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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.
Some find it, easily; the universe sends it their way on a well-marked path. Others find it serially. And others hold the hope in their hearts, but never seem to find it at all.
Without being too disclosing here—without telling tales of past woe—I am in the last category. The wanting. The not finding. The knowledge of much to give but, for now, no one to give it to.
I have not found that great love. So I wrote mine.
David Emory in The Spiritkeeper. The level, steady guy. The love that discovers itself in the quiet of ordinary days. A perfection in small moments. An investigation of what love can be.
In that decision to write a love story—albeit an unexpected one—was the expression of a desire, the overcoming of a thornier me, the creation of a reality that I believe in but cannot see. The story is not a girlie-girlie bodice-ripper…I am not capable of writing a book like that; not willing to. This is a story of the soul.
A dangerous thing, to create a world when the real example is nowhere in reach.
It is an understanding that raises a question. It raises several…
Can one write of a love like that from a place of comfort? Can one write of perfect love when actual love is comfortingly present? Or is longing the ground from which the beauty grows?
And the toughest questions of all: Does the expression of love-on-the-page push to the background the possibility of anything less? Can one write happy?
So far, the questions are theoretical. I have written a world, a love, that takes my breath. It will have to do until the real thing comes my way.
For the writer who creates in isolation and offers her emotions into silence, these are the hazards of love.
I walk at contemplative pace, this morning. The world goes gentle with me.
The tape recorder is more in my hand than out of it. The notes come effortlessly.
I stop to smell the yellow roses that have sent up the season’s last bloom beside a neighbor’s mailbox. I stop to listen to the eagles calling from across the river; to hear the splashes of creatures escaping my approach from riverbank to river below me. An autumn-dozing tree floats a russet leaf into my hand.
I walk—not one with the natural world, as happens sometimes, but simply content to let the world surround me; to let it take its place beside what percolates up from inside my head.
I walk. And this morning, I take my imaginary friends with me.
On mornings like this, the characters become the love that closes out need. They become the lives you witness…the silent companions who speak your thoughts without trying to; who smile at the things that make you smile. These are the moments of exquisite understanding between us, disclosing, generous and elegant. The only company the writer needs on such a rare morning. The moments that almost never happen, a gift when they do. They food we tuck into out memories to nourish ourselves later.
We cannot ask for The Writer’s Walk. We cannot plan it or summon it. It happens when it will. And when we are lucky enough and receptive enough to appreciate it.
I’ll admit it, the realization that came to me on the walk this morning:
I’m afraid to finish this book.
It’s not because I don’t have another idea waiting in the wings—I have two, and one of them is the sequel to my beloved Spiritkeeper, a writing task that will fill me with love and joy for as long as it lasts. It isn’t the fear of the slog that is the agent-query letter…well, maybe a bit. It is something else. And I’m not completely sure what.
As I seek to settle in this new life in the house on the river, as I search for my routines, as I keep up that discouraging trudge that is the hunt for a job, I know that I am, unpacking boxes again. And not just the literal ones that clutter my garage.
I am unpacking the boxes of my head, my emotions; the why of me. Finding places for things to fit. Making neat; uncluttering myself, putting Lynn in order. Looking for my perfect place in the world. In a personality that has an unfortunate tendency to ignore things that worry me, the out-of-control fear is a tough thing to face. And it’s a far different thing than writing is.
I am devoted to the exalted demands of the work. Rare is the day that I don’t sit with the page. There is comfort in purpose. There is refuge.
In writing, I know what must be done. As I contemplate the finish, so massive in its cosmic importance, I’ve been waiting to pick the fruit until it is fully ripe, fully sweet. That’s not an excuse. It’s an Is.
And the finish won’t be the finish, really. There are holes to be filled, mechanics to straighten out, points to pump up. The final polish (which Spiritkeeper didn’t require, oddly enough) will take another month, even after I write “The End.” That is not avoidance: It’s good sense. It is duty to craft and character. But.
As I do the thinking, the steeping, the wearing of the wonder of the book’s end, I don’t want to become like the perennial grad student, hiding behind the regularity of class work in the attempt to keep the world at a distance. Life is just too short for that. And fear is a very sneaky thing.
Woke to the sound of thunder. Went out and stood in the rain, like someone who had never seen the stuff (sadly true.) The grey of the sky is beautiful in its rarity; a sky that is, for a while at least, not a dare.
The day is a metaphor for what I face on the page, that desire to look at a bigger sky; the realization that I can. My own writer-advice has been tough to follow. Look at the bigger theme of the chapter, I tell this blogspace. Use the overall import/impact of the chapter to drive you. Write to the idea, not the individual word.
Follow your own advice, Lynn.
When the ground upon which one walks is uneven, one tends to fix on the space that will receive the next footstep—to stay steady, to keep one’s balance. The page is like life, that way. Losing the greater meaning, the direction, is too sadly easy when one stands on uneven life-ground. And stepping back for a better perspective: impossible.
The character…it’s me. The plot, my life. The perspective, mine to find. For now, there is a small, welcome joy in this grey day. A day different than the one before, different than the one that will come after. The sky as a metaphor for my life.
The gifts of small things. The turns of phrase that visit me in my bed in the early hours. The chapter that holds up in the light of day. The cat that likes to help me pack books into boxes. The folks who email; who read blogs and chapters. Air conditioning that works. Food enough. The pleasure of one’s own company. Beloved friends. Fantasy man-friends. The existence of possibility. The persistence of hope.
These are not examples of settling for less, nor of scaled-back expectations. These are the small joys of every day; the elusive contentment that comes to visit, even in chaos.
For the writer—hell, for anybody—what is the difference between days like these and the wreckage of stressed-out, brain-buzzing nights? What is the nature of what we have managed to discover in the moment; the frail, faint peace that we hold close to ourselves? And how do we hang onto that serenity past the now?
These moments are matches lit in darkness and sheltered from the harsh winds of ourselves. Temporary shelter from the hailstorm of reality. Islands in the bony prisons of our heads. Reading this post tomorrow won’t bring the moment back. All the bumper-sticker platitudes in the universe won’t do a thing to help us. But serenity like this, when it comes, is a treasure.
It is the permission we give to ourselves to live, to create, to experience, to feel. Whether it is the gift to the writer or to the woman…it doesn’t matter. Right now, being alive is joy enough. Is is enough. And, for the moment anyway, I’ll take it.
Slept with one eye open, last night. All night. An eye propped open by a too-busy brain, overly occupied with the Rubik’s Cube details of opening space in one house to shut down space in another.
Fortunately, the eye stayed focused on something other than my insomnia-riddled pillow. It stayed fixed on the tape recorder strapped to my hand.
It’s been a while since that connection opened itself to me. Of late, too much laptop time has been spent layering revision upon revision, going over the same canvas-of-the-page like a painter who just can’t get it right. My sight has been narrowed to the unsatisfying pursuit of one word, one sentence, at a time, without the confidence to get off the damned fence and make a decision about anything.
It’s a helluva way to work.
The writer with an eye stuck open has got choices, of course. Three ayem infomercials and reruns of the X-Files are among the less satisfying ones. The possibility of getting out of bed to go re-open the night’s laptop-inflicted wounds is always there…but that’s one hell of a gritty occupation for such an ungodly hour.
Hello, sweet tape recorder.
That little bit of silver electronics had a gift in it last night: a reminder to take my own advice about the joys of immersion in a story’s moment—in a look, a line, a character’s foible—as the way to vault over the quicksandy traps of writing line by line; the reminder to write the idea, not the individual word. In the exhausted ADD of recent days, it was advice I was glad to take. Even with dawn an impossible reality, hovering hours away.
The one eye open, for one night, anyway, was the eye on the ball.
The writer as sponge. The writer as atmosphere. The writer as tree, as Other, as will o’ the wisp, as Haunt, as Eternal Visitor.
That’s the gift of being what and who we are. And the test. We are the Inside and Outside of ourselves as one. Creatures fed by everything.
We visit worlds. We live there. We visit reality—and we don’t always dwell there. Sometimes the influences cloak us. Sometimes they reveal us. Sometimes they are so powerful that we find it almost impossible to understand exactly who we are.
A fascinating exercise, to let the work be led not by intent but by happenstance; to entertain Circumstance as our next direction; to follow the path just to see where it might lead. The pain of a friend. The clap of thunder. The sleepless night. The moment of midnight fear. Throwing mental and emotional caution to the proverbial winds requires a willingness to detach from the core; to go zero-gravity in our heads in order to discover Possibility.
It’s a scary place to go…because you can’t see the destination in it. Like the whirlies after one too many glasses of wine, one must keep a foot on the ground to keep the self anchored to the known. And that ain’t always easy.
And there are downsides, bear traps, pockets of quicksand. That same quality that lets us open to the Inside/Outside also makes us see too many sides of the same issue. It makes us bulldog ideas that are better left alone. It blinds us to what’s really happening around us.
To be the Writer in the Rain, to follow every drop from sky to skin: Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes, there’s a rainbow in it. Sometimes, it’s just a long, long way down.
(And from the department of shameless plugs: Come see me at the-spiritkeeper.com
Don’t know about you. Don’t know whether this is the Condition of All Writers, or just the Condition of Me…but moments of doubt have been leaving messages, lately, on my mental answering machine.
These are the moments of whaaaa’? Moments of what-am-I-doing? Moments of uncertainty. And they are not my friends.
These moments are useful, sometimes. Educational. And wretched. They co-exist with moments of wide-eyed delight and cool-eyed assessment. They make us better writers. And they make us miserable.
“Have confidence in your talent,” came the advice from a cherished mentor, “and keep moving.”
Easy to say. Less easy to do, sometimes.
One wants to be confident. One wants to recognize that what one feels today, is not what one will feel tomorrow. Or even in ten minutes. One wonders how it is that other folks manage that strength that lets them proceed with unquestioned confidence; how others recover from the daily setbacks that are the built-ins of a writer’s life. How does one deal with the “might be” when the “is” is not enough?
Whence comes the strength to cope?
So here are the questions of the day: How do you deal with the writerly downs of yourself? How do you recover?
Let me hear from you.
It’s the thing we are, away from the artifice of ourselves. It’s the place-neutral, in the absence of hope and plan and company. It’s the what (what, not who) we are, sitting motionless in a chair, staring out a window, with every other possibility stripped away. The is that is.
I’ve been trying to understand it.
Reducing one’s self to the absolute minimum of Self is an interesting exercise. It’s a scariness, this empty-canvas, this blank page, this dance floor populated with nothing but echoes.
And the question for the writer is this: Is it enough?
The idea came up in a conversation the other day: How much can the mental/emotional organism take before it’s too much? What’s the difference between those who persist and those who give up; those who bend and those who break?
When we’re reduced to what visits the eye, the ear, the skin—and the rackety thoughts that rattle around in our tin can heads—what do we learn about ourselves? How does one wipe away the anxiety and uncertainty that remain inside? How does the writer find the Buddha nature? What work, what self, might sprout from the clear-cut ground of ourselves?
It’s a challenge more than an exercise. As writers, we live in the practice of observation. We visit other lives; hear other voices, become other selves. We shout with our writing into an essentially deaf universe. We yearn to be seen, known, acknowledged. Take all of that away, even for a minute, and what’s left? Who is the me that’s left when me is all there is?
Re-learning the Simplest Self is shaking-making. Trying to live apart from want and maybe is like trying to hold one’s breath underwater. It is, I expect, a life’s work in an inner universe as big as this one.
Maybe the trick is to visit empty plain. Not to live there.
P.S. If you haven’t yet come to see me @ The-Spiritkeeper.com, here’s your invitation. Come on over. Have a read–13 chapters on me.