The moment to read Robert Coleman's account of Berlin debauchery is probably not on one's way out the door to make an early commuter train. The essay makes (kind of beats you over the head with) the following argument: an artsy, bohemian environment can, alas, make it harder to create art. Because you're too busy having fun. And so much fun! Hanging out with other "artists," the beautiful and glamorous (or so I, on my way to NJ Transit, assume), all Weimar nostalgia and Uslu Airlines nail polish. All Rufus Wainwright's husband. All "Walk on Water," complete with the Lior Ashkenazi, but maybe minus the aging Nazi war criminal. Parties so much cooler than anything you may have gone to in Brooklyn as a recent college grad, and I lived in Prospect Heights before it was Park Slope.
An argument as old as time, as a little blurb affixed to the print essay, about Paris back in the day, attests. Better to have a day job. (UPDATE.) This is also, I suppose, the Dissertator's Paradox - on fellowship years, one expects to get so much more done than on teaching years, yet without that structure... more still gets done, but not as much more as one imagines.
But it's certainly true - productivity and interesting 4am conversations are not as compatible as we might want them to be, or as fiction about various milieus would have it, or as was maybe once the case in a less competitive age. Academia, for instance, has a lot of people who'd no doubt be fascinating to converse with at 4am, but they're exhausted from all the work they've been doing, or are in fact still working. Often the people with the most interesting things to say are unavailable for chit-chat.
But the new here - or perhaps not new, just now there's a word for it - is humblebrag. I mean, it must be so awful to have so much fun. Life as a constant party, but with engaging friends and no responsibilities. And more to the point, this is how the piece ends:
But the trip wasn’t a total loss. I learned how to roll a joint properly, cut hair, drink whiskey straight without gagging. And of course, I came back with the start of a novel: 13,000 unpublishable words about an Australian musician who went to Berlin, took too many drugs, had a psychotic episode and ended up in a German mental hospital. That last part is fiction, thankfully — what I imagine might have happened if I hadn’t managed to escape my artistic paradise.It ends, in other words, with a little 'by the way, while having all this fun, I not only emerged unscathed but also wrote a novel, part of which has been excerpted in the NYT Magazine, i.e. what you just read.'