Saturday, January 7, 2012

Epitaph: She Was Interrupted

Interruption. Here I am at 6 in the morning, getting ready to write, girding against what will intrude.
I know I only have a few hours before I have to stop and do the to-do list.
The dog is snuffling behind me on the bed; can't be helped. The cat is sitting right next to my computer and will need to be stroked periodically--a given.
Cars are roaring past, and every few minutes, an eighteen wheeler. That's life. Coulda, shoulda bought a house on a quiet street. Who knew? It sounded like a tomb compared to 96th Street.
Now I prepare.
1) Clear off the desk. Get everything out of sight except the grey wall. All my books are behind me. I am allowed to keep one book on my desk. It varies. Usually one I know well and can lift and drop. The criterion: good sentences.
My talisman
2) I suit up: fleece socks, Superman fleece pants, a fleece top. Warm slippers. Hair up in a clip. (Note: try to remember to change clothes before going out.)
3) Plug in my blue "fairy lights," as Sarah Englishly calls them. I have them strung around my room, for happiness.
4) Put my talisman next to me.
5) Get my supplies ready and in the right places: a notebook, the right pen, sharpened pencils, a yellow narrow lined legal pad, cat food, a pitcher of water, a cup of coffee, a blanket.
6) Light a candle.
7) Do breathing exercises for 10-15 minutes.
8) Write down the scene I am going to work on for the first stretch. Write down what it needs to do. Write down how it needs to feel.
9) Make sure I'm ready. Settled.
10 ) Turn on Freedom for 120 minutes.
11) Set timer for first session, 25 minutes.
12) Turn on noise cancelling headphones.

Now I begin.

Interruption is the theme of my life, I see that more and more clearly. I have a memory from when I was about eighteen months old, sitting on the beach in Cape May, looking out at my favorite grey ocean rolling toward me, thinking, thinking...I was thinking. Then someone picked me up. Who? I can't remember. Father, Grandfather. Lifted me off the ground, out of my thought, into their impulse to grab me. My thought was lost. I don't know what it was. I was interrupted. I am left with that memory of the vulnerability of my private life, how easily it could be whisked away by the needs of others, and how helpless I was to stop that. I still am. So much interrupts. I have learned to interrupt myself, with thoughts that are unessential and feelings that want to control other feelings, and so on. To write, I have to return to being the small child on the beach looking at the ocean. I know that. I know that in the space between what I thought and what I saw that day was my true mind, my self.
This is the beginning of an essay. Not what I am writing this morning. What I needed to think about to get ready for now, for finishing this story. The one I am writing now.
I often pause to write something like this, a blog post or a diary entry, just before I begin, to be in touch with one of Dicken's ghosts, the future or the past, before I sit in the present.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dear Diary

One of the Christmas traditions I most enjoy is the afternoon when two good writer friends and I meet, raise a glass, and exchange presents. This year I gave them each a five year diary. Neither of them had ever written a diary regularly before, but they seemed excited to try it. I am curious to hear their experiences after a couple of years.

I have always kept a diary of some sort. I often keep a journal as well. The diary, the five year diary, only offers a few lines per day, and turns out to be a great challenge. Is this something to be written for posterity--or will I write exactly what I want? I think most people feel an onlooker, often judgemental, peering over their shoulders when writing a diary. The convention of addressing it with the word "Dear" implies this. Who out there is Dear--Dear enough to read my secrets? Or is the Dear meant to be ingratiating, to protect myself from harm? Do I tell Dear what it wants to hear and keep the truth to myself? Over time, I have evolved from one to the other. Dear now likes me or not. The question has become, what do I tell myself?

Much of it is dull: I went here, I went there. Some of it is pure emotion; I felt, I hated, I wept. All of it indulges use of the word "I"; a counter to how I was raised not talk about myself. (Like George H.W. Bush!) The diary is allowed to be about me and my reactions to life; my inner Anais Nin. Narcissicitic and self-fascinated. Where else does this fly?

The journal is more complex. It's mainly about writing, but every so often I take an hour or two to record a conversation or an event that I want to remember fully. The writing portion is notations for how to make whatever I am working on tighter, how to pull a metaphor through the scenes; it is an architect's notebook. Very messy. Notes for a map. When I have enough I draw the map, which is prettier, enough so that it can go up on the wall. That's late in the game, though. Mainly it's the wild notebook--quite unlike the tidy chemistry notebook that Gale Boetticher kept on Breaking Bad. Golly, that blew me away. Lines from Whitman, too. He didn't deserve what he got.
From Gale Boetticher's notebook...

Mine looks like this.
Though I don't write it backward as it appears. I don't imagine anyone is looking over my shoulder when I compose this--it is work, and only work. Capable of being immediately junked when I move forward with the project.
The diaries are meant to last, at least until I die, when I hoped they will all be burned, or go in the coffin with me. That would serve me right! If I am buried alive, as my grandfather always feared he would be, at least I'd have some reading material for the last few days. Though what could be more stultifying than reading about oneself while fading away?

I've gotten fairly comfortable with my diary, and tell it a lot. In fact, it's a record of how comfortable I felt writing things down. When I sit with it at night, it makes me aware me of what I choose not to say--how reticent I am. It's good to know my limitations. Keeps me honest.