Working at MIT, I meet a lot of people who seem to think they are brains with big Mickey Mouse gloves: the ideas go zip-zap straight from the synapses in the grey matter to tippetty-tap on the keyboard. This is, unfortunately, not the case. Ergonomics matter because we write in the body. If your body is uncomfortable, then your brain will be uncomfortable and distracted, and that will affect your writing. If your seat is too low or too high, or worse yet, if you are doing that laptop in your lap thing, then you are in a suboptimal position. You can sustain that for a little while, sure, the same as you can sign a form on someone else’s back, but that doesn’t mean you want to write a novel that way.
This probably sounds obvious if all you are looking at is biokinetics, the body working as a machine for productivity. If you treat a machine better, then you will probably get a better product, and possibly even a more consistent product. That is the capitalist, patriarchal way of looking at this subject. I prefer a more ecological, feminist way of looking at it.
Rather than thinking of writing as production for some kind of profit, let’s think about it as reproduction, pulling the seeds out of ourselves to let them bloom and flower in the world, to encourage other people to do the same. Perhaps this metaphor is on my mind because yesterday was Veteran’s Day and that reminded me of the phenomenal art installation constructed at the Tower of London last year to commemorate Britain’s entrance into World War I: Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Art doesn’t have to imitate other art to be inspired by it.
More importantly for me as a feminist, the idea of writing in the body and from the body is a way to revise (literally, re-see) a problematic trope in Western culture, that (mental) discipline equals (physical) suffering and that this is potentially a good idea. St. Paul wrote about the “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-10), the pain that keeps us from getting above ourselves, the pain that keeps us from hubris, pride, equating ourselves with the gods or G-d.
This started with the Greeks and the Christians took it and ran with it. And while in certain cases, human pride is absolutely a major problem, particularly when it is coupled with anthropocentric economic policy and action, for a lot of people (especially members of marginalized communities) the real problem isn’t pride so much as shame. The history of overvaluing the mind and denying and devaluing the body is deeply entwined with the oppression of women, minorities, nonhuman animals and the Earth. So when we take care of ourselves while we write, when we treat our bodies with respect and gratitude despite whatever hellish deadlines we are up against, we are engaging in a feminist practice that we can take out into the world in other ways.