Wednesday, June 30, 2010


It’s Week Five of reading L.L. Barkat’s God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us, and I find myself engaged in understanding detachment.

“I heard it through a friend,” Barkat writes. “Someone had said of me, ‘She seems closed in her spirit.’ This was news. I always considered myself to be a fairly open person, thankful for life and its gifts. Still, this seemed to coincide with the cautious observation of another friend, ‘You’re kind of detached.’”

Ah, detachment. Oh, boy.

“Detached” is an attribute – or a description – often applied to me. My wife will not say I’m detached, but she will say “You’re not listening” or “You’re not engaged” or – most dreaded of all – “Tell me what I just said.”

To be honest, detachment is part of who I am, at least part of who I am at least part of the time.

I “learned” detachment in two ways in college journalism. First, it was the idea of objectivity, of trying to be objective and balanced and fair, a modernist concept that is no longer practiced in the journalism of a post-modern society. You were supposed to do your job with some sense of detachment, or you would not be able to do your job properly.

Second, I learned detachment sitting in the newsroom of the college newspaper, first as a copy editor and then as a managing editor. I had to detach myself from the noise and sound around me so that I could focus on writing and editing.

I never unlearned this second kind of detachment. I can block out thunderstorms and fire engine sirens if I need to focus on something.

My family refers to this as “Dad’s checked out.”

What happens – and is hard to explain – is that my mind tends to be constantly “on.” It’s on in the sense of making connections, seeing commonalities in things that seem very different, pulling out themes, seeing similar situations separated by years or even decades, and then playing all of this back, sometimes in a very different context.

What I’m describing, of course, is the mind of a writer. I don’t know if all writers do this, but there is some level of apparent detachment that masks an almost total engagement. It seems, and perhaps is, a contradiction, to be detached and engaged simultaneously. But that’s what happens.


Lament by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.


katdish said...

Well, yeah. I get that. You're writing even when you're not actually physically writing. I do that all the time. Trying to find analogies in every situation, or looking for a story within another story. You're not alone. When I was painting regularly, I would look at walls or furniture and imagine how they might look with a different color paint or patina. The creative mind has a hard time resting.

Unknown said...

Detachment? No way...I call it "Creative Space Management"...however, it does leave one kinda out of the loop.

Thanks Bro'

Kathleen Overby said...

Remember as a kid the knotted string loop with the button threaded through the center. If you pulled short, quick jerks with opposing hands, you could get it to spin and hum. That thrumming, to me is 'living in the tension' between detachment and total engagement. The place where stories are born.

Sandra Heska King said...

"Tell me what I just said." Ha! I say that all the time.

Yeah, my husband is master of creative listening.

Anonymous said...

i send my husband an emails.
i have even called him on his cell phone when he was in the house.


S. Etole said...

An attached detachment it seems ... actively aware while "gone."

L.L. Barkat said...

So are you saying I am maybe a writer? :)

this is good news...

Red Letter Believers said...

i do think writers tend to be detached..we have a mystery about us because we are looking at things not as they seem , but as they could be

Maureen said...

You and I were trained the same and worked under similar if not completely identical circumstances. I wrote in an open office (and recall, that was before no-smoking in offices laws), the managing editor's desk in front of mine (and so a constant stream of people coming and going), and desks to my left and back. In a different office, my desk was two away from the receptionist's desk, which was in front of the elevators, outside a kitchen and next to a water fountain. And I met every deadline! I never had anyone call me "detached" however.