Martha Nicols goes Searching for Solitude in an Online World
Nicols explores the need for a writer's private world @ Talking Writing.
This spring, while visiting the Singapore Art Museum, I came across the striking conceptual work “Paper Room.” It begins with a narrow corridor where every surface has been covered with crumpled manuscript pages.
A museum guard had to open an unmarked cabinet door to expose the corridor; otherwise, my son and I would have missed it. We walked through the crumpled pages of typescript to what looked like a blank wall. Then, after a sharp turn into darkness, we reached a tiny office with a gray-flowered couch, a desk strewn with more papers, stacks of books, and a typewriter. It could have been 1938, 1968, or some timeless writer’s dream.
Originally created in 2003, “Paper Room” is the work of a small collective of Singaporean artists called Vertical Submarine. (The hidden writer’s office is part of a second 2009 installation, “A View with a Room,” that’s connected to a more recent version of “Paper Room.”) The white-gray-and-black palette is subdued, meant to disturb. My ten-year-old son didn’t like the shadowy turn before the office.
Yet, I loved that private writing space. It felt protected among the webs of words. I loved that it was secret. All the crumpled pages didn’t seem lost to me, but necessary, a part of the creative process. And what struck me most was the messiness, such an apt representation of how the real work of writing gets done.
Not everyone likes piles of paper trash. Many of us, including my young son, prefer clean walls and bright lights and screens in which pages of words aren’t physical objects. But I know very well that my best writing comes from my own corridor of crumpled pages—and that I rarely generate the equivalent when I’m blogging.
Which means I have a strange new privacy problem, one that’s caught me by surprise.
In 2009, when I started my first blog, Athena’s Head, I confronted the usual privacy challenges. I worried that I’d get too personal. Insta-publishing felt so exhilarating that I feared I’d hurt a loved one with too many public disclosures. Danger! Writer Unleashed! (I even wrote a post at the time called “Blogging Ethics: When Do I Cross the Line?”)
I needn’t have worried. As a journalist and editor, I was well inoculated with privacy safeguards. Although it took awhile to work out the right boundaries for my blog, it’s been ages since I’ve agonized about revealing too much.
But these days, as I type away at a new blog called “Martha’s Singapore Column,” I’m troubled by what I’m not putting into words. In Asia, during a much-needed break from my normally hectic life, I haven’t felt compelled to keep a private journal or to do the creative writing I want to do. While I jot down occasional observations in a notebook, all my Singapore writing to date has appeared on the blog—in public.
Despite the daily writing practice it provides, something gets lost in the telling.
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