(Behind the Curtain of Nola Studiola)
Ks is the friend whose home I’ve set up to make my Nola Studiola. She and I are friends who dip easily into writer-to-writer speak, seamlessly, and without really any of the nervous “is it okay if I ask you advice” sort of shyness that happens between most friends who are about to share vulnerability around their work. There aren’t really any doorframes between our conversations about sex to writing to which skirt is cuter. This is one reason why staying in her place is and has always been good for my writing. Being in her space is like writing inside of our friendship, and I have deep trust in this. She is the only person who read all of my last novel, even the horrible pubic areas, and she is the only person I wanted to read it.
We were talking last week, and in the course of our conversation she made one of her quintessential Ks noises at me—a sort of agitated, barely audible grunt, but very girlish, and not what grunts usually sound like—which indicates frustration and impatience about something I’m on about. I was expressing discomfort about sharing parts of my real life on the blog, as I’m an introvert and a control freak, so writing things about myself that I need to stand by the next day, regardless of who chances to skim across my blog, really makes me squirm.
“So, you really have two writing aims this summer.” Ks points this out in an insistent, schoolteacher way that only Ks can pull off, because I actually listen and know why she’s taking that tone. “You’ve got your fiction writing, and you’ve got this blog where you’re telling the truth.” She says this last word as if it’s a cosmetic product whose claims are circumspect.
“If you’re trying to write fiction,” she said, “why are you trying so hard to tell the truth?”
Universe, bless Ks. She pushed me to acknowledge that I do have another intention with this blog, aside from the practicality of retreating in the middle of a hyper-connected lifestyle. It’s about integrity.
Here’s how it works in my mind: I’ve become convinced in the last few days that the practice of alone-ness this summer is right and good (for me). The solitude I’m engaging with, though not absolute, is helping me sort out some priorities—not in terms of a job or any discrete element of life, as in, “what is your plan?!” that friends and family ask each other in the normal course of daily life (I have started to wear my questioners down, though, and fewer and fewer people bother asking me “What are your plans for ________(fill in the blank: this fall? This year? Your career? Your boyfriend? Where you’re going to live? Your script for being a grown up?” out of sheer exhaustion at listening to my garbled replies.) The sorting has to do with my thoughts and my sensations and my reactions to my lived life, and increasing the energy I put into writing these down—sure, a writer’s life.
But the sorting is also about practicing at listening. I had a whiff of this a month or so ago, but it escaped me and so I’m at it again, here, now. To listen to myself who is listening to things around me is what I’m on about here with this Nola Studiola. It’s not so much that I am trying to do a self care thing, or a “I vant to be alone!” decadent statement about how being selfish is not a bad thing—although I think that is an important part of anyone’s retreat from their daily routine—it’s that I really think I can be a more honest person when I learn to listen to myself more regularly. I hope to scapegoat my loved ones less with the rage I carry around; I hope to take more responsibility for my own happiness and my own life. I hope to gain a bit more tolerance of feelings and let a tiny bit of control-seeking behavior go. This will take a long time, because I am not wired to take responsibility for my own happiness as a general rule. But how lucky are we, those of us who aren’t dead yet?
And I firmly believe that any self-growth is by definition a gesture of joy and/or hope to people outside of you, because, like the African philosophers in my undergraduate class on African philosophy said, “I am because we are,” and so interviewing people I admire is the gesture of listening.
Another friend, Kt, describes this as “Alison re-learning the rules of her life,” which I really find quite charming. Kt is able to interpret things people do and say in a way that transforms their experiences into something extraordinarily charming. It is crucial to have a friend who can do this. She is the person who saves your life.
I cannot lie if I cannot tell the truth. They are separate conversations until I either learn more integrity or quit drinking, or both.
Dear reader, what are your answers to my Nola Studiola questions? What makes you laugh? What are the sounds you adore? Because nothing here is sad.