If we are to write work that is alive, we have to be willing to head out there on that high wire. Every day, we have to place one foot, then another, on that thin, quivering line and let go of our ruminations and questions about what might happen. Maybe it won’t work. Yeah. Maybe it will suck. Maybe I’ll waste my time and precious energy on a piece of prose that will be dead on arrival. And indeed, yes you may. But how else are we supposed to discover what’s in there — in the teeming, writhing darkness? In the frozen tundra? If we’re sitting alone in our rooms, engaged in this solitary life — a life filled with uncertainty, with constant self-doubt, oh, yes, and with risks of a very practical sort — no one gives us a pension and a retirement plan, after all — then we damned well better be sure that we’re spending it all, shooting it all, holding back nothing. We need to give it up to the page, not just when it feels good, not when we feel in control of it, but every single time. -Dani Shapiro
I spent a little time this morning perusing Dani Shapiro’s blog, and have found myself genuinely interested in her daily observations. I was struck by the above quote, and it got me thinking, I suppose, about my own work, and work I am reading. It is hard to read a book, and then report to someone that it was “boring.” To me it almost feels sacrilegious, to spend quality time reading something, and then chalk it up to that: boring. But it has been happening to me all the time. I don’t know if it’s a life stage I’m in, or a series of bad luck, or what, but I have been feeling bored in my reading. It frustrates me because I have so little time to read for pleasure. Between teaching, tutoring, reading for column assignment, or reading short stories for workshop, the moments I can sneak in with a book that has no assignment, are few. And there are so many good books in the world, don’t get me wrong. And of course in the last six months I can name of several that totally rocked my world (Battleborn, This Is How You Lose Her, Volt), leading me to ask why I’m even saying this in the first place, but lately I stand in front of my bookshelf going back and re-reading things I once loved. And I suppose in my own work, I hope what I am doing is not boring, for that might be the worst thing you can say about a piece of writing. But rather, that it is affecting, or true, or beautiful, or some combination of those.
Shapiro writes that writers seem to have thin skin, and are perceptive to things in an extreme way–we can focus on the one bad review, instead of the ten glowing good ones, or the one part of the story no one “got” in workshop, instead of the encouragements. But I do think that is a necessary evil in this activity. A writer has to be a sensitive register for the world in order to see the world, and document it with real emotion. When I read that, I immediately related. I do have a thin skin myself, and I have seen the ways it makes going out in the world difficult, and the ways it makes the writing life all the more alluring. It’s not bad, it does not need to be corrected, it just is. I may be rambling here, but oh well. Things don’t always have to fit.
Since my engagement, my mind feels like its moving faster than normal, or it is harder for me to focus on one specific thing at a time. Part of me knows this is season of life, and I should enjoy every moment of the excitement, the indulgent online wedding shoe shopping, the planning, etc. But it is hard to not feel guilty in some way, that in this time I am neglecting my work. And perhaps neglecting my reading, or not reading with the right kind of attention, or sensitive register. I am in this space where it feels like my interests are many and my time is small.
I was chatting with a good friend the other night about New Year’s resolutions. She has a list of really amazing life stuff she wants to do (and I know she will succeed because she is amazing!) and it got me thinking. I had a few things in mind in late December, but they were not specific and not totally thought out. One was probably something unrealistic (never eat cheese or granola again!) or something even more unrealistic (go to the gym at 5 am everyday!). But in wondering about taking risks, I wondered what would happen in my writing life if I didn’t fly by the seat of my pants so much. I’ve always been someone who writes in large spurts, at no specific time, on no specific day. I will put other things in front of my writing as if my writing was not important, just another activity. But it is so much more. What might happen if I sat down and created a writing schedule, and then actually did it?
I think a few things would happen, the following perhaps, in no particular order:
1. I would be happier overall. Writing creates joy in my life. Simple.
2. I would stress less. I find when I am knee deep in writing a story, I am consumed by it, making small things (my filthy car) of less importance.
3. I would be more present with people. Sometimes I am distant because I know I should be writing. It need not be one or the other. I want to treat writing like eating, drinking coffee, showering–a necessary piece.
4. I might achieve my goals faster. Whatever those are 🙂
5. I would have more “Shalom” for sure.
So, it is a new year, and wedding or not, I want to move toward this. I want to go back to a simpler time. I was thinking about my life practices as a fifteen year old, before I had a cell phone and before I had the internet. You know what I did every night before bed? I wrote. I wrote a novel actually and deleted when I was nineteen in a drunken self loathing moment, but I still wrote one, and it was probably the worst thing ever, but it doesn’t matter. Because all that scribbling in my journal writing sappy poems, and terrible stories about God knows what, all of that has made me the writer I am today. And all of that was why I loved writing in the first place, those quiet times when thinking of publication didn’t exist, and no one was going to read my work. I want to get back to that kind of pure. And hopefully in ten years I will loath the work I am doing now, because I am that much better.
But, in other news, I am doing a photoshoot with my above mentioned friend and her little baby today, who is almost one year! It is sure to be fun in this unexpected Portland sun. Pics to come!