i find i’m back at the beginning again, lamenting my lack of momentum. admitedly, my copy of proust had gone the way of lost things. . .
and so i returned to the first page. the first line. again. and again. and it struck me that there was a deliberate play against momentum. that proust had tricked me. here i was trying to pedal faster, forge ahead, and yet the narrator is trying desperately to fight against such movement. all he really wants to do is sleep. in fact, 46 pages after the opening we return to: “So it was that, for a long time, when, awakened at night, I remembered Combray again [. . .]”. Not only are we still in the digression of sleep but the very writing itself dictates you yield, slow down. Look, for example, at that sentence–the one returning to that first line (when you think you’d travelled so very very far–of course “far” has nothing at all to do with momentum: see d.’s brillig last post about the mind-body travelling) which is punctuated with a comma at a frequency of no less than every four words, forcing you into a lilting, somnumbulent pace.
In fact, you might even say that momentum is the anathema to sleep. Such is the disturbance of the magic lantern:
it replaced the opacity of the walls with impalpable irrideescences, supernatural multicoloured apparations, where laegends were depicted as in a wavering, momentary stained-glass window. But my sadness was only increased by theis, because the mere change in lighting destroyed the familiarity my bedroom had acquired for me and which the torment of going to bed, had made it tolerable to me. (13)
So this beautiful distraction, placed atop his lamp each night at dinner, rather than creating a magical room of slumber actually aggravated the anxiety of sleep so that each night he felt as if he were in an unfamiliar place “to which I had come for the first time straight from the railway train” (13). What he desires is familiarity and habit.
What is difficult about writing is this word by word, belabored process that despite all of the magic lamps available : voice-command activated software, wordpress apps so i can post at stoplights, touchscreens and autospell they perhaps only obfuscate the simplicity of the act itself. Whether pen or click you still write word by word, erase or delete, edit and write again, clumsily until you find your way home.
Instead of bemoaning my lack of momentum, perhaps Proust can teach me to return to writing as a kind of habit. But I know this, and I think we all know this: it’s not momentum but habit that gets writing done. There is truth to glib titles like “writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day” (another book that had also gone the way of lost things) and my dissertation director’s advice that all a grad student needs is glue–for sitting in the writing chair day after day. There’s truth to that: seven years and two children later my own was finished not out of creating a magical solitary writer’s retreat but by writing daily, in the midst of the familiar chaos so that it became a habit as mundane as washing dishes. (And like sleep, it’s as important as those pesky dishes.)
Today is Wednesday, and I have commited to posting on Wednesdays and I’ve committed to carrying the book with me again (even if it creeps back under the seat with lost Lego bricks, Joe’s O’s and Peet’s coffee sleeves). I cannot guarantee a brilliant discourse on the virtues of Proust (but then we’ve all seen Little Miss Sunshine and know what happens to “real” Proust scholars winkwink) and I may only offer a passage, a line, a word that inspires; for he craved not the magical sleep of disorientation:”it was enough if , in my own bed, my sleep was deep and allowed my mind to relax entirely” (9).