Why do writers drink? We already talked about that a few days ago. So, I have a new question- why do writers write? Today I don’t know; there are too many people writing to be able to surmise why they write. Fifty or even a hundred years ago writing was a much more limited field and to be a writer back then was to have been a member of a prestigious class. Centuries ago, writing was like any other art, requiring education, the leisure that comes with wealth or having a Medici like benefactor. A hundred years ago, I don’t know what motivated writers. I really don’t care for pre-twentieth century writing; both the language and the customs are so formal and stilted. There are exceptions but they are few. I especially admire Lermontov’s ‘A Hero of Our Time’. The story takes place in the 1830’s in the Caucasus where the Russians were fighting to subdue the indigenous people (ironically much like the Russians are still doing today). Aspects of the story take place as a dream with in a dream. The idea of which I borrowed, using the dreaming as the narrating force when my character, Michael in my first novel dies in a squalid hotel room in Bolivia; hallucinating from illness. It is further ironic to note that Lermontov himself died in a dual exactly as his character, the officer dies in ‘A Hero of Our Time’.

Sixty or seventy years ago literature changed. Granted Hemingway and others like John O’Hara changed literature much earlier on but it wasn’t until a new ethos appeared with the emerging artists who felt disenfranchised from the new culture of consumerism that everything changed again. Immediately following WWII that old bohemian poverty lifestyle reappeared on the scene and literature magically changed hands. What previously was mostly the province of the intelligentsia now with the advent of the Beats writing became blue collar and in the doing suddenly belonged to everyone.

I gave my library away so with no references at hand I can’t say chronologically speaking which of the Beat writer’s landed in Paris first. But that fact is culturally insignificant. I do remember that the Beats didn’t go to Paris to sip cappuccinos and soak up the Parisian culture in the cafes. They didn’t go there because they admired the French and wanted to learn the language. And they didn’t go there because of the arts and writing tradition that happened there 30 years earlier with the likes of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.

Nope, they went there solely for two reasons. One, Paris in the ‘50s was dirt cheap – especially the rent and wine – and two, the French culture and the language were alien enough for them to be able to totally concentrate on their writing.

For them the typewriter was holy. That machine allowed them to create. The move to Paris effectively cancelled out the noise of back home enabling them to hear only their inner voices so that their work would be authentic and not tainted by the phoniness of popular culture.

Jumping ahead five decades William Gibson wrote in this blog ‘The part of me that’s writing this, now, is utterly incapable of writing a novel. The part of me that just wrote a novel is profoundly unavailable, right now, and will remain so until the next time I have to go out and walk for miles, whistling for it, convinced its finally run away for good and all. People don’t ordinarily meet the part of me that writes novels, and when they do, they must assume I’m not doing very well’.

Some writers need to be surrounded by alien environments that are culturally noise free in order to access what those zen adherents call the original mind. I personally find it pretty useful to just shut off the damn TV; something I did 22 years ago.

Being alone with just the thoughts in your head can be both frightening and lonely. And being a ‘stranger in a strange land’ can also be frightening and lonely. And the phrase didn’t originate with Robert Heinlein in the ‘60s. No, let’s go back a few thousand years earlier to find Moses as the original lamenter about having been a stranger in a strange land.

Cesar Vallejo, the great Peruvian poet, died young, poor and unknown in Paris twenty years before the Beats arrived.

His ‘Black Stone on White Stone’ is my favorite poem:

I will die in Paris with a rainstorm,

on a day I already remember,

I will die in Paris—and I don’t shy away—

perhaps on a Thursday, as today is, in autumn.

It will be Thursday, because today, Thursday, as I prose

these lines, I’ve put on my humeri in a bad mood,

and, today like never before, I’ve turned back,

with all of my road, to see myself alone.

 César Vallejo has died; they kept hitting him,

everyone, even though he does nothing to them,

they gave it to him hard with a club and hard

 also with a rope; witnesses are

the Thursday days and the humerus bones,

the solitude, the rain, the roads. . .

There are easier vocations, friendlier paths, easier and safer ways to live but I think that some writers write because they really don’t have a choice in the matter; even if it kills them.