Dave Eggers Stole My Metaphor!

March 8, 2010 at 1:40 am (By Amba)

Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you’re called back to the surface every couple of minutes . . . you can’t ever get back down.

I really have used the exact same analogy.  What I elided in this passage was “by an email.”  Because, yes, but it’s “by anything.”  I keep saying that I don’t want to write, really write, in this (caregiving) situation because I will constantly be interrupted, yanked to the surface, as if by a fretful fisherman who keeps checking his bait.  The Person from Porlock on a Groundhog Day loop.  (Follow that link, you’ll be glad you did.)

Eggers also says,

“I procrastinate worse than anybody.  I need eight hours to get maybe 20 minutes of work done. I had one of those yesterday: seven hours of self-loathing.”

For some of us, at least, plowing through a nauseating zone of dysphoria (thicker at some times than at others) is necessary pretty much every time to get to the sort of plasma state where real writing happens.  It feels like death because you get attached to the comfortable, cooled shell of your normal everyday consciousness, and it has to go.  You have to shed yourself the way atoms are stripped of their electrons.  That takes heat and pressure, and, for a living thing with attachments and habits, pain and suffering.

This is why I would assert that most blogging isn’t “real writing.”  You keep your personality on and dabble in the shallows, for the most part.  To an obligate writer (in the sense that scientists speak of, say, an “obligate carnivore”), blogging is cheating.  Althouse, who posted this, remarked:

Oddly, Eggers is motivated by his sense of how short life is. All that time getting going and thinking about how short life is? Oh, the pain. Blogging, by contrast, is the continual relief from that pain.

Partly, and partly avoidance of it.  If you crave much more than relief, it’s on the other side of the pain.


  1. Donna B. said,

    As for myself, I do not want to go there…

    There are planes and levels and depths and heights… dizziness occurs.

  2. amba12 said,

    Donna: no, you don’t want to go there if you don’t have to.

  3. El Pollo Real said,

    Amba: So odd yet wonderful that you mention fishing, diving, and chemistry all in one post. Here is a good read by Barry Sharpless, of whom you may or may not have ever heard. He likened his whole life’s work to deep sea fishing, and he was and is remarkably good at it. (Full disclosure: Barry hired me in the late 90’s, before he won his prize, but I no longer work at Scripps). We had many, many discussions over the sorts of topics: focus, attention, creativity, but mostly just about chemistry. I do recall discussing his deep sea fishing analogy with him before he ever published it, and I told him that I didn’t like to fish at the surface, but preferred to submerse myself in chemical problems.

  4. amba12 said,

    I hadn’t heard of him, no! I look forward to reading this. Thanks!

    Fishing is a pregnant metaphor (possibly even for being pregnant; feeling a nibble on the end of the line may be the closest I ever get to knowing what quickening feels like).

  5. callimachus said,

    ah good ol’ Stevie Smith. I like that poem of hers especially.

  6. david said,

    That’s the same metaphor I use for meditation.

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