A few years ago I was sitting at a café with a friend when another guy walked up and started talking to us. My friend knew him and conversed with him for several minutes. When the guy walked away I asked, “Who was that?”
My friend’s reply: “Oh, just a writer.”
I sat there stunned for a second or two, not sure why I was feeling what I was feeling. Finally, I blurted out, “What do you mean just ? Why did you say it like that?” I was slightly hurt and a little bit angry and I had no idea why. My friend looked at me, confused. He considered my questions and then asked me, “What does ‘writer’ mean to you?”
I stared into my lap, clutched my hands together, noticed that I was being weirdly intense (this happens to me frequently), and then pushed on anyway and dumped all of my thoughts out onto the table in front of us.
“A writer is…an artist, a soldier, a dreamer, a poet, a philosopher, a prophet no one wants to hear, a leader, a subversive follower, a supplicant and a spy.”
My friend—who was really all of those things himself—looked at me with twinkling eyes and laughed. “Well, that explains it,” he said. “I didn’t know that ‘writer’ meant all those things to you.”
Up until that point, neither did I.
I still believe in the almost impossibly complex definition of ‘writer’ that I gave my friend that evening. But now I embrace all the different moving parts of that definition, instead of fighting and resisting them as I did for so many years.
Introverts, HSPs, INFJs, INFPs, sensitive intuitives, writers and artists…call it what you will, we end up at one of these definitions because we’ve felt weird and different our whole lives. We experience visions, we hear voices, and we fall in and out of reality. Ghostly hands reach for us on our way to the Starbucks on the corner. Our muse dresses up like Medusa, clubs us over the head caveman-style, and drags us off to her lair in the middle of a meeting with our boss. We’re not really here, and we’re not really there. We are in between worlds, with one foot in each, constantly wavering and ready to fall, pulled in both directions.
Our souls are made up of one half magic. So being here, on this earth, is sometimes more challenging for us than most.
In my everyday here life I work in an office. I make polite chit-chat with my coworkers every morning. I talk about the weather, and the San Francisco Giants, and how parking has gotten really bad lately. I answer my phone and give the information needed from me. I go to the store and buy what’s on the list. I am quite good at conducting the business of life. But half of me is always not here. Half of me is always somewhere else: in another dimension, inside my own head, in a book I’m reading at the moment, in a story creating itself inside my heart.
I have been this way ever since I could remember, and so for as long as I’ve known I was alive I have been accompanied by a sense of deception. My real life is not lived on the surface of things. And I feel deceptive because the people who I can say that to, and who actually understand what I’m talking about, are so very few and far between that I gave up trying to explain my weird double life to most people a long time ago. Now, I’m content to make chit-chat here, while the magic half of me goes there and gets the real work done.
This is what I meant when I told my friend that a writer is a poet, a philosopher, a soldier, and a prophet no one wants to hear. We live in disguise. We trade one mask for another as easily as we breathe. We are never and always ourselves at the same moment. We invented the meaning of “double life.”
When I’m in the grip of writing a particularly urgent story, it gets worse. I’m fully three quarters not here. With most of me somewhere else, the unsettling feeling of being lost at sea closes in on me. One of my clients described the process of writing as “the dark forest.” She said her work is to leave herself breadcrumbs so that she can find her way out again. I know exactly what she means. No one else but another writer could have put it in such perfect words.
For me, traveling through the dark forest feels like being haunted. Images, sounds, fragments of sentences, they all play through my mind on a swirling loop that won’t let me rest until I work. This morning, for instance, I was visited by Kafka and Christian Slater. Kafka replayed the ending to one of his stories for me, while Christian Slater transformed himself into the spider from Charlotte’s Web, gave me his trademark wicked grin and croaked, “Greetings and Salutations,” over and over. This lasted for my entire commute to the office. This is not an out-of-the-ordinary morning for me.
And if you’re a writer, I know it’s not for you either.
The dark forest, the hauntings, the ghostly hands—and the high sensitivity, the feeling like a freak, the constant doubting of myself and my mind—none of it is easy to deal with. Almost all of it cannot be explained to other people. There is a stark loneliness that comes with being a writer. A curiosity that cannot let anything rest, ever. But I wouldn’t trade the double life for anything. I wouldn’t give up being a writer, or all that it means to me.
We are the poets, philosophers, and soldiers, the prophets no one wants to hear. And as Jonathan Ames says, “The Double Life Is Twice as Good.”