Began the new year like I do most, outside smoking my pipe, reading and writing. I set some overall goals; not resolutions to be honest, which have never been successful for me, and give an impression of what happened and what might transpire in the year ahead.
On the first day of 2016, I read Leo Tolstoy’s Diary and in particular his entry (1) for the first day of 1898. It interested me for a number of reasons. I like its simplicity–life is about shaping one’s narrative as it were, and doing so with some whole, rational and moral aim in mind. While the idea doesn’t exclude exterior validation necessarily, it additionally struck me as advocating a life lived without much in the way of public exposure–fortunes, books, laws all seem to require a communal recognition. I could be reading too much into it, or frankly, I could be reading it wrongly. I think I read it the way I want to read it, the way I want to live my life. The way I have always wanted to live my life, and have in some degree done so.
I sat on my porch in the cold January brightness, smoking billowing from my pipe, writing down a few lines and I wondered about this, about living in quiet celebration finally, rather than the oft-quoted desperation H.D. Thoreau suggests. For the most part, I believe most of us do live full lives that are moral, rational, and whole if not somewhat littered, ineffable and sometimes inconclusive. It is only when we seek to make our lives more public that the process makes utter tatters of the fabric and exposes us to slings and arrows. I’m not suggesting it’s not worth the risk. I’m suggesting it’s quite okay not to always feel you have to. It’s fine not to set yourself up for failure; it’s more than okay to surrender to a life made for you, rather than one made by you. The shaping coming ultimately in those quiet moments of reasoned celebration in the cold bright sun of a new day, a new year.
A rusted and busted clock came in the mail, today.
An inexplicable gift from a lifelong friend who lives by the sea.
Black grime and metal shavings, gritty sand from its sojourn no doubt, sprinkled the table as I salvaged the dead Maritime mechanism from its pouch.
Struck at 9:13 it seems. Battered into no longer tick-tocking. Still-faced.
The patina of a shipwreck. The rancor and riot of oxidation. Its presence fissions my fillings, lines my lungs, and kindles inklings.
Dredged seemingly from a cold black deep. Small enough to be white-knuckled by a drowning sailor. A talisman on the fritz. Saved from the brine. Sold into liberty by some flea market peddler to a man who only thought of undying friendship.
Stumped as to why I’m its new beholder; I’m clueless but utterly humbled and honored. Beheld.
Still, once on the phone he told me it was something I had said or written or gestured toward. And when he saw the clock he knew he would buy it and send it to me.
We go way back. So it goes perhaps that in the fog of fraternity and the reeling in of years we end up finishing each other’s life sentences and proxy dreams. We are each other’s historians and reminders: I am because you are. We remind each other of time.
Someday I’ll be-buried or scorched it’s to be decided another day-with this glittering prize, this inexplicable gift, fully aware that while we think we’ll always have time, there isn’t always.
Evermore is now says the clock from a lifelong friend who lives by the sea.
for Robert, for Bruce and the boys of KoKo Platz
Apparently. It’s not that I abuse them; Dyan seems to think so. It’s just that when I see a loose thread I can’t leave it well enough alone, I must–MUST–pull at it, worry it for sometimes days. I work at it until finally the inevitable happens with a small, satisfying pull, I unthread a button entirely and it falls off. Sometimes I am able to retrieve the loosened button, but mostly when it happens I lose the thing entirely, yes, but also I then have this gap in my sweater. I’m a sweater and sports coat kind of guy, FYI, so it’s usually one of these two.
I have random memories like this.
Like loose threads.
For no apparent reason, and out of absolutely no where (or at least with such stealth as to be without geography), some memory of the past comes back to me. This happens often but in varying degrees of strength and by that I mean there are some snippets that come back to me, and I smile or grimace accordingly and move on with my day. Other times, the memory pops up and stays with me for a very long, obsessive time.
Usually, but not always, a memory becomes a minor obsession, a mystery to be unravelled so to speak, not because the memory is all that important seemingly, or is of some high point in my past, but rather because it’s not apparently important or some high point of my life. It is a button and it’s thread because it makes no sense why it should be. It becomes important simply because my brain is telling me, hey I found this, maybe you should take a look.
I was driving home listening to Chopin this week when the last one came. A thread. Foggy from a distance. Dark, actually. But there. Pull-able. I kneel before a girl, tying her shoelace. It’s at a university social event, we used to call them beer bashes. I know the girl, but I don’t know her name. She’s from my hometown and she is younger than me. Well, she still is right? It is like I am dancing with her, and I look down at her feet and see that her shoelace is untied. I stop dancing, and supposedly she stopped dancing, and I kneel down to tie her shoe.
And then I stand. Slightly taller than her. And she looks at me. Smiles, kindly, awkwardly.
And my heart is light.
Still to this day.
Light as a sunbeam.
Deep down the memory hole there’s a sketchy moreness, additional flickers and filaments part mystery, part desire. Early leavings. Backward glances. Telephone calls made or not; missed. A mishmash of movies I’ve seen, songs I’ve heard, time warps and sparkles.
And that was that.
But not a desire, desire, more of a wont to understand the memory’s place in my soul. It couldn’t have been more than a hour or so of my life. A pittance, right? And yet there it is, now, days of staring and wondering.
In the “Litte Prince,” the narrator talks about the magic of youth, and how when you get older and you attempt to talk of such things with your contemporaries it tends not to go well. So you stop, you the adult, stop following threads of magical thinking, and put yourself away partly and instead “talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties,” the narrator says, and be amongst the land of the reasonable people. Reasonable.
But for the sunbeam. So unreasonable.
It won’t dare drift into nothing. It lingers. Inside.
And one day it shines. (Chopin, blazing orangey dusk, forward movement, slightly tired).
A reminder of something. Someone. A moment shared. A moment.
A thread, a little worry at it, some gap. A button at hand.
Back in the day–when the formation of one’s character is still upon a pyre of possibilities–if you’d said I’d one day be published in a scholarly journal, I would have firstly asked what exactly “scholarly,” meant, and then knowing what it stood for, I would have laughed. Rather heartedly. I might have even peed my pants.
Well, it’s happened. My paper, “Raids on the Inarticulate: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and God,” is in the Fall-Winter 2015, Volume 31, Number 3-4 Yeats Eliot Review edited by the esteemed Russell Elliott Murphy, PhD.
American writer, Richard Rodriquez calls the essay a “biography of an idea.” My paper in the review is such a beast. I first came to the idea of Eliot, a 20th century poet, using a fifth century writing trick of an oddly named scribe, Dionysius the Areopagite, in a rather circuitous way. In the last semesters of my doctoral program I took a course in religious studies with the frighteningly brilliant Rabia Gregory, PhD, a fairly newly-minted professor at my school. The course on 14th century Rhinish mystics discussed theologoians like Meister Eckhart and Henry Suso. As a graduate student, I not only had to fulfill the class required assignments and papers, but also tackle a larger research project. Somewhere in the wilds of discussing the expression of mystical experiences the work of Dionysius the Areopagite came up–and I was hooked.
Basically, the way to describe God was to not even try. Bottomline. Or, if you must, do so in a rather tricky way saying God is neither this nor that. I’m condensing you understand.
So, I wrote the research paper and while the semester was winding down I heard of a conference on the numinous, sent in my paper as possible presentation–and much to my surprise it was accepted. I ended up giving the presentation at the University of Brisbane, Australia on the tricky Dionysius way of describing God.
At the same time I was finishing up a course on the moderns, in particular early 20th century poets, such as Eliot. Reading Eliot’s work I came to see that he used the same tricky way to talk about God in his famous poem cycle Four Quartets. I wrote a paper on it for class.
Then, I took that paper and I sent it in as a possible presentation to the University of Louisville Conference of Literature and Culture–and much to my surprise it was accepted. I traveled to Louisville and read my paper in front of, oh, four people.
Then, I took this presentation paper and submitted it to the Yeats Eliot Review and well pee my pants it was accepted.
But that’s it. I think I’ve exhausted this topic–this very specific topic–the only thing now would be write a book. And no, I’m not going to write a book about it.
This raid is run.
My sister San is on one of those sweeping sojourns. Yesterday, she stopped by a house we lived in as a family forty-five years ago, 35 Mountain Avenue, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Seeing this picture she took reminded me it hovers ever still so present in my memory. The fragment which follows is from my book The Eight Leaves and it hints at things like the year’s total eclipse (my first), my beloved (first girl obsession, I can still see her) and how unrequited love and a world seemingly gone topsy-turvy, made me bury my heart.
excerpt from my book The Eight Leaves ~ Compelled by mysteries like darkness at noon or elusive blondes with skim milk white skin, I loosened a bolder from the stony wall lining our driveway one deep autumn, the fall of the 1971 eclipse, to instigate my own mystery. I could not catch my first love, a lithe girl who sat next to me in primary school and I could not understand how it would be night by day. In the shallow gap behind the rock, I placed the most precious thing I had, a treasure that I was sure would earn me a king’s ransom.
Recently, in Stephanie Vanderslice’s Rethinking Creative Writing (National Association of Writers in Education) I read of her school’s program of bringing in “working,” writers to meet with undergraduate creative writing students. The idea being that learning the art and craft of the form takes more than the workshop method (agreed) of trading stories and getting feedback, and that students should have some level of awareness for the actual lives of writers.
In the book, Vanderslice mentions bringing Catfish Sutton to the University of Central Arkansas to which the author was only too willing to “make sure his audience knew exactly what a typical month in his working life was like.” Typical?
It’s an astonishing list of monthly accomplishments, which I won’t enumerate fully here, but it includes things like writing fifteen blogs, editing three chapters, several hours of research, submitting invoices and the like; it goes on for two pages.
The first thing that came to mind was the sheer volume of what Sutton is able to accomplish over a “typical” period of thirty days. For days, after reading this, I walked around chastising myself for being lazy and unproductive. I could no long do this work in twice the time, let along write up a list nearly as accomplished of my so-called “typical” work period(s).
Or could I?
So, I thought on that for a few days. This is how I tend to operate. In Patti Smith’s new memoir M Train she writes a lot about sipping coffee, staring off into space, with the occasion scribble making its way onto a table napkin. Sounds about right. I’m in my head for long, long stretches of time. Dyan often jokes to people we meet not to mind me, because I’m not always there. She gets me. Over great expanses of time, I’m always adding more and more experiences, thoughts and data to the filed and processed material in my head. Hannah Arendt says when we think or are in the process of remembering something, we are not in the present, but inside our heads in the lingering past. Sounds about right. The reels continue to spool. And unspool at seemingly random and involuntary intervals.
A few days ago I posted a video on my Facebook feed. It come from a site where a guy dissects art and posts his analysis up for subscribers. My friend, John, watched the video and was quite taken with the writer, in particular the writer’s site, which had an impressive number of paying subscribers. John texted me.
“I’m looking at a site called XX, he’s up to $1,000 a week in contributions on this thing with 100,000 subscribers…this might be interesting for us, we sell our knowledge.”
I texted back, “I do sell my knowledge. I teach graduate students creative writing :)”
Another text followed, where I said while I could appreciate it, the idea of a writer having a Web site, charging subscribers, and selling some kind of knowledge; it just wasn’t for me. It’s more or less become the contemporary model for writers–have a blog, gather up readers, and over time, monetize the site. Get a book deal.
I’d looked at this very idea for many, many years, as far back as 2004. I even contacted one of its best purveyors: Jeff Goins. He wrote back that just like anything else it takes time to build up an audience, build up a site, create that all-important stickiness and eek out some kind of living.
But it’s just not me to do this kind of work; you end up writing about writing–I’d rather write.
John, a sensible guy, agreed. Plus: he didn’t like to beg for money. On his own, several sites he runs and writes for garner an impressive audience of over 20,000, so he’s no slouch.
Sunday morning coffee in bed with Dyan and our boys–Story and Leo, a pair of rapscallion dogs–is always a time for great conversations. Over some Keirsey pages (a system of deterring psychological traits and sets) we talked about the world of consultancy–a move our “type” (which we share) would employ to engage the world and share knowledge. I told Dyan about Vanderslice’s author example and his impressive list of monthly accomplishments and work schedule. For all intents and purposes, Sutton is a lone consultant, who just happens to produce writing.
Pondering out loud–again I’d been processing for several weeks by then–I wondered if I could produce a similar list either by noting what I do actually in a month, and could this list confirm a similar load?; would the list illustrate/show me that when all is said and done there was/is time in my own schedule and work habits to add in a few more avenues of productive sharing?
Possibly. But I note that Catfish Sutton doesn’t teach, full time.
Simultaneously, I have been thinking for the better part of two years now on the tensions between wanting to share my work and the desire to absolute hide from sharing it at all. A tension for me between being a public or private writer. I very much want my work to be read and appreciated, in other words, but I’m not one for the modern way of garnering an audience, as I think I’ve made clear. I write a lot, and most of what I write never gets a public airing. Admittedly, its ‘s odd tension. A conflict to be sure. For in the end, an examination of one’s writing life might result in an increased need to having your time so dictated and, frankly, taken away. Right? What would happen to staring? To being in your head? Or could the examination simply confirm a desire to write and let the chips fall where they may?
The compromise might be to fulfill your writerly duties–writing books, published works out there, and engage a community–but not speak of it.
I’ll have to give that some thought.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her new book Big Magic quotes poet Jack Gilbert, no relation, on what it takes in the long run. Courage, apparently. “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden and in you?”
Or as Mary Oliver puts it in her poem “The Summer Day:”
Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?
The main thrust is that meaningless symbols in a meaningful pattern create meaning; and depending on the system, be it mathematical, or sentient, when the system the pattern produces perceives itself it becomes self aware.
In this way, the system “acquires a self.”
His book(s) are extended metaphors for “how selfhood originates, a metaphor by which to begin to grab a hold of just what it is that makes an ‘I’ seem, at one and the same time, so terribly real and tangible to its own processor, and yet also so vague, so impenetrable, so deeply elusive.”
(Ran across these notes while searching for something else. Isn’t that the way. Meant for a Christian publication I was writing for, but evidently never submitted this…)
David Wang writing in Mars Hill Review recently says God did not make us “time-bound orphans.” He created the world out of love and for beauty. Wang says God created art so that His children could play, could create, and could produce art and in the process we share in the Creator’s timelessness. Art is eternity. It stops time. Taft is a place of Art; Taft is one of those places Mircea Eliade said were thresholds of the sacred in an increasingly profane world. That is why I am here or rather that is why here I am. For all of us, inside Taft there is no time; and for us all, there was until we walked over its threshold, no Taft. Astrophysics expert Brian Greene might say the super strings of matter did not vibrate until we plucked the cord. God didn’t show us Taft, until we chose to step into eternity—a gesture, which begins with a memory so deep it requires faith and vulnerability: an open heart.
Taft is this space, this openness to fellowship. This is the story of friendship and family. It is a narrative written in our hearts, penned by God. We are saved and save one another. “[W]hen you are weak and vulnerable and paralyzed in body and spirit, having friends can save your life; and that even when you can’t or don’t believe, having friends who do can give you your life back” (Buchanan 3). Time and time again, my friends and family have given me my life back—the original gift. I only needed to seek, to ask, to knock.
Recently, I sought out this faith initiative and have met a new circle of friends. It was completely by accident—or so I thought—that we should cross paths. The pole of this ostensibly relative inaccessibility was a church cooperative (its mandate unknown to me at the time) far from my home. I had traveled there with Dyan to see a play—we were supporting a friend. While there I came across a bookstore, a café, an art gallery and a space where I felt a need; I don’t think I heard a single still, small voice. The air was susurrant. All was imprinted onto my heart. I investigated this small and vibrant community and found that it was run by individuals interested in reaching out, in bringing Christian culture to those yearning for it. Just like me. I signed up and have been with them every since. We work together in Christian fellowship, to promote literacy; to support one another and all who walk through the door. Although for the most part we spend our Sundays apart at myriad places of worship, our cooperation in this arts facility is a shared space found in brick and mortar, and yet stronger still in our hearts. It is intercessional; it is prayer. It is an extension of family and friends. “When we pray together, we are always praying on behalf of those among us who, for whatever reason, are not able to pray. …[W]e are believing for those who today have no belief left. When we give, we give also for those who cannot. Friendship heals” (Buchanan 3).
Friendship heals what anomie puts asunder. We Christians know this. It is in the secular culture that friendship is reduced to a medicinal cure or pyramid scheme. In the secular story the redemptive source remains individualistic and enigmatic. It is Jean-Paul Satre. It is Albert Camus. It is Judith in an Oates novel. It is a computer catalyst.
To those in the tribe of David, Jesus and Thomas: Over time we come to understand the might of blood, of propinquity: family and friends; we come to read clearly the story being uttered now as it has for thousands of years. We clearly deduce a hand at work on these jars of clay. It begins with the shaping of an open heart.
Here the clay pots are tattooed and pierced with metal bits. Here there are dreg locks and bald heads; here there are parents, friends, and there are lovers. Spoken word and the pages of our testimonies commingle here. Music swirls amongst our thoughts. Art of the times line our walls. We are facts of art. We are God’s artifacts.
This must be the space. This must be the space that I came searching for; a break in time; to touch God’s face, to stand in awe of an eternal beauty. This place is sensus communis and forever an expression of love and timelessness. Here there are no clocks. Walk through this portal and remain in the light.
We are super string and K lines. We are electrical spark and blinding faith. We are now and ciphered with God’s infinity. Here we erect the church built without hands. We are and will be broken clay vessels mattering not of time—that comes later—but yearning for space, in the heart, pierced by time’s arrow, where God returns to the center of our lives and the center holds.
A weighing of our souls: Is this the battle spoken of wherein the hearts of you and me, God and the Devil clash? Is this the “awful thing,” that is beauty, as Fyodor Dostoevsky sees it. Beauty is as “mysterious as well as terrible.” What could be terrible about beauty, other than its trance-like hold on us? In this trance is there but a tug-o-war? Is the human heart but a battlefield?
Is it played out in this place, this arts space cooperative of grunge kids and emerging church folk? I know very little about the origins of Taft, other than its loose affiliation of groups headed by a hip church—Ecclesia. The building itself sits in a neighborhood of eclectic homes of dodgy repute. Its immediate neighbor is a self-proclaimed junk store. A house behind Taft sports a church steeple in the yard to serve as a children’s play structure. The roads and sidewalks heave and pitch like undulating waves. The city din is constant and near.
Langer suggests that art, a painting, does not have meaning beyond its own presence. “In a work of art we have the direct presentation of a feeling, not a sign that points to it.” Art is rather than suggests. To put it another way: Timelessness is, it’s not suggested. God is; the art doesn’t suggest the possibility. “It formulates and objectifies experience from direct intellectual perception, or intuition, but it does not abstract a concept for discursive thought.” She goes on to say that the painting is a single entity, composed of materials that contribute, but do not in and of themselves constitute still more symbolism. It’s true that artists may use symbols in their art, but it is believed that these symbols lie on a different “semantic level,” (Langer) and that they are not a part of the larger works importance. In the end, a painting once nothing more than canvas, frame and paint is a new space, a “created apparition.”
“Music is time made audible.”
Poetry is not the result of words, but how the poet uses the words. What is being created is an appearance—of what? Langer and others say poets are attempting to have readers share an experience, recreate that experience if you will. First poetry gives us the words for the experience, perhaps words for the “unsayable said,” (Donald Hall); or simply the words for the actual experience. The tone and quality of those words is in their use in the poem itself through tension enjambments, rhyme and asymmetry. But we should be cautious in placing too much importance on the ability of the words to communicate. “…use of words is not essentially communicative” (Langer 148). “Poetic statements are no more actual statements that the peaches visible in a still life are actual dessert,” Langer said. In this way the words are not signaling, as words do as abstractions of the concrete, they are creating in time and space an image composed primarily of sound. What is created, the sensory image, is that of a shaped apparition of a new experience—shared between poet and reader. The medium is the message; nearby black holes simmer. What effect does the human extension have on us?
It is winter as I write this and in New York’s Central Park 7,500 gates have been installed with free-hanging saffron-colored fabric panels. The installation is called The Gates and it is the art work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude—individuals who were born in the same hour on the same day June 13, 1935. Christo was born Vladimirov Javacheff in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, of a Bulgarian industrialist family. Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon was born in Casablanca, Morocco, of a French military family. They would first meet one another in Paris, in 1958, while Christo was working on Packages and Wrapped Objects. Their only child, the poet Cyril Christo, was born May 11, 1960. In 1964, the artists moved to New York City. Since the sixties they have been producing art outside the walls of museums and frames. They have been very busy with the world at large.
For decades, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have inspired the world with their art, which has been displayed on four continents and seen by millions. Other works by the artists include Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971-95; The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, 1975-85; Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83; Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76; and Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle, Colorado, 1970-72.
What is striking about this art latest installation, in a public place, is that it exists for only a short period of time, as did most, if not all, of the artist’s work. By the end of a few weeks The Gates will be gone. What remains? What exists now outside the installation itself that we could point to and say that is art? Is the art also the problems and hurdles placed before the artists in their attempt to have the installation come to fruition? They began their quest to have The Gates installed in the park in 1979. Is the art also the public discourse over the validity of The Gates as art? What does it say when a public place is infused with a private moment—the realization one gets looking at the art, going through The Gates that they are partaking in something that has been created and that they are part of it? Is not in a park in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world, 7,500 thresholds through which sojourners may enter the sacred? Since they are temporary erections, I wonder if years from now contemporaries will have to convince generations that The Gates were even there; or that Jeanne-Claude’s wispy bouffant was bottle-saffron; will we have to convince people that there was among us a man named Christo?
What of two paintings recently discovered beneath two paintings by Picasso. One was found beneath Rue de Montmartre and another was found beneath La Gommeuse. It is called underpainting, when an artist too poor to purchase a canvas will paint over an earlier, perhaps inferior work. The underpainting isn’t discovered until a collector or curator x-rays the painting or when a painting is rematted—on the reverse side of La Gommeuse a new Picasso was discovered.
Alexander The Great is buried there. In Siwa, Egypt the ephemeral nature of art is explored. Recently, in late November, for five days the desert surrounding this oasis was abloom with color—in the sky. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang had children fly 300 kites he produced, which while in the sky ignited in an explosive blaze. This place is for this kind of exploration: Desert, temporary, wandering. Richard Long, another artist, fulfills this rather nicely recently when he walked into the desert alone to install his work: the wind blew the piece away before anyone else could see it.
As I write this, I am finishing my so-called writing retreat—little more than a social media sabbatical—and finally I have hit my groove, so to speak. I had a Eureka! moment, and came up with a great way to work on my memoir, and I continued to work on a shitty first draft of a novel. But up until this morning, nothing was happening.
In other words, I haven’t been getting a lot of my own work done.
I haven’t been writing. A strict definition: writing The Project. The Monster in the Box, as monologist Spalding Gray (pictured below, one of my early writing role models) called his creative endeavor he created and then stashed in a box.
I’ve been rearranging furniture. Cleaning up piles of paper. Staring at too much text. Inside my skull far too much. Typing on Ernest, my Underwood Standard Portable, in order to feel my fingers, moving. So they didn’t atrophy. To be fair, I had a camping trip last weekend to the Kentucky Lakes for the Fourth and I’ve had to wrap up Spring quarter classes, prepare for Summer quarter classes, do laundry, run (!), be a husband and puppy Daddy, and create my second workshop of three for local veterans. So it hasn’t all been navel gazing.
I’m no slouch. Summers have been for some time now a key period of time to get some work done on The Project. Time was, summer began in early May and lasted until early September; times have changed. For the past three summers I have taught right through summer, in some cases teaching more sections of a course than I’d done in a Fall/Winter semester. Go figure. But the summer habit of cranking out the pages on The Project remains, a legacy. When summer came there was the usual two-week decompression period where I could barely speak in complete sentences and then a period of work would begin and I’d go at some kind of project and somehow I managed. Under the current tutelage, somehow, I got it into my head I need to Produce Big Time… and instituted or demanded an insane writing schedule. An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “A Realistic Summer Writing Schedule” <link: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1044-a-realistic-summer-writing-schedule> made me feel a whole lot better about myself. I wasn’t nuts or going freaking batshit crazy, I was being unrealistic. Instead, the author of the article suggested to:
- Stop thinking in terms of large projects (Derp: The Project)
- Set up a realistic schedule and stick to it—mostly
- Find out what kind of schedule works for you
“It’s possible to feel like you’ve used your summer months wisely, I promise. But not if you’re starting out with impossible goals and a completely unrealistic writing schedule. Professional writers don’t write all the time. In fact, many of us goof off a fair amount and yet still manage to churn out essays, talks, grant applications, op-eds, and books. The secret sauce is that we’ve discovered sustainable writing practices and we stick to them.”
I knew these things.
Practiced these things.
Did these things.
And yet. Still.
Wracked with self-doubt, I spent far too long (of late) seriously doubting my ability to write anything. Ever. Again. Not a Dark Night of the Soul. More like I’d fallen into a pot of the blackest squid ink and couldn’t see or breathe. In Orlando: A Biography Virginia Woolf writes:
“Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”
Right about the time I thought myself the greatest fool in the world—after all, I am grown man who sits in a basement most of the year in various guises of the tortured worrying over the stupidest things and typing it all up for human consumption—when I hauled my dissertation off the shelf, which sighed in relief having been unburdened of such a dead weight, cracked it open and began to read portions of my work. And dang.
It was pretty good. Downright brilliant. I was the divinest genius!
My dissertation is called The Eight Leaves and it is a memoir, of sorts. Having reread portions of it, I thought it deserved another round of terse not-quite-right-for-us missives and sent it out! It’s there now in the ether of possibilities alongside my other book The Smallest Universe, which apparently is being read by the slowest readers on the freaking planet.
The realization that I’d done good work (albeit work often rejected) in the past, work that pleased me then, and still does, allowed me to admit that while I was not the divinest, I was not a complete fool, and began to think that the élan that produced those two babies still resides within me and I should simply ask it out on a play date.
And then things began to click.