I just got back from a five day retreat with some very fine writers. It was productive and cozy and fun. Here’s what worked: I brought one manuscript to work on and one book to read. That’s it. I checked email a bit but I only responded to necessary things and only at the end of the day. We brought our own breakfast and lunch stuff and each took a night to cook dinner. At the very beginning of the retreat, we each said what we were working on and what we wanted to accomplish. We did one writing prompt per night. And towards the end, we each shared a portion of our work. It was splendid.
One of my very favorite moments was when I shared my writing anxiety with the others: “Does it always feel like the whole manuscript could fall apart at any moment?” Without exceptions, all of my writing mates laughed and nodded.
Oh, good. I’m normal.
Here is the view from our writing perch:
Believe it or not, some people write from this place:
I am so much better
I’ll show them
They will rue the day
Pride turned sour.
You see, we have to have a certain amount of hubris to sit down
in front of the blank page and believe
in the words and the story we are writing.
Sometimes it even feels like audacity
The nerve of me
It’s hard to sustain.
Sometimes those dance partners leave you alone.
And the mean feelings creep in
You won’t die.
Let them pass through you
Know the smell of their shoes.
The stain on their shirt
The crease in their jeans
Then tuck them in your toolbox
A character might need those exact clothes
Once again on Facebook, I paused for quite a while debating whether or not I should wade into a discussion. The initial post was about rectifying a racial wrong. Great, got it. But the tone of the post (underlined by abbreviated swears) was shaming: Like “Hey, you stupid white people, wake the fuck up.”
Maybe some people respond well to shaming. I don’t. I am coated with four hundred years of racism. I have been dipped in it. I am ashamed of how stupid and blind I am even as I pull back the blinkers of my white privilege.
Maybe it is freaking tiresome to be the person of color ALWAYS having to bring up the issue and make the dumb white people aware. I get it. But we have four hundred years of racism and genocide in this country to undo. Let’s do it together. Let’s believe we are all redeemable. Let’s not shame each other.
It doesn’t help. It really doesn’t help.
I skipped yesterday. Intentionally. I wanted to see what would happen.
You see I was describing my experiment to two dear friends. “I’m trying to discover and use different neural pathways around writing. Over so many years of deadlines and decades of wishing to be recognized as a successful writer, I feel like the wellspring of fun when I write has dried up. I can’t find the excitement, the yippee. I keep looking for the outside source to reinvigorate me. Like some external acknowledgement will finally explode the neural pathways of doubt and I will feel…well, you get it. Instead, I decided to sit down everyday and write for nothing. For me. For the discovery of what might happen. My hypothesis is that if I write that way each day, I will reconnect, rebuild, recalibrate my reliance on the outside atta-girl and I will write more and more from a place of joy and discovery.”
So I skipped yesterday.
And today, it was harder to come to the page. There was this little monster grumbling in my head: Why bother? Who needs you to do this little experiment? Don’t you think it’s time to stop?
Well, little monster, no one needs me to do this little experiment except me. And doing it for me is worth the bother. So no, I’m not stopping.
I ‘finished’ reading a marvelous book.
It will never be finished because it is the kind of book that can be read at different ages and it will always give you a new perspective. It has a kind of omniscience, this book. You can come to it again and again and it will refresh your stale footprint. It will throw cold water on your party dress. It will warm you like late afternoon sun. Such a fine book.
At the very ending of the book, the Grandmother gets up in the middle of the night and goes outside. It is very dark. She hears a boat going out to sea. Or so she thinks…
“Isn’t that funny,” Grandmother said. “It’s only my heart, it’s not a herring boat at all.” For a long time, she wondered if she should go back to bed or stay where she was. She guessed she would stay for a while.”
Imagine, ending a book with a heartbeat.