartment in 2007. I email. I blog. I pick up my cell phone. Sometimes, I do all three at once. And my life is pointless and inane just for even doing one of these things. Even if I turned the computer off for a week and just thought about doing it. Doris Lessing told me all this. It seems that I am incapable of reading a book, no matter how many notes I take. And it’s all because I haven’t visited Zimbabwe and met some starving young black boy telling me he wants to write. Even if I were to go onto IRC and find a boy in Zimbabwe typing “i shall be a writer too :),” this would not be enough. For the boy in Zimbabwe could very well be a forty-two year old psychopath in Dayton, Ohio who would want to fly me out somewhere and meet me in a sleazy motel and offer me a special treat if I pretend to be a fifteen year old girl named “sucker69” who likes to try new things. This is assuming I have the time or the inclination to pretend to be a fifteen year old girl. Again, the inanities. The whole day wasted on blogging. Worthless.
I do not think many of the people on IRC will really chat with a boy in Zimbabwe who wants to write.
The next day I won’t be giving a talk anywhere, unless you count climbing up the fire escape to the roof and braying at the moon in an effort to beat my insomnia. Because I am one of those insignificant Internet people and there isn’t so much as a sliver of hope that I’ll be able to formulate any meaningful thoughts on a screen. The best thing I write is bound to be insignificant because it isn’t bound in buckram. So there is no prize.
Maybe I will talk with myself, underneath the blankets with the billowing wool. Zimbabwe will be on my mind as I look at my mildly expectant fingers reaching onto the laptop and try to tell them to stop because Doris Lessing said that it wasn’t good enough.
I do my best. My fingers are not polite.
I’m sure that there are other people out there with fingers like mine and that some of these mysterious strangers with laptops will win prizes.
Then the talk with myself will be over. Maybe my super will call the police. Maybe I’ll be evicted for all the loud noise. Maybe nobody will care. After beating myself up for not knowing anybody in Zimbabwe, and being too lazy to try and contact anybody in Zimbabwe, I shall go down to my local bodega and try to talk with some of the people in my neighborhood. I will ask them if they know anybody in Zimbabwe and they will tell me to either buy something or fuck off. And I shall return to the bed and the blankets with billowing wool and the laptop, and it will all remain inane and insignificant.
We are in a fragmenting culture, where meeting somebody from Zimbabwe was once a sure thing if you had a lot of expendable income and you were 88 years old and you felt like bitching at someone because you weren’t quite dead yet. This is no longer possible. In this culture, we can celebrate writers like Doris Lessing, who make silly generalizations about people who work with computers being incapable of reading and sound like utter loons. And it all sounds important because it’s delivered in front of the Nobel Foundation and because it’s Doris Lessing saying these words.
I remember a day in 1980 when Carter was still President and there was a nest of singing birds. Should I tell you the rest of this story? No. Because writers are made in Zimbabwe. And I grew up in California. I was not a black boy. I’m so sorry.
Despite this difficulty, I became some third-rate writer. And we should also remember that I became a third-rate writer not in Zimbabwe, but in Brooklyn, a place where there are too many writers. In one or two generations, there may even be more people from Zimbabwe in Brooklyn than there are writers. I do not shed any tears over this fact. This is the way of things.
If I do not leave the bed soon, I will be a poor girl trudging through the dirt, dreaming of an education for my children, should I lack the foresight not to spawn. I think I shall stay in bed and not eat for three days. I’ll think of the children. I’ll think of Zimbabwe. Then I’ll think of Doris Lessing and ask myself whether she banged out her speech in a few hours or whether this was just an easy way to get the Nobel ceremonies over with.