Monday, February 26, 2007

The sunrise disease

I wake up at 6 A.M. with an overwhelming desire to write. At 6 P.M. I start thinking about a drink. Are the two addictions related? I seem to remember reading a book some years ago called The Thirsty Muse, about writers and booze. Until recently, when a new generation of writers got all trendily heath conscious, the clatter of typewriter keys and the tinkle of ice cubes often went together.

The neurologist Alice Flaherty tries to sort out the writer's instinct in her book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain. She takes us deep into the limbic system -- visiting the hippocampus and amygdala and other assorted organs -- and her pages are full of fun stuff, but at the end I didn't know any more about why I write than when I started. She quotes Yeats: "I went out to the hazel wood/ Because a fire was in my head." Every serious writer knows about the fire, but what it is that burns, and why, remains a mystery.

All I know is that if a day goes by without putting words on paper (or at least on the web) some part of my soma goes all wonky. Maybe it is chemical in the same way that wanting a sundowner drink is chemical. Flaherty is inclined to believe that the urge to write has a innate basis, related presumably to Steven Pinker's language instinct.

Whatever. I think I rather agree with Nathaniel Hawthorne: "I don't want to be a doctor, and live by men's diseases; nor a minister to live by their sins; nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So I don't see there's anything left for me but to be an author."