For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
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For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
I came across an entry from Sylvia Plath’s journal in a blog yesterday:
“Writing is a religious act: it is an ordering, a reforming, a relearning and reloving of people and the world as they are and as they might be. A shaping which does not pass away like a day of typing or a day of teaching. The writing lasts: it goes about on its own in the world. People read it: react to it as to a person, a philosophy, a religion, a flower: they like it, or do not. It helps them, or it does not. It feels to intensify living: you give more, probe, ask, look, learn, and shape this: you get more: monsters, answers, color and form, knowledge. You do it for itself first. If it brings in money, how nice. You do not do it first for money. Money isn’t why you sit down at the typewriter. Not that you don’t want it. It is only too lovely when a profession pays for your bread and butter. With writing, it is maybe, maybe-not. How to live with such insecurity? With what is worst, the occasional lack or loss of faith in the writing itself? How to live with these things?
The worst thing, worse than all of them, would be to live with not writing.”
I don’t know much about Sylvia Plath and the reasons for her seeming popularity (there is even a movie about her. How many movies do you know about writers ?). But what she writes here is beautiful. I think about my waking up early in the morning to write a little before the day consumes the rest of me. Do I do this because it’s some new fangled thing or is it something that is sustainable ? The way my running has deteriorated has given me little comfort in habits and love. From running a half marathon every weekend to not having run one in the past eight months seems unbelievable. Yes, Maya has affected this somewhat, but I don’t think it is appropriate to hold this reason alone supreme. The flagging had begun sooner. After Kitty’s death. I noticed an amazing lack of enthusiasm for doing anything but just wallow in his memories and write. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief“.
The grief over Kitty’s death has changed. It was a strong undertow before, dragging me away from the shore, despite myself. Now it is like an ocean current. Unseen, powerful, ocean currents affect the lives of those on land, without their knowing that it is affecting them.
Reading William Stafford restores my faith in writing anew every time. He talks about it like it were as essential as breathing. And it is. In “The Answers are Inside the Mountains”, he writes: “The action of writing is the successive discovery of cumulative epiphanies in the self’s encounter with the world”.
So I sit here at my desk, the world silent except for clickety-clack of the keyboard and the rain pattering on the roof above (I’m not trying to be poetic, it is raining). Waiting. Watching. To discover another epiphany of myself.
I don’t really know what I’ll write about most times. Some times, a subject has been nagging me for so long, it eventually takes shape before me. Like that piece on infantile amnesia. It had been on my mind for almost three months. Several attempts to get it out failed hopelessly. Then, it finally clicked. Talking about the song Secondary Waltz from his latest album, Mark Knopfler said he waited for forty years to find the melody for this song. He said: “”I don’t go nuts if a tune doesn’t come – I wait for it to happen, even if it takes 40 years.” William Stafford wrote: “I’m very indulgent at the time of writing. I’ll accept anything, any old trash; it can never be low enough to keep me from writing it.”
Reading brilliant artists talk like that nudges away the tightness that I feel some mornings, when no two words seem to want to talk to each other, talk together.Anne Lamott, the author of one of best books out there on writing, Bird by Bird, writes about her writing process:
Even after I’d been doing this for years, panic would set in. I’d try to write a lead, but instead I’d write a couple of dreadful sentences, xx them out, try again, xx everything out, and then feel despair and worry settle down on my chest like an x-ray apron. It’s over, I’d think calmly. I’m not going to be able to get the magic to work this time. I’m ruined. I’m through. I’m toast. Maybe, I’d think, I can get my old job back as a clerk-typist. But probably not. I’d get up and study my teeth in the mirror for a while. Then I’d stop, remember to breathe, make a few phone calls, hit the kitchen and chow down. Eventually, I’d go back and sit down at my desk, and sigh for the next ten minutes. Finally I would pick up my one-inch picture frame, stare into it as if for the answer, and every time the answer would come: all I had to do was write a really shitty first draft of, say, the opening paragraph. And no one was going to see it.
Writing like this reminds me that I need to trust the process, that I need to just sit down and let me fingers move.
I used to complain a lot a couple of years back, that I didn’t get around to meditating every day, as much as I liked to. A wise friend who had it up till here hearing me whine, said, “Have you practiced the one minute meditation ?”.
“What”, I said, startled out of my whining reverie, “No. What is it ?”
“It’s what it sounds like. You just meditate for a minute”.
“What good would that be ?”, I asked, unhappy that he wasn’t content to just let me moan.
“Well, if you haven’t tried it, you wouldn’t know”, he said.
“OK”, I said, sounding like a doubting Thomas, “I’ll try it the next time”.
What I meant to say was “OK, could I now go back to my whining ?”
When I was in a more zen like mode, I realized what he meant. If I could get started, maybe I could do the whole 15 or 20 minute meditation that I wanted to. If I thought that it was important enough, I could at least devote a minute to it. That’s when I realized it was far easier to conclude that I didn’t really care that much about meditating everyday. I just thought that it sounded good, felt good to want it.
I had a little postcard on my desk with the picture of a woman running. “You become a great runner by running”, it said. Just get going and it’ll all hang together.
Letting the fingers run, as the stream of consciousness fly out in words that somehow seem to connect, Stafford’s poem comes back to me:
Been on probation most of my life. And
the rest of my life condemned. So these moments
count for a lot – peace, you know.
Let the bucket of memory down into the well,
bring it up. Cool. Cool minutes. No one
stirring, no plans. Just being there.