I was going through my notes on the O.K. Corral gunfight one day when my boyfriend and I got into a conversation about space exploration. He was talking about artificial intelligence and how a thousand years from now, we won’t be organic beings but some sort of consciousness in silicon.
I was having trouble focusing on what he was saying (and I think it was pretty obvious) because my mind kept turning from our non-body future to a gunfight that happened 130 years ago. It was a cold day—why wasn’t Tom McLaury wearing a coat? How could Billy Clanton shoot Morgan Earp across the back of the shoulders if he (Billy) was already on the ground? Was Doc Holliday nervous? How smoky was it?
Fortunately, my boyfriend didn’t challenge my glazed inattention—this time.
Zadie Smith eloquently describes that state of disconnection in her book of essays “Changing My Mind”:
In the middle of a novel, a kind of magical thinking takes over…. By middle of the novel, I mean whatever page you’re on when you stop being part of your household and your family and your partner and children and food shopping and dog feeding and reading the Post. I mean, when there’s nothing in the world except your book. Even as your wife tells you she’s sleeping with your brother, her face is a gigantic semicolon, her arms are parentheses, and you’re wondering whether rummage is a better verb than rifle.
It is indeed magical, blissful, the sort of absorption writers crave. A friend of mine describes it as being too much inside his own head. He has to take Saturdays off from writing to keep his wife from leaving.