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An awakening at 4 a.m. Of the best kind. A dream.

A living space on water, although in the dream I never saw the main house. This was a kind of exposed, semi-circular under-story, with accoutrements all around that offered the possibility that this could well be a living space: chairs, a lovely old enamel stove, tables…and, incongruously, water beneath, an ocean that should not have been there.

People were there in the space. I didn’t know them, yet didn’t mind that I didn’t. Creative, they were. Eagerly so. Generous in their shared inventiveness, unlike the experience in so many other creative fields. Somewhere, there was a creative director, a guiding force that we never saw—but it didn’t matter. The presence was felt.

This creative engineer encouraged unusual forms of expression without limiting the forms they could take; a mentor invisible. The creators were encouraged to find the possibilities even in the unlikeliest of products. In the dream, I found great power in something that was a cross between a seashell and an exotic spiral pastry…and it occurred to me that some unrevealed potential might be found there. Any object could be the spur to creativity—a tactile expression that wouldn’t require words on paper to express what one should think or feel about the project at hand. An unlikely method ever to adopt, certainly, but an encouragement of non-traditional ways of thinking. The legitimizing of wild fancy as a tool for the imagination. A realization that ideas are findable in every possible form.

And the dream, strangely enough, informed another lightning bolt about the book-in-progress: The freedom to redefine how creativity is generated…the essence of the group of artists at the center of the story, a group for which competitiveness is nonexistent and cooperation and encouragement are all.

The dream’s environmental imagery—as real as reality, although I have never seen any of it—gave me a way to richen the story’s physical space. The energy in the dream room gave me other ways to expand the idea of art’s Divine light and send it into other places throughout story; told me how much richer the metaphor would become if I applied multiple touches. The dream pushed the concept; reminded me of a solution where I hadn’t even seen a problem.

The channel to the invisible. In the constant slog that the commerce-job has been, in this craft-driven stage of the book’s re-writing, that clear channel has been rarely in evidence. I’ve missed it. Last night, I went back to the place of the gifts in dreams. And heard lessons I’m even now trying to decipher. Lucky me. Very lucky me.

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I have not been in a communicative state of mind lately.

I have been marshaling my resources around my own head. In fact, between work, the note-stage and this space (soon to reach 700 posts), I am not much in the mood for talking.

I take my thoughts from one pocket; put them in another. Where others would answer, I nod and smile. I fear that I am not being a very good friend. Or a very good human being. I parse myself stingily. One would swear that I am being paid by the word (a thing devoutly to be wished.)

These are the days of the quiet necessity. The days in which staring into the corner of a dark room is my idea of a high time. I swaddle my head in silence, and hope for exquisite clarity; sit patiently on the nest of ideas and hope to hatch the almost-thoughts in there.

I am fretting for the start of the new book; pining for the ending of the last one. In the absence of substantial forward momentum, I’ve begun reading the filled first notebook. I am surprised by the depth and richness of some of the notes there. But.

Some big pieces are missing. Some huge reasons why have not given themselves to me yet. I may chafe to get at it, but one cannot start a race before the gun. And one cannot race without a course or companions—this is not a time-trial.

The book will tell me, I say. The book will tell me what and when. I could be using this time to start sending out the previous two completed, hard-won works. I haven’t done that. I wait like a teenager waits by the phone for a call from the object of her affections. The wait is getting old.

The silence, the marshaling, is my attempt at remedy. I am entering the state of holy simplemindedness, subduing myself, humbling myself before the task. All I can do. For now.

 

I finished my book, Everything, at 2:08 yesterday afternoon.

When a writer finishes a book (and I expect I’m not alone in this), there is a moment in which we expect the sky to open and rays of light to shine down on us. We think, in our hearts of hearts, that the earth will stop turning. We expect a snowfall of glitter, and a flood of congratulatory phone calls; we prepare ourselves to receive the hosannas and celebrations of those nearest and dearest to us, and publisher enquiries that start falling out of magic air.

It doesn’t happen. We want it to. We hope it will. It doesn’t. It probably shouldn’t.

Writing is a pursuit conducted in solitude; enacted in silence and, in large part, met with it. Work that struggles for its place in a relatively indifferent universe.

We do it for ourselves, yes. Yet, too, we want more. We want life-altering dedication such as this to receive a nod that recognizes what it took to get this far. We want to preserve the illusion that our voices are not merely sailing off into the nothingness. Much of the time, the only nod we get is the one we see in the mirror. And maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe that’s the test.

Hopes and expectations are treacherous things. A writer must buy into their deceits if we want to survive. Buy into those conceits too much and this way a sour madness lies.

I will feel what I feel, knowing that it is absurd. I will feel what I feel until I don’t need to feel it any more. I will feel it and smile ruefully at my own folly…I will look sadly upon a day of disappointing blog numbers…then I will damned well fuhgeddaboudit and get back to the daily business of being the unwounded me.

I have been smart enough, this time, to leave myself some substantive but not impossibly-challenging work to do—the work that will allow me to call the book finished for real. But for today, I will fill my corner of that indifferent universe with the lack of me. I will roll up my sleeve and rummage around in the dark until I make contact with my more-solid self. And I’ll keep doing.

Because, really, there isn’t anything else I love quite as much as me doing this.

We build our stories of bricks, our characters from the masonry of our lives. We plan them with the care of experience; we connect them with the mortar of our emotions, our judgment, our better sense.

And sometimes the wall comes out cockeyed.

If you’re like me, you write tight. When the wall is built, it is strong and straight, with barely a space to fit a sheet of paper in the cracks. One does not deconstruct a wall once it is built. One does not pull a cemented brick from the bottom and throw it somewhere near the top. Sometimes, one has to.

This moving wall of plot, character, pace and reason is not a solid thing. It is strangely fluid, its bricks made of mist and air. Which gives us endless chances to reconfigure, to tighten, to make stronger and more graceful. The blessing and the curse of the wall.

I am nearly at the finish of this particular wall; the place atop which I should be able to stand and look back at the accomplishment that brought me this far, and look ahead to the next. Not so fast, Good Mason Me.

A new plot point. A small lightning bolt. A brick with veins of gold running through it. A better wall with it than without it. But not necessarily with the brick where it is.

So. Where does the brick go—at the bottom of the wall or near the top? How does one pry out the brick it will replace? What other bricks will need to be moved to accommodate it?

So far so good. I am asked to add, to richen, not to take apart. The wall will not fall with the changing…although I’ve been concerned that it might crumble under its own weight. The gold-gifted brick will fit quick well at the bottom of the wall or at the top. Now all that’s needed is the perspective and self-trust to stand back and decide which of those places is the better one.

 

Clocks as Enemies

I found a tip on a writer’s blog the other day that sent the thoughts cascading. “Write every day….” So far, so good. “…Set a timer for an hour and write until the timer goes off.”

There you lost me.

Some people thrive on deadlines. You are not reading the words of a member of that tribe.

Deadlines are for craft and commerce, not for fiction. Need that hunk of advertising in a few hours? No problem. Need me to finish the book tomorrow? You wish.

For me, deadlines suck the life out of possibility. If I hadn’t played hard-to-get with the book in progress, if I had pushed for a relationship that wasn’t (and isn’t quite yet) ready to ripen, I would never have come to the promising thoughts that are propelling me now.

In writing, as in cooking, flavors need time to develop.

In writing, as with lovers, sometimes the idea plays hard to get.

Setting a deadline (and, again, we’re talking fiction, not commerce) only makes me fidget; only serves to test my patience and my self-doubt.

Write by a timer, if that’s what’s best for you. Since we get paid, for the most part, neither by the hour nor the word, I’ll fill my head and the page for as long as the story requires. Whatever time it needs to be as full and rich as it can be.

The story will tell me when it’s finished. Not the clock.

Come on, you nagging bitch of a brain. It’ll be done when it’s done.

The writer, away from home.

The surroundings are pleasant enough. As pleasant as a hotel room can be, anyway. The people are notably nice.

But this the island of the self.

The book is sleeping in its electronic bed. The tape recorder has not come out of its pouch in the purse. In the demands of the past couple of days, the me who is me has remained on hiatus. A strange feeling.

Who are we when removed from what we know? How do we find ourselves when the familiar landmarks of our inner selves are nowhere to be seen?

I breathe. I sleep. I eat. I talk. I laugh. I live a life beyond that of writer. But that one. That one.

Without the writing, I am the island. A house whose soul has fled. I hear the echoes of myself. I am less joy, more functionality. The imagined world that so comforts and defines me has hung a sign in my head that says “Back Soon.”

I can adapt to the pleasant company and unfamiliar rooms. But I am less of who I am.

I miss me.

‘Protect me,’ says my favorite t-shirt, by artist Jenny Holzer, ‘from what I want.’

I want to be read. Famously so. But I watch the authors parade through TV and realize that I really don’t love the idea of having to talk about myself.

I want the comforts of conversation, of perfect love. Yet I am notoriously solo.

I want the creative challenges (and the income) that come with a job. And the income. And still, I love the time spent writing for myself.

In the commencement address by Steve Jobs that we’ve been seeing a lot of, lately, he talks about following one’s dream. The suggestion that this is the only life worth living…no doubt about it. Managing the courage to live that dream is something else altogether.

We all know someone who has followed a muse to the ends of the earth; who surrendered job and life and relationships to go where Art led. Some of those muse-followers have found their way to fame. So many more have found their way to invisibility. And the invisible ones…how do they live, now that the too-few years remaining in their lives leave too-few chances to find the dream?

We are bound by the conditioning of our personal histories and habits…the familiarity of the regular paycheck, the need to plan for the unknown, the settling into comforts, the occasional, effortless indulgences that we have always been able to afford. When one takes the leap, certainty flies out the window. And, truth is, even with a job there is no certainty. Not any more.

So. In the Zen of our existence, asking questions is answered, as always, with more questions. What is it in us that draws the favorable universe to us? Where does courage come from, the guts to live the life one dreams about? Is it courage at all…or is it delusion? Where does one find the nerve to live today and let tomorrow take care of itself…and how dumb is that?

And here is the thorniest question of all: When, for the first time in her life, a writer has a big part of what she’s always wanted…when she has a chance to grab the illusion of the dream—even if it means sacrifice and scaled-back expectations—should she?

Protect me. From what I have, what I know, what I doubt. Protect me from what I want.

In the film Crocodile Dundee, the journalist is about to take a photo of Dundee’s Aboriginal friend. The friend, Neville, interrupts her. “You can’t take my picture,” he says.  “Oh,” the journalist answers, all PC sensitivity: “You’re afraid that it will steal your soul.”

“No,” Neville sweetly replies, “you’ve got the lens cap on.”

I have an equally dualistic feeling about the little tape recorder in which I record notes in bed and in the car. The thing I often find still gripped in my hand when I wake. The thing I remember to take with me, even when I forget my cellphone.

This little, inexpensive, analog recorder is the carrier of my soul.

How do I explain this? Even at a time in my life when I am notoriously unsentimental about material things, the little silver critter has magic in it. Were I to lose it, I would panic. If I forget to bring it to my bed, I am uneasy until I’ve gone to get it. If Moe knocks it to the floor in his excitement over his nightstand birdwatching, I am anxious. If it is not in the between-seats catchall well in the car, I’ll pull over until I’ve installed it in its place.

Notetaking by recorder has an immediacy and truth to it. The ideas placed there for safekeeping have nuance and subtlety and raw power. Often, they are elegant and eloquent, with not an umm or uhhhh to be heard. Occasionally, they thud like a bag of mud dropped from a tall building. Either way, they are there. Captured.

Whether the notes were made in car or from bed I can judge the success of the enterprise, the fecundity of my imagination, by the numbers added to the zeroed-out counter. The creaky, crackly sound from the utilitarian little mic is the medium through which I judge the worthiness of the work in my readbacks. As the little silver guy waits for me to transcribe its burden, it glows warm and inviting, a welcome I thought possible only in the tactile pleasures of a good notebook.

And yet.

Unlike one of my beloved friends—or one of the kitties—if the recorder were to die I wouldn’t spend a minute in mourning…. Okay, I lie. I’d give it maybe a minute, or even five…but I wouldn’t bury it under a favorite tree or send it down the river aflame in a Viking funeral. I mean, it’s a tape recorder, you know? Geez….

The tape recorder. The notes it bears so willingly. The anticipation of claiming the rich thoughts that the night would have stolen from me. When it comes to this little instrument, I am breathing flesh possessed of a mechanical soul.

 

Interesting word, that one. Powerful and mysterious. And sometimes, hard to come by for a writer.

On this beautiful island on the river, one has considerable time to ponder one’s place in the world; to find the limitations and reach of the self. Today, I am examining the juju of a word.

No.

No, I am not going to rail against the demands of the day that keep me from the writing.

No, I will not drive myself nuts that the chapter isn’t there yet. Or that the words are slow to come.

No, I will not be frustrated that the client wants a new direction that was never offered to begin with.

No, I will not let myself be pushed into decisions that make me uncomfortable.

No, I’m not going let me frustrate me.

No, I am not going to be pissed with myself for sleeping until—gasp—7:30 two days in a row.

No to self-doubt. No to wish-it-were. No to “can’t figure it out”. No, that I don’t feel like it. No, that it’s still in boxes somewhere. No to seeing the big-scary whole and not the steps required to get there. No to the icks of dust in my pores. No to the worry that those who were going to visit won’t. No to empty. No to lonely. No to not knowing, not doing, not exploring, not feeling.

No can be a positive experience if you approach it correctly. Figuring out  that I belong to me is a fine exercise for the day.

Now, where did I put that “yes”?

A favorite musician of mine once talked about the backpack in which he carried his laptop–a pack always on his shoulder–saying, “My life is in there.” I know what he means.

My laptop, with its year-plus years of work on the book-in-progress, plus The Spiritkeeper, and most all the transcribed notes for the next TWO books, is always with me, nowadays [in the photo at left, it is in plain sight next to my chair at lunch as I write this.] Yes, I back up religiously. And yes, most of the work is in the cloud: I am a follower of the tenet, If your data ain’t in three places, it ain’t noplace. But psychological wellbeing…that’s another matter altogether.

I am a nervous mother. At this stage, the backpack is on my shoulder whenever I leave home, wherever I go. At the river house, if I intend to be away for more than an hour, the thing is often hidden. I have to force myself to forego sleeping with it. I carry the backpack with a fierceness and devotion that would have me throw myself in front of a speeding train to save it. And this paranoid behavior will continue long after the book is finished.

As beloved musician says, my life is in there.

Tape recorders (especially the one with untranscribed notes on it) and notebooks and laptops are the safe deposit boxes of my soul. I touch the places where I expect them to be, anxious until I know they are where I want them.

Do other writers go through this? Or am I alone in my insanity?

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