I’ve been quiet on this blog recently. Besides dealing with the death of my dad, a motley of illnesses, and difficult unplanned events, I’ve been thinking. About writing, about self-promotion, about blogging, and primarily about my life. Where I want to focus, how I want to carry on. A change is needed, and though this was evident before Dad died, I was managing okay and planned to finish up the projects I’d chosen to do before making any alterations to my lifestyle. Dad hastened all that along. With the bottoming out of my energy and the going to sleep of my work-related brain, I’ve been forced to do what I was able to more or less ignore before. Rest. Take care of my physical health. Lower the stress in my life. And ask myself what my priorities really are, because clearly, there isn’t enough of me to do the many things I want to do.
“Where I want to focus, how I want to carry on.” This question is different in weight than when I first asked it in my teens. I realized then I had to choose between a flood of interests, that I would benefit from narrowing in on and really exploring just a few of them. Years later, I wanted to focus still more tightly, to become adept at one or two things and let other activities—beloved or unfulfilling—go. Now, with chronic tiredness and pain, and a very slow thought turnover rate, I have to cull as never before. Yet after Finding Creatures & Other Stories* came out, I actually did the opposite. I opened up my sights and welcomed in the world.
Is it 19 months since my book came out? Something like that. With that event I no longer settled down to ponder stories and flesh them out. I waded into the world of self-promotion and social networking, and I began working on other people’s writing projects more. It was a lot of work, often fun, and I learned a great deal. I even got a few stories written and some of them published. I wrote the second draft of a novel I’d written the year before. All good. But all very wearing, as well, and instead of waking up and wondering what writing I’d do that day, I woke up wondering if I’d ever have time AND energy to write again. Not a good thing.
Writing is nothing new, and it’s not the only thing in my life that matters. But it is the lens through which I revisit and interpret and re-experience life, the way I return with heightened senses to matters that fly too quickly by, to realize and appreciate them deeply. You could say it's my meditation, or part of it—you could call it my prayer. When I'm worried about who I'm keeping waiting or whether I'm making sales or how to keep my profile up, when I'm digging in to help other people lift their careers and am investing too much time in that, I don't come back to that still place where I remember why I chose writing over singing and art, why I chose it over science and religion and all my early loves.
The nearest thing I can compare writing to is staring. Being a kid, and a young adult, with nothing I had to do and lots of time to do it, I would stare close up at a spider web, a slick of machine oil on dusty water, crumbs of cement, shadow on tile. I would notice precisely the air touching my skin. Would stare at an idea, a book, an animal, a friend. Stilling to wait for the next breath of an insect, the next turn of a leaf, I found something far more profound than I could guess at when headlong. In not rushing by, I was discovering some part of them, and in discovering, bringing them into myself.
When I write, I touch these things once more, bring them out of me again, hold them up, meld them with other ideas, beings, sensations, questionings, and offer them to the page, where with luck another person will pause some time, read, and see still more than I have seen.
It isn’t about producing something, but about making contact with what already is, with noticing and perhaps celebrating it; at the very least, whispering it aloud.
Last week for the first time in months I was able to start and complete a piece of creative writing. I had to give up the thought of writing a story I owe someone, or working on the novel, or any other such constructive thing. Instead, I just wrote like I used to, letting the words and images that needed to come, come, and welcoming them. Not surprisingly, it’s a three page observation of dying and death. It made me cry. It made several other people cry, too. And talk. And smile. Those are very great rewards.**
The last 19 months of producing and promoting have changed my life, and they have changed the way I write. Although the output has slowed, my writing has deepened, or at least my sense of things has done. Doors have opened in my mind and heart, I have greater expertise in bookish things, and my appreciation of my own and other people’s limits has sharpened accordingly.
But it isn’t the life for me. I would love to support all the inspired people I find around me, and to learn well the skills of layout, cover design, and editing. I’d love to hang out online regularly with all sorts of writers and readers, share ideas and promote our work. But what I need is a quiet life where I am rested and cared for enough that I end up moved and inspired to write a little, now and then, rather than dragging myself from commitment to commitment with the guilty feeling that I’m just not doing this right. That someone with more energy than I have should be taking these things on.
I’ve never, luckily, been interested in being famous. The idea scares the bejeezus out of me, actually. I’m unlikely ever to write anything that hits big in the popular canon, and I’m unlikely to fill a bookcase with publications before I die. But I can let writing be the essence that makes the details of life weave together for a moment, now and then, into a pattern I can recognize and delight in and not forget. I can let writing be an oar, not a compass. An awareness, a sensation, instead of a statement, a summing up, a pressing on. Something to rest in, in other words, rather than something to grapple with. And if my writing can offer the same for a reader, well—wonderful. I couldn’t ask any more.
* Finding Creatures & Other Stories, by C. June Wolf.