I Understand Stephen Den Beste

How’s that for arrogance!?! Saying I understand Den Beste is similar to saying I understand Einstein.

Recently I stumbled across a site (which I’ve forgotten) which quoted his reasons for ceasing to write at the USSClueless and starting another blog with totally different content focus. [For the one person in existence who doesn’t know about the USSClueless, it is/was one of the first and best intense essay blogs, with a readership of about 10,000. The new blog is about animated Japanese movies, with a readership of about 400]

Among his reasons for quitting were annoying “ankle-biter” critics who flooded his email with drivel. Another strong reason was that he has a medical condition that required more and more medication to be able to achieve the level of concentration necessary for his writing. Ahhhh …

I understand about sacrifices to achieve the necessary levels of concentration. I know what it feels like to be in “the zone”, to use an overworked sports analogy. To feel like for an instant that you can see everything, all the connections, each piece of the puzzle falling into place. Struggling to hold on to the vision long enough to get it onto paper before you lose concentration, leaving the ideas swirling like smoke rings … just out of reach.

Each time a little more intense than the last. Addicting, in a way … the search for the perfect idea encapsulated in the perfect sentence. Toward my end, I remember working fourteen straight hours on a paper. Stopping for nothing. Until my mother quietly offered to fix me breakfast. The sentence was lost, the spell broken. I dissolved in a fit of bitter desperate tears. My parents thought I had lost my mind. Concentration like that is neither easily reached nor easily maintained. But I could do it.

I intended to make a career of doing it, specializing in psych profiles of British historical figures from the first half of the 20th century. Or perhaps Southern historical figures from the second half of the 19th century.

Then I met a boy. A man, really, who confronted me with the idea that I should decide what I wanted out of life instead of accepting what other people told me I wanted. As it turns out, I wanted desperately to be married to him. I wanted it more than anything. Even more than having a career (to my family’s chagrin) which would have been impossible married. I don’t think he ever really understood why I just walked away from it. While he was unwilling to move to England, he was more than willing to move to any Southern location that would further my aims.

I couldn’t find the words to explain to him why it wouldn’t work. Neither of us would be happy with a relationship that involved me walking around the house in a daze muttering about Joyce and staring vacantly, or typing twenty straight hours with any interruption being met with “AIEEEEEEE”. Day after day after day. Is that the kind of relationship that would make you happy? To have a spouse ignore you for days at a time? What about children? Fortunately, he just took my word for it when I said “no”. And I’m the happier for it. I made the right choice. But …

I loved to read the USSClueless. Regardless of what he wrote about, he did it with grace and fluidness. Almost like music. There were no loose ends or messy logic or missed connections. I loved the beauty of it, the art of craftsmanship. Yet it made me sad, too. Knowing I’ll never be able to think like that, much less get it onto paper.

Instead my days are full of three small children and a husband who would do handstands if his socks were matched and segregated by function in different drawers. House, children, husband. I’m a master at multi-tasking. I miss the luxury of single-tasking. (An example of my days: My husband was walking down the hallway and heard Cassie crying in the bathroom. He called to her through the door, concerned that she was crying because she had locked herself in. As it turns out, she had bumped her head and come to find me IN THE BATHROOM to pat her and “kiss it better”. Even in the bathroom, I’m multi-tasking.) I think it’s possible in abandoning single-tasking, I have embraced too much multi-tasking.

Ironically, I find myself in the same boat as Stephen Den Beste, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Him a master of concentrating on a single topic, and me a master of multi-tasking. Both of us expending great amounts of mental effort for people that don’t make us feel appreciated (his readers and my children). As always, I suppose happiness lies somewhere in the middle.


Reading this, YEARS later, I only want to add that OF COURSE the children appreciate me ad I do indeed know it :) When they were really little it was beyond comprehension that other mothers weren't like me. They just thought thats how it was for everyone. Only after they saw how others lives were, did they realize that their lives are special and the result of specific actions and choices on their parents parts, not some random accident.

Lucy | 01/08/2013 - 08:11 PM
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