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I was listening to Josh Groban’s recent album Stages, and “Finishing the Hat” came on – from Sundays in the Park with George, a Sondheim musical inspired by artist Georges Seurat painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

It’s a painful song about the woman George loves leaving him, but he still has his work that needs to be done, finishing painting the hat on the woman. The lyrics to the song are marvelous, detailing a different way of looking at the world, as negative space and windows, where the artist grants as much importance to the hat as the figure wearing it.

Finishing the hat
How you have to finish the hat
How you watch the rest of the world
From a window
While you finish the hat

Writers, and I assume other artists as well, are dissociative by nature. I detach from the world and slip into another, wear the skins of many characters, experience an existence slightly different from my own while also living in the one I’m in. And whenever I’m working on dayjob or cooking or other responsibilities, part of me is always somewhere else, always needing more than where I am or what I’m doing. I can be absentminded, selectively blind, deaf, mute, and all because I’m not entirely here. At the recommendation of a therapist, I tried mindfulness once. I found it lacking on a therapeutic level. That little part of me cannot remain tethered. And why should it? What would keep me here?

Entering the world of the hat
Reaching through the world of the hat
Like a window
Back to this one from that

I spend all day mentalizing the scene, trying different phrases, different angles, different dialogue, playing it out over and over and over until it feels solid, then finding another to work on. I get home and I’m usually too mentally/emotionally exhausted to write, which hurts all the more after all the preparation and build-up and genuine need to get these bottlenecking ideas out of my head and into written words where they belong. My real work, this work, and I can barely make headway like I used to when this work was all I did (and when I made little to no money doing it).

Dayjob consumes my time, but my writing consumes my life. I’m far more comfortable dissociating when I’m deep in depression than I am bearing reality, but sometimes I realize how much of my life is spent watching the world from a window while I finish the story. And there’s always another story. Too many stories and never enough time. Worse, never enough energy. I wish coffee were the potion that I wanted it to be. It keeps my eyes open, nothing more. Sometimes my heart races, but that’s decidedly unpleasant.

And when the woman that you wanted goes
You can say to yourself, well, I give what I give
But the woman who won’t wait for you knows
That however you live
There’s a part of you always standing by
Mapping out the sky

There is always a part of me discontent with the world I’m in, always wanting a world that can only be inside my head or on a page. And in having to make a choice between ever having a deeper relationship with a person or writing, I suppose I’ve married myself to the work, because I can only ever successfully do one or the other, and the stories aren’t going away, while no person’s exactly clamoring for my time. I could never give everything I needed to give to a person, despite loneliness, despite human need.

Perhaps the reason I’ve never felt like a human being was because I’m a writer instead. And are we merely ghosts?

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