Monday, August 25, 2014

Restless Pen Syndrome

In the months that followed Desert Storm I wandered streets of every town within an hour's train ride from my little town of Ansbach, Germany. Sometimes I ventured farther away, and sometimes I ventured further inside. That summer, the summer of 1991 was cool in central Europe. It was cool to me, anyway. I will not bring up my high school sweetheart other than she came to visit and we had fun until we didn't. I will not bring up the few weeks I worked at the neighborhood bar on weekend nights. I will not bring up all the friends, new and old who spent their valuable time with me. What I will bring up was what I carried on my person and why.

I tried to carry as much money as I could for a trip and a return. After all, I worked in a bar a few days a week, so I had cash. I carried my toothbrush and toothpaste. If it came to me spending the night away from home, as it happened occasionally, I had clean teeth. I once spent 24 hours in a small town on the German border because I kept missing the train. Occasionally, I carried a paperback. I had learned to enjoy reading during the war. What was most important, I carried a small notebook and pen.

I had whiled away whole days during my stay in the Middle East writing. I wrote in my journal. I wrote letters. I wrote silly things on the casings of TOW missiles. Back in Germany, at least the first two or three months, I had more time that I knew what to do with. I filled some of my time with friends and beer and nightclubs and recovery. But I spent much of my time alone. I've come to the conclusion in the last 23 years that if you are a writer, you are never alone. For some reason it is not permissible to have imaginary friends as an adult—unless you're a writer.

That pen was set to that notebook on every train ride. It was set to that notebook waiting for every train. It was set to that notebook when I sat in guesthouse beer gardens, at ice cream cafes, hotel lobbies and public seats all over the place.

Perhaps I can say this was the first outbreak of the RPS, or Restless Pen Syndrome. I've had a few of them over the years, but this one, this one time was the first. In the summer of 1991, I was writing absolutely nothing of any value whatsoever. I didn't need to write anything of value. I did not think that I would write anything that anyone else would ever read. I mean, here I was, a dumb American 19 year old war veteran left alone in a foreign country. I avoided most Americans. I talked to very few Germans. It was linguistic isolation and I still had that need to communicate. I did it with pen and paper.

I never set the pen down. And as I've said, I wrote absolutely nothing of value.

I don't meet as many writers as I used to meet. Also, the writers I meet now seem to have some sort of purpose. These are writers who focus on things: technical “how-tos” for the web, copy for advertisements, journalism. Also, the writers I meet at UFM are somehow different too. Many of them seem to be working for career advancement, ego or accolades for something. Occasionally, I meet a writer through UFM who has that “well, this is what I'm doing” attitude. I wonder if this sort of attitude comes from someone who is more concerned about the process and less concerned about the product?

When it comes down to it, this life of a writer and this time in which we live, there are so many ways it can all go. First, if you are a writer, I think there is no better time. You can gain an audience instantly and freely, hell if you can think in terms of characters, Twitter could not be a better venue. Also, if you are a creative writer, your book can be published almost instantly. It is a bad time to be a writer for the exact same reasons. Everyone seems to be doing it. There is less and less process and more and more product.

What if you suffer from RPS? Anytime is a good time for you. Just start writing. Take up as many public benches as possible, loiter in libraries and lunch counters and start to write. And if you write with pen and ink, you analogue fool you, you're really going to stick out. Something tells me if you have RPS, the process is more important than the product.

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