Monday, January 14, 2019

Making room

We had snow over the weekend ... only about an inch, but it's been cold enough since that it has lingered many places.

So we walked through the woods, enjoying the light of sun through pine branches, the blue shadows of tree trunks striping the snow, the quiet. Winter is a great hiking season if you like peace and solitude.

It's a fitting season for weeding out old files, which is what I've been doing. So many decisions--do I need this? Where should I keep it? And to my delight, so many papers I can get rid of. Papers I once needed, or thought I needed. It's slow going, but I've set a goal to go through a few files each day. (I get through fewer when I hike, but then hiking's worth it.)

I want to make room. Room for what, I don't know yet, and that's partly the point. Room for the new and unexpected.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The present moment

"We balance the risks of the physical world ... with the risks of an insular life, lived underground, in fear. Too much safety creates its own dangers."
--Anne P. Beatty, "You Don't Have to Be Here," Creative Nonfiction Issue 68, Risk: Embracing Uncertainty

That quote struck me, since I'm one of those cautious people who try to plan for every eventuality. Risk-averse, to boot. But the older I get, the more I'm aware of just how much of life is beyond our control.

As we flip the calendar to the new year, we think about what we want the year ahead to be. I have many sources of uncertainty in many areas of my life right now, and rather than deal with all of 2019 I am going to continue focusing on the present moment. The now. 

"'The present moment is a teacher that will always be with you, a teacher that will never fail you.'"--Thich Nhat Hanh, quoted in "Learning to Trust the Present Moment" by Mitchell S. Ratner, The Mindfulness Bell, Issue 31

 On New Year's we think a lot about past and future. We count off the final seconds of a year, letting it go, watching it become the past right before our eyes. We look ahead to the unknown, the fresh start, the clean new calendar. I have lived through the turning of a year, a decade, a century, a millennium. But I keep settling in to the present moment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Now that's what I call guidance counseling

"When my ninth-grade guidance counselor asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I told him I wanted to be a writer. Mr. Stone, in his brown corduroy suit and tinted aviator glasses, shook his head sadly. 'Ann,' he said, 'people don't do that.'"
--Ann Hood, Morningstar: Growing Up with Books

I'm enjoying Hood's book about reading, and writing, and coming of age, and the importance of stories. I thought this quote might amuse the writers out there--and the readers, too, for that matter. Thank goodness people do do that writer thing.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The first rewards

"...I am solidly, realistically joyous; I like living in hope of publication; I can live without the actual publication. I write, however poorly, or superficially, for fun, for aesthetic order, and I am not poor or superficial, no matter what I turn out."
--Sylvia Plath, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956, ed. by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil

Sylvia Plath wrote those words after her first flush of writing success, and after the breakdown that culminated in a suicide attempt, and before she knew she would have another, bigger wave of writing success--indeed, before she had even written the works for which she is now most famous. She's identifying the separation between the joy of publishing, which is unpredictable, and the joy of creation, which is always within reach. 

Artists know, or soon learn, that the degree of effort is not always proportional to the degree of (outward) success, and nothing is guaranteed. The inevitable questions are: Why am I creating this? Who is it for?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

That would make a great story ...

I can't help it. Let me overhear an intriguing scrap of conversation, or read a bizarre headline, or learn about some new-to-me quirky historical fact, and my brain will start constructing a story around it.

It doesn't matter if I ever write the story; I just seem to have an automatic reflex to outline the possible story in my head, maybe come up with an opening line. 

It's like a marathon runner doing a little jog-in-place. It keeps me in shape, preps me for the big race. Only in the case of writing, I never know which little jog is going to turn into the marathon until I'm well into the race!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

On lifework and dandelion seeds

"I only managed today to write six thank-you notes. This is the kind of day which utterly depresses me because I cannot see it as a lifework, only an existence to thank people ..."
--May Sarton, At Eighty-Two: A Journal

I know what Sarton means here; we often think of our notes, emails, blog posts, etc., as not "real writing," or what she refers to as "lifework." The lifework consists of the carefully crafted stories and articles and books that we deliberately put out for the world's notice ... right?

Well, yes and no. It occurs to me that when I correspond with someone, I'm establishing the very kind of connection that I want my published writing to achieve. I'm just doing it one-to-one instead of one-to-many. At this point in my life I've seen how rare and fleeting and unpredictable the one-to-many connections can be. 

And so I have a new regard for the less formal daily communications we practice. For some writers, letters and journals and other documents have become part of their lifework, even if they didn't plan it that way.

We don't always know what our lifework is, or what it will turn out to be. We blow dandelion seeds into the wind, and who can say which ones will sprout and flower?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The uncertainty of the first draft

Starting a new book is all steam and excitement, an idea pulsing with life. But I'm never sure, until I've written my way into it, whether it will really work. I have abandoned first drafts after a thousand words, two thousand, ten thousand. 

Usually by the time I hit ten thousand, I have a sense of whether this is going anywhere. If the story's getting deeper and more complex, if new subplots are opening up, if the characters are revealing more with every scene, then I may have something. But if the initial impulse has burned out, its promise dwindled, the characters never growing, no new conflicts arising naturally, then it's another scrap for the scrap box. Part of it may be quilted into another story eventually.

When a story does go, when it grows legs--or better yet, wings--there's a feeling of inevitability. Yet the first shovelful into the ground (to mix metaphors here) rarely tells me how rich the pocket of ore will be. I have to dig a while to test it.