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A writer’s experiment, this. To see what wonder I can pull out of the morning, without a thought going into it.
Saw a quote, recently, on a FB feed to which I subscribe. A quote from William Morris, whose work I have loved for years. “Have nothing in your life,” the quote read (or something like it—this is too early for me to go hunting) “that is not useful or beautiful or both.”
I have writing.
The difference in this writer between the abandonment of her life and her reclaiming of it is a marked one. My world is divided into two parts, BW and AW: Before Writing and After Writing. This is by far the happier one.
I was recalling to a lunch companion something that had happened a number of years ago; realized that this was a time before my work and I had found one another again. How empty that memory seemed. The horror.
To co-opt the Morris quite, writing is, in my life, both beautiful and useful. It is the glory of a man who gathers souls to himself, to give them a place to rest on their journey. It is the sacrifices of love. It is a man who pursues himself to the ends of the physical universe. It is a character who conjures light out of his deepest despair. These are the beauties among which I am permitted to reside.
And it is useful. The filling of a life. The joy that a lifelong reader feels—but from the other side of that looking glass. The challenges (and, yes, even the doubts and the awfulnesses) that one must master. Food for the mind that keeps the soul alive.
Writing can be a meditation, a workout, a balancing act, if you let it be. Especially on days when one is inclined to pull wonder out of air.
Is this what today must be? Geez, I hope not.
I just spent the last half-hour writing a post about the return of the lizards…and the half-hour before that trying to figure what to write at all.
I don’t know that I have ever thrown a post away. I tossed that one.
I am caught in the web of Spring fever; in the time change, in the oxygen-saturated air of new greenery. The infinitesimally minute challenges of the rewrite are too infinitesimally minute to post about. I am a resoundingly boring human being (to anyone, I expect, besides myself). Don’t ask me how I am, I might tell you; I have scarcely a thought to my name.
Six hundred-plus posts are not to blame for this minor blogging roadblock. The fault is mine…if blame must be assigned at all. Each night’s sleep is cut cleanly in half by the sharp moonlight from the wrong place. I oversleep. My sundial is running fast. My internal schedule is off-kilter. And, frankly, I can’t imagine anybody being the least bit interested by what handful of words the rewrite asked me to change today.
Almost halfway through the rewrite, I am focused small. Afflicted with writerly tunnel vision. I have to remind myself to seek the bigger asks of chapter and structure; to make time to sit outside in the unfurling of the season so I don’t miss yet another Spring.
And if I find that I have nothing special to say in this space for now? If I insist on saying it anyway? You’ll be patient with me…or you won’t. I hope you will be, in these days measured by an odd yardstick. I am here, yet not-here. But I will be back.
Sometimes you hit one. Sometimes it hits you back.
There have been no posts save one for the past few days. Blame Spring. And tax time. And weather. And the greenish rites of the season. The things that bring real life uncomfortably close.
I’m foundering a little…writing words, not attending to the bigger picture. The wall is grafittied with questions about the where and the why of the what that the book is. Is it art (in a loose interpretation)? Is it a mess? Is it vandalism pretending to be adventurousness?
I expect that most writers reach this place—like marathoners and triathletes do. All the training, all the preparation, all the work…suddenly it’s stone wall as far as the eye can see. You don’t bounce off it gracefully, you slam into it. And it hurts.
This is the time to be the water on the rock: the patient, constant presence that, in time, can turn a shoreline of stones into a white sand beach; that can break a wall to bits. Water does not see itself at work, it simply does what it does.
Yes, I’ve been at this book for a long time. Yes, the moments that take the breath have sharp-edged little pebbles of doubt mixed in. As it is, as it was, as it always shall be.
Time to get back to lapping at that stone wall, looking for cracks in the mortar. Water doesn’t just tear down, it also builds. Ask any beach dune.
Rain out the writer’s window.
Rain was innocent for me, once. Not any longer.
The river has a steep hill to climb to get to the house. It hasn’t made it yet. Someday it might.
Other neighbors have not been so fortunate: As recently as four years ago, the risen White left houses in need of gutting; yards full of sodden furniture left to dry—and to be picked over by less-than-honorable “neighbors” who showed up in vans to take their pick of the unguarded possessions.
A flooded river is an angry river. It tears houses off their foundations and carries them down stream. It scours banks and rips out trees. It unleashes auxiliary floods of “you’re living on a river; you deserve what happens to you.”
And it changes minds.
Spring rain was once a thing of delight for me; a thing one danced in on warm afternoons, the giver of blossoming trees and happy flowers, a place for eagles and heron and kingfishers and leaping trout to live. Knowing that those rains have so recently delivered the river to within 20 feet of the back door…not so much fun, any more. In flood, the river becomes a friend you’re never sure whether you’ll ever be able to trust again. Even when the rain stops, the runoff makes the water level rise.
I have never been here to answer the midnight “evacuation knock” by police. I wasn’t here when my neighbors had to be air-lifted by helicopter because the road collapsed. I wasn’t able to get in touch with anyone for nearly a week to find out whether my house was left standing. I wasn’t living here full-time. I am, now.
The weather map looks different to me, these days. The ten-day outlook is a forecast of dread. Rain? And rain? And rain again? What’s the percentage-possibility? What do the competing weathercasters think?
Today’s rain is a one-day event. The “heron rock” across the way is hidden, but the bank hasn’t been broken. The river isn’t coming up that big old hill anywhere near me today. Next week, the week after, who knows?
I don’t dance in the rain nowadays…I pack an escape kit. I get the cat-carriers ready. I wish I had Valium. I wish I could sleep until everything is okay again.
Welcome to life on the White. Wish me luck.
Naps in this house on the river are rarely lengthy. A satisfying half-hour is the normal routine. Most of the time they are cadged on the sofa, under the warm, exquisitely soft woven throw my sister brought me from Scotland (and also under a cat.) Sometimes they are taken in the bedroom I slept in for years, a brief shuteye in the pool of sunlight through the window there, like a cat, a reveling in the extraordinarily sensual contrast between warm sunshine and cool room.
Wherever they are grabbed, they are never taken in late afternoon: The prospect of falling asleep in daylight and waking after dark terrifies me for some reason. One-ish seems the perfect hour…not too early to recharge, not too late to interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Naps fall into one of two categories—the head nap and the body nap…with a subset of the two which I’ll call the heart nap. The body nap is self-evident: a recovery from a too-strenuous session of exercise or the broken sleep of the night before (as it was during the tornado sirens the other night.) But the brain nap…ahhhhhh….
The brain nap is more nuanced…the prima donna of naps. It is signaled by the word that won’t come, the plot that won’t straighten; of too much concentration in too short a time, or the desire to clear the mental desks for the task ahead. Often, it is a nap that doesn’t really want to happen, and dissipates after about 15 minutes.
The heart nap is the trickiest of all…a cross between the little sleeps for head and the ones for the body. These are the sick-of-myself naps. The make-it-go-away-for-a-minute naps. They cure the symptom, not the illness…but sometimes they are all the writer needs.
A windy day, here. Windy and cool, under a cloudless blue sky. The perfect day for a nap. As soon as I’ve earned it.
Apologies, to start.
One of those days when I’m not quite sure what I have to say. Or to offer. A day where I’m feeling the coffee a little too much. Where the raging ions of the storm-that-didn’t-happen and the too-eager wind seem to sting.
It’s a free-floating anxiety kind of day. Nothing I can tell myself today will come to much good. I’ve been working very, very hard; wringing myself out over it. There are a gazillion words out there, a billion-gazillion combinations and ways into a novel’s plot…and I’m feeling buried under the pile.
No excuses, no self-pity, just fact.
I’ll distract myself with the weekly trip to town for errands. I’ll put my head down and give myself to the work. I’ll use the feeling to latch on to the emotionality of a scene in rewrite; to better understand a main character’s “not-ness.” I’ll find the forgiveness in me for me.
I remind myself that it’s okay to have an emotionally muzzy day every once in a while. I’ll give myself a break (and hope that you will, too) for a post that’s not much more than a waste of time.
And I know that in a minute or an hour it will be better.
Who knows why days like this happen. Who knows whether they happen more to creative types than to others on this planet. What I do know: One can ride these things out, but one can’t surrender to them. We might feel the coffee, but we won’t let it rule us for long.
Today starts the next 600 posts on writers and writing. And last night told me what the subject must be.
Last night, after a truly satisfying day at the rewrite, I made the mistake of trying to have a quick look at the next block I needed to work on, to pre-set my mind on the path of the morning.
Big effin’ mistake.
The section is far from right. It slogs. It repeats. It meanders. It pulls the plot down into a pit of self-created quicksand. It was a knowledge hard to swallow—like trying to scarf down some big, disgusting mouthful of something you’re made to eat on Fear Factor.
It is strange for me—such a paper-bound writer, so enamored of notebooks—to know that my writing life has wandered so far from its reliance on the guts of fallen trees. I haven’t seen my own writing on paper in more than a year…and that was when friend Belinda printed out The Spiritkeeper to read in the only way she cares to do.
But okay, bring it. I will walk away from the laptop for a little while. I will take my printout and write in the clean white margins. I will wrestle my problem to the ground in the way writers have done for centuries.
We have strayed from the tactile joys of papyrus; the feeling of the pen scribing its way across a blank white sheet. We have traded it for the convenience of being able to write and rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite) without having to type the same page 500 times. I never thought I could write into an electronic device—for years I wrote by hand before I typed, the way I still do with notes and notebooks (although, forgive me, paper and pen, notes have begun creeping from the late-night tape recorder straight into their desktop files.) Now I can’t really imagine writing any way except electronically…although I do despair at the thought of being somewhere with a great idea, a dying battery, and no way to recharge.
Perhaps one day our hands will be different, as our ability to read has become…fingers and muscles evolved to the percussive motions of the keyboard rather than the graceful curls of cursive. Perhaps the ability to hand-write anything longer than a Post-It note will become a quaint antique skill, the province and practice of Luddites. Perhaps it already is.
For now, for today, it’s ironic to think that the means for clearing my mental logjam is made of the logs themselves. We’ll see what comes of the idea: Was a time when I was good on paper….
Today marks my 600th post on Sky Diaries.
For an occasion as full of personal significance and celebration as this one is, I’m a little late off the starting block. For good reason.
At three ayem this morning, I was wakened by the tornado siren over the hill.
The weather reports said that tornadoes were a possibility in the fast, late-passing storm. And such warning sirens in the night aren’t unknown here. But they are always unsettling.
I have the routines down: Cats corralled in the innermost bathroom of the house, a feat accomplished through a combination of strategically closed doors, a non-startling manner and a fist full of catnip. Cat carriers in place. Cushions. Local radio and regional turned TV on and up. And a sharp ear turned to the outside.
Nothing happened, fortunately—not here, anyway. Other folks, north of the state line were not so lucky. The storm passed, more a grumble than a fury. But the night was broken by adrenalin-rush. And here I am.
Destructive weather gives me as much reason to remember my gratitude about this house as an afternoon spent staring at the river does. I have had both reasons in recent days. And once again, I was made to understand that this house is Me.
A thing created in love. Creaking, slightly, and a little worn at the edges. Capable of moments of beauty and serenity and the gifts of surprising flight. A place of peace that can still manage to turn wicked and dangerous. Constant motion that rolls past the still eye. A place a little wild in the darkness, a lot cosmic under its infinite sky; a place that does not long to be anything other that what it is.
The house, as I said, as Me.
That my folks worked so hard to have this place, that they loved it so much, that they had the awe-inspiring wisdom to make sure that I would be its next steward…this tidy little house is who I am. It breathes as I do. It is the quiet music I write to, the view from the office window of my soul.
Storm and flood and ice notwithstanding, this is the deep-dug well from which the next 600 posts will come. And the next books. And if being here, being it, being me for the rest of my life is the absolute best I have to look forward to, I’m a pretty damned lucky woman indeed.
Thank you for coming to stay in this writerly house, for as many of the past posts as you have seen, for as many of the next ones as you’ll want. I hope to make you comfortable and welcome; to feed you well and keep your wine glass filled and give you a warm place to curl up with your thoughts. A friend and writer should do no less in the House of Me.
On the day before the 600th post, I see myself.
Writing as Life. No difference.
Everything we do in our lives we do as writers.
We fly. We wheedle. We love—sometimes badly or too soon. We misjudge. We overthink. We adore when no adoration is warranted or deserved, and lower our eyes if the adoration is ever turned our way. We are stubborn, impatient and unfair; giddy and lifted by hope and eaten by jealousy. We are small and judgmental and bound by our limitations. We are silly and childlike and childish; we are wise and insane. We reach out toward visions, yearning for something most of us will never touch. We wear our hearts on the outside.
Writing is the fractal of the infinite us. And we can’t choose it…we can only choose to recognize it.
If someone had asked us, back when, if this is how we saw ourselves umpty years in the future, is this what we would have described?
I think I would have done. For all the complications and uncertainties and disappointments of this life, I would. Even today.
In this, my 599th post, I look back over a journey that still changes every day. I live a life that all too frequently asks me “What do you think you’re doing?” until I know that I simply must get up and get on with it.
Today I live in the high place. Tomorrow I might (again) realize that all is crumbling around me. Same shit, different day.
I’ll give you Charles Wright, the best thing I can think to bring you on a day, an almost-occasion like this:
‘I write, as I said before, to untie myself, to stand clear,
To extricate an absence,
The ultimate hush of language…
The silence that turns the silence off.’
The choices. The ones we make when we have no others, or have all of them. The ones we make because we must—599 posts ago, the same as today.