“It is doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at her workplace is writing good fiction.” Jonathan Franzen
Yikes. I think he’s talking about me.
By Cathy Loan
Some people may take offence to the above proclamation. The JF haters among us (and they are legion) may find it typically arrogant of the guy who has a little too much to say. But I don’t. I love Jonathan Franzen. Have you seen the picture of him barefoot on the beach, shaggy hair windblown, wearing his super hot Stephen Hawking glasses on the inside jacket of Purity? What’s not to love? Plus, the guy’s a bird watcher and in-between sightings, finds the time to write really good fiction. He has also, I should add, with one terse sentence, diagnosed my writing problem and saved me from myself.
So there, fully disclosed. I’m a fan.
Allow me to describe my workplace. It has supersonic internet speed, limitless data and a wireless connection that never drops thanks to my brand-new, 5-star-customer-reviewed dual band router that just arrived from Amazon. All that equals this: while I’m trying to “work”, I’m milliseconds away from finding out everything there is to know about absolutely everything. I can indulge every tangent I go off on. I’ve got the whole world at my fingertips, and I get nothing done.
I logged in at my workplace three hours ago, determined to finish this piece about my misadventures down the google hole, but since then, I’ve googled the weather in Ho Chi Minh City (50° in the shade! Thank god I don’t live there!!), googled something or other by Zadie Smith which led to my reading the 1000 or so lines of “Endymion” by Keats (Zadie’s literary heartthrob). God knows how many lifetimes that took because I had to read countless Greek mythology entries on Wikipedia to find out who the hell Endymion is or was. Hopelessly discouraged now, blame growing up in Scarborough for my ignorance. If only I had an MFA. Ask google if an MFA is important to a writing career and www.writingclasses.com tells me that neither Zadie Smith, nor Jonathan Franzen has an MFA. That’s some consolation, but unlike me, I doubt they prefer Dr. Seuss to Keats. I retreat to the comfort of YouTube and watch the Australian horse trainer I’ve got the hots for teach a stallion a little respect in the nicest possible way. Back in the saddle again, I’m jacked up and ready to wrangle this piece into submission until I stumble upon NASA’s live feed from the International Space Station. How did I not know this? A perpetual live stream from outer space! And how did I go from watching a couple of stallions in the Outback to watching the earth roll by on the ISS? Doesn’t matter; I’m riding that satellite now and I wanna ride it all day long. I join the 311 other subscribers around the world and do just that. I make a new friend from the Philippines on the live chat; we’re both on the look out for aliens. This piece I’m writing remains unfinished.
This is a typical day’s “work” from my workplace.
I know all about avoidance techniques and self sabotage. I know that on most days, pulling long, slimy, coagulated hair balls out of the bathtub drain is more enjoyable than stringing sentences together. I also know that I spend more time on Google than on Word. For me, during a “work” session, one story detail that could warrant a quick google search, leads to thousands that don’t – Aussie cowboys, Amal Clooney’s twins, Airbnbs in Kathmandu are a few of my searches from mere minutes ago. But is my lack of focus Google’s fault? No, it is not. This writer does not blame her keyboard. But here’s my conundrum the thing. I clearly have instant gratification issues, very little impulse control, and not a whole heck of a lot self discipline. And Google denies me nothing. “Yes, Cathy,” it purrs, “I will respond quickly and without judgement to any useless thing you want to know. Do with me what you will.” Google is not my friend. Google is my enabler.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who can sit down and finish the story you’ve started in the same decade. Maybe you are an occasional googler. A dabbler. Well I’m a fucking pro, and if you recognize anything of yourself in this piece that I have finally finished, please heed the words of Jonathan Franzen and disconnect now before your brain looks like mine.