Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No Touches

An all day drive with three animals, heavy rain, and a GPS with nutty ideas. 
Not a writing day.

The first day in two weeks that I haven't touched my book. I'm feeling as though I should visit it now, just to maintain continuity, but I am tired, and having not worked, chances are I'll look at it and see problems I shouldn't see right now, doubt sentences that aren't meant to be questioned at this stage. In fact, everything may be fine--but I'm not meant to judge yet. I'm not at that stage.

So much of getting through piece of work is knowing at what stage you are and not wishing you were further along. Maybe it comes of being twelve, a whole long year of twelve, and wishing you were older. That's a wish, though. You still have to be twelve for as long as it takes; 365 days. You have to finish the first stage of your book, as long as it takes, before you can move to the second. The first stage can take 50 drafts or none. The first stage is figuring it out.

Then on to stage two. Writing. That comes after figuring it out, which maybe was also writing--but not the same kind.

Stage three. Better writing. This is when you translate all the creepy, cloying, sentimental, dumb sentences into literature. Fun! 

Stage Four. Out the door/in the drawer. Show people or not. But it's ready to leave the desk.

Stage one is a toughie, because it can take a long time. I think of writers, big writers, who I've heard say took eight or nine or ten years to figure a book out (and maybe hundreds of pages tossed), and then one or two to write it. Who doesn't want that eight, nine, ten years to go faster? Who doesn't wish for it all to be figured out shortly after you have an idea?

(Looking back, you can always see why it took so long to get through stage one. You hadn't gone deep enough inside yourself, or you were focusing on the wrong aspect, or you needed the right person in your life et cetera. It's often a matter of personal development more than it is a matter of ability. You have to grow up enough to understand your own idea. A twelve year old can be as intellectually quick as anybody, a math genius, a phenom in many arenas, but a twelve year old is a kid. A kid can't write Anna Karenina. Writing is for adults. Most people take a while to get there--past age 21.)

When I don't get a touch in during a day I am anxious that I will slip back down the tunnel into darkness. I get muddled about the stages again. Usually what I'll do is to jump to Stage Three, better writing, and doll up a few sentences. That can feel good for a little while, but it can also go very wrong, and become a channel for doubting every sentence. It's much better to sit down and have an honest think about where I am. To wait until I can really suit up to even look.

Can I resist opening the file? If it were cookies, I'd throw them out. I can't throw out my computer, though. Dammit! I think I've just made a case for being an adult, which, after a day like this one, means going to bed like a twelve year old.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Morning

There are always workmen on a Monday morning, somewhere nearby, doing something loud. 
There's a sense of staring over, of this week I will make life better.
(This week I will write 6000 words. This week I will not eat any wheat or sugar. This week I will do yoga every day.)
There's the relief of getting past Sunday, and its hookiness. A formal feeling comes. (To adapt Emily's loveliest formulation.)
There are the leftover projects begun on Sunday--an impulsive trip to the garden center, a vision for dotting the deck with unusual annuals, a handing over of the credit card, getting only part way done with the planting. 
There's the to do list. 
There are events to look forward to and events to decline. (There is a determination to remember who you are.)
There are ideas for many pieces to write, and the discipline to make note of them but stick to the project at hand.
There's the gratifying time spent with the appointment book.
There's a twinge of free floating panic.
There are the dogs, and the liberating belief that they don't know what day it is. 
There is beginning and continuity.
There is a faint presentiment of failure, and a counter determination to reframe it.
There's the pleasure of solitude in contemplation of one's own time.
There's the frustration of time being claimed by duty.
There is the moment to get to work.
The workmen have been at it since the dawn of time, after all.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Writing at Mother's

I am staying with my mother for two weeks, specifically to work, the idea being that I can put in many hours a day without the interruptions I usually have at home.
It sounds simple, but it isn't. It is my mother, and it is my writing. Can the two be in the same place at the same time?
"I hate your voice," my son used to say to me. I understood. There's nothing quite like your mother's voice. For better or worse, you're sensitive to it. And yes, sometimes hate it--particularly when it is calling up the stairs. Particularly when it interrupts.
At this point in my life, I can recognize the flash of rage, and neutralize it. My mother is old and she's not going to change now. I will miss her when she's gone--if she dies first. I want to spend time with her. But is this a place to write? Really?
So many writers have gone to live with their mothers to get their work done. I am thinking particularly of Gustave Flaubert, Flannery O' Connor, and Eudora Welty. How did that go? Did they struggle to maintain an equilibrium? Did they feel supported? Did they offer support? Did they ever feel undermined, if only by the past?
One thing I do imagine; that living with their mothers put them in touch with some deep feelings.
I speak for myself, but I find it both difficult and compelling to be with my mother and writing at the same time. The fantasy of no interruptions is a laugh. She moves around the house, and I know exactly her gestures and expressions, and that knowledge comes with waves of associations. Do I want to go ahead and think about about them or do I spend energy tying them off? Then there are all the things I want to do for her before I go back, as well as the day to day of dishes and laundry. She's very independent, but I feel like I should keep her company. And we have my two dogs and one of my cats, her two dogs and her cat in the house--with all their many needs and desires. It's complicated!
But I have gotten lots of work done. It never feels like much in a day--I always think I have written nothing--but it adds up. I am still inside this book, feeling it, and haven't yet stepped outside and judged it or thrown it out. The large plot I had in mind is naturally breaking down to the smaller step by step moments that move the whole shabang forward. My back and shoulder are in incredible pain from this table and chair, but something's happening.
Once I pressed Flannery O'Connor on a student. She came back to me saying she didn't know what to make of it--was it even fiction? It was so much like her own mother. Oh. That wasn't the part of the stories I'd focused on, or what I was thinking about FOC. Suddenly whoosh! I could see where she got her sense of humor, where she'd need it.
My mother is relatively easy to be around, but she's still my mother. She's nervous that I'm writing about her. No, I'm not. I'm staying with her. That's a whole different story.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Do You Take This Book...

I have at least a hundred books on the wall behind me about writing, some extraordinary, some instruction manuals. Some try to describe the mystery of writing, some are how-tos--as irresistible as diet books. I don't read them very often anymore, but I like the rows of these books. I used to want to write one myself. The plan was to write cases, and how they were solved. The title: The Man Who Mistook His Life for A Plot.

But there are so many writing books! And none of them exactly describe how bizarre it is to write a story, a poem, a novel. Attempts to represent the deep work often refer to directional properties. That makes sense. Written works are cumulative, and horizontal, or vertical, or both. I think of reaching for a bough, or traveling along a canal with locks, or laying rails.

Now school's out and I am writing. I turn on , and dig in. The feeling is; get back to where you once came from, to that first feeling of water pouring from a pitcher, feelings and visions pouring onto a page. Freedom! 

(Ha! Half the time I look at FB, follow links, read up on history relevant to the book--and not, stare at houses for sale on the Jersey shore...)

I am writing a book, and I am thinking that the difficulties of writing a book mirror the difficulties of having a real relationship; a book is as separate and individual and demanding as an other, and requires as much thought and care and attention. It's consuming, exciting, scary. Very very real. I'm in the trenches of life. People who think writing is an escape from reality don't quite know how wrenching it can be to try to understand beyond one's own usual capacities to understand. You have to be smarter and more empathic than daily life asks of you. Whatever humanity you have in you has to man/woman up.

I wonder if part of the desire to write a book is to have a real relationship? Where you can't coast, or get away with anything. Really, truly being in love. Where the other loves and sees your deepest self, and everything on the way down, good, bad, and twisted.  There is a drive to be known that invents all-knowing gods in the sky and searches the personal ads for a possible match, but it is terrifying stuff when it really happens. We forget how much we rely on hiding to keep us safe. The fantasy is that being in love means that all our under-appreciated greatness will be recognized--not that our smallnesses will be under the lights.We fantasize being set free to be our real selves; and forget that we will also take on the responsibility of keeping the other in mind, making the phone call, talking, fighting, responding, responding, responding. We are both more and less free than when we were isolated. We bear the constant burden of fear--fear of being seen in all the ways we speculate make us essentially unlovable, fear of being trapped, fear of loss.

The same happens with a book. We take on a responsibility to it, and we are under its power, have to respond, fight, stay up, adore, bring it presents! We attend to it all the time, whether we want to or not. That's the relationship, take it or leave it. Have it all the way, or don't get involved--but no half measures. No trying to have it both ways, reserving oneself while dabbling in some slight intimacy. You're either on the bus or you're off the bus. Almost only counts in horse shoes. Point made?

The commitment and the struggle are there at the desk and there in the final book. It is impossible not to come face to face with one's own moves while writing. Where you turn away, don't tell the truth, jump up for a glass of water--what then did you just feel that you don't want to feel? Also, your brilliances, your flights of imagination and connection, your ability to find le mot juste, everything that has added up over time. You see yourself, if you care to look. The book is a perceptive lover--dammit!

I have been working up to writing a book for years, hundreds of pages of attempts and throw outs, lots of self doubt and thoughts of doing something else with my life  (dog breeder! animal rights lawyer! analyst! and...moving to the Islands). Rough stuff, lonely, kind of depraved. It has taken me years to fall in love with this book of mine--I pushed it away and rejected it for a long time. Now I'm in love and I want to spend time with it whenever I can. I miss it when I don't. The prospect of publishing and doing everything a writer has to do now to publicize and sell a book aren't in my mind. I am writing. Building a brick street. I'm in the relationship, and it is demanding. It requires constant choices about how I will spend my time, but even more than that basic choice is the one about what I will do with my thoughts. In a relationship it is necessary to think of the other more than you think about yourself. To want to do everything you can to help them fulfill their potential. The book is waiting for me to think of it. Will I now, and now and now? Will I think of it when I am working on it? It seems obvious that I will, but it is easy not to--just as it is easy not to think of another person in his company. 

I'm in love, but that's the easy part. Now, to have the relationship. To be constantly aware and available. To not retreat into safe, hidden places. To attend.

I meant when I began to write this post to describe what it is like to compose a piece of writing, and I haven't. I'll try again soon. I plan to post some of my writing notes as I work along. To what end? I'll tell, or try to explain, in my next post.