September 15, 2015
I am exactly at the midway point of my residency. I’m winding up work on this next chapter of the novel. It was over a week of what I felt was not much, but amounted to a whole chapter, a lot more figured out in terms of world-building, and time well spent with a character.
Some writers get here and write like 100 pages but this is not that type of project (or maybe it’s just not at that point yet) and I am certainly not that kind of writer. Years of writing in spurts—a few words in caps as placeholders, expanding on those words with a few sentences, molding a paragraph, threading it to be cohesive with another paragraph, staying with a scene, rounds of printing, rereading, tweaking, heightening—not in one sitting, mind you, but at work, on my lunch break, after work, on the way home on the train, for a few minutes in the evening, on a Saturday morning after walking Niko, a Sunday morning after breakfast. Snatches of time. It’s all I’ve ever had.
It’s trained me to keep working like that even when I have blocks of time so even here at Hedgebrook I’m compelled to work in a touch and go way. I write a blog post, make edits to a work in progress, have coffee, expand a scene, have lunch, make notes, take a shower, print, reread, mark-up, have dinner, talk to other writers, take another look at the whole thing, tweak, read, listen to the radio, read in bed. Even from week to week I feel the need to switch from one project to another.
It’s fine. It works for me. And the only right way is the way that works.
This week, I’m dedicating my attention to studying musical theater. Some things are better done when you’re too inexperienced to have the foresight to see just how impossible it is or you’d never do it. I have a collaborator. I have a fresh premise. I have a story. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. But I once said the same thing about short stories and essays. While many days, I still don’t have a clear idea of what the fuck I’m doing with a particular short story or essay, I feel I have a better grasp. Maybe that’s all we get, more confidence in the handling.
September 16, 2015
On a walk with a few fellow writers after dinner, someone today made the most casual comment that this time, being here at Hedgebrook, is especially great for 9-to-5ers.
I fucking forgot my life. That I have a life other than this one. That this one is not the real one.
I seriously had a moment of dissonance where I did not understand that I am one of the aforementioned 9-to-5ers and was like…oh shit, this isn’t my life. The way you pick up a jacket at a party and you’re like oh wait, this isn’t mine, looks just like mine but it’s not. I might have audibly gasped like someone threw a drink in my face. It was as frightening as those days you wake up suddenly and can’t determine if you’ve woken up late or early, if it’s a weekday or weekend. A moment of sheer terror.
I haven’t locked my door, used keys, a wallet, cash in weeks. We had a brief power outage the first weekend I was here. When the power returned, I didn’t even bother to set the time on the clock radios in my cabin so both clocks have different random times because who gives a damn? I haven’t even shopped for my own food. I basically ricochet between my cottage, the pumphouse, the bathhouse and the farmhouse. I pushed myself to take that quick walk off the property today because…I mean…it’s good for me, but I was glad to get back in the farmhouse when we returned.
I fucking forgot my life. How quick was that?
September 17, 2015
The writer Alexander Chee posed a simple question on his facebook status. Just asked if anyone had comments about taking a social media break, if it was helpful in their writing.
I use Facebook and twitter most frequently. I’m a jump-on, jump-off type of user rather than someone who sits and scrolls and I don’t rail about the evils of it. I’m in the “it’s all about how you use it” faction. If your timeline annoys you, curate a better timeline. There are plenty of tools available for you to do so, from herding individuals into circles to limit their view, to unfollowing for limiting yours. And once you set that up you never have to think of it again.
I long ago uninstalled Facebook and twitter from my phone and haven’t missed notification icons and dings for a moment. My linkedin account just sort of sits like a monument, although I don’t know if that’s technically social media. It’s like one serious friend in the crew. Google + is crickets, so I just share infrequent big professional news and blog posts. I use pinterest for inspiration boards for writing, recipes, saving photos of sploosh-worthy famous people. It’s my corkboard, not somewhere I engage with others. I’m a fan of instagram and use it, but oddly enough I uninstalled it upon arriving here. Partially, because my phone was pressed for storage space and partially because I wanted to encourage myself to directly experience in the present rather than capture for later. Tumblr and Medium are infrequent afterthoughts.
I don’t feel they get in the way of my writing, at home or here. Other things siphon from my writing time: work for pay; parenting and parenting-related putting out of fires; commuting places; household crap like cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry; working out, people, events. Much more so than social media, but something stuck to me from that thread. Someone said they felt a decrease in their hair trigger reaction.
Sometimes checking social media feels like a series of quick, and therefore meaningless, indignations. Everything from a news item to a status to a photo, meme, or video can spark declarations of heinousness, offense, vapidity.
There’s no time to process in depth why we feel the way we do. No time to turn it over in one’s mind, see things from different angles, practice introspection, examine ourselves, glean insight, practice empathy. There’s not even time to feel nothing because the flow of stimuli is so constant and eternal. Something that sparks outrage in the morning is forgotten by noon. And in between, there were a dozen other sparks.
What strikes me when I’m reading a piece of literature, whether essay, short fiction or novel, are the parts that refuse being shaken off so easily. The insights revealed in the sentences that feel like a wallop. And a hair trigger reaction doesn’t seem conducive to creating that experience for others. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Tears take time to collect and surprise actually takes time to build.
I respond to individual experiential learning so I decided to take a break from social media for the rest of my time here. I don’t expect to write more, but perhaps create the space to think and feel more.
September 18, 2015
I listened to a Thich Nhat Hahn talk this morning and cried. I mean, like an ugly sob. I’m not really a crier anymore. I have one good cry a year. Period cries don’t count.
My father once asked me if I ever saw my grandmother depressed or crying. I never did. We know she must have felt desperate or sad many times, but we never saw her cry. I believe I come from a long line of non-cryers, especially women. Breaking down, releasing, unpacking, is a luxury and a privilege—one I did not see exercised too often in my family.
I am afraid, despite all of my emotional intelligence, that while I understand when others cry and feel compassion toward them when they do, I see it as a sign of weakness in myself.
It means I have allowed something to wound me. I have given something power to do so. It is a constant struggle to remind myself no one gets through this life unscathed and that wounds remind us we are human. The power I think I retain when I don’t allow things to penetrate is a false one, an illusion, something to make me feel immortal.
He talked about the components of love in Buddhist terms. The concept of understanding did me in. How necessary understanding is to love and how much must be traversed to truly understand. How you must see it all at once, a person’s suffering, their obstacles, their life, their desires. That when you truly understand another person, you don’t do or say things to make them suffer. If you’re not bringing them joy, it’s not love. If you can’t understand, it’s not love. Perhaps there’s an intention to love, but not real love just yet. How when we love our friends we give them all the freedom they require. What changes in romantic love that this becomes no longer true? He suggested we ask our loved one, do I understand you enough?
I think I have been intending to love for the last year, but not truly done so. Fear and attachment get in the way. I can see it when I look deeply, as Thay suggests we do, at my loved one’s disappointments, loneliness, fear, his past experiences, his desires, his reaching toward happiness. I don’t think I have always said or done things to ease his suffering. I think my suffering always stepped in front of his. I don’t think my love has always been freeing in the way a friendship is, in that selfless way, where you want to see your friends happy, in whatever form that takes.
I exercised my privilege of having the time and privacy here to cry over how nearly impossible a task it is love well.
September 19, 2015
Well today sucked. I am disappointed I didn’t get something I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted. I got something else I wanted, but wasn’t sure I deserved it. Or rather the thought ate at me that I got it despite what I perceived was a conclusion that my work is mediocre at best. The few people I could divulge these happenings to were kinda remiss about it. And it’s not fair to expect people to respond the way you want them to. They can only respond the way they know how. I couldn’t cultivate any gratitude or happiness in the present. I didn’t bathe. My confidence took a bit of a hit. So did my ego.
September 20, 2015
You have to be delusional to be a writer. Have to be. It’s the only way forward.