I haven’t been writing much. If you’re one of my regular friends I’m sure you’ve noticed. Lists of beautiful things and posts of YouTube clips are not writing. I’ve learned to accept the dry periods and assume the “writerly collector” in me is needing this time to just collect experience. But it’s been bothering me – posting other people’s work and videos of other people are not going to bring you back, and I can’t stand the thought of losing any one of you.
Part of it is that I’ve been immersing myself in good books over my daily commute – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact my excuse for staying with this job which is an hour’s trip from my home has always been that those two hours of travel time every day are reading time. But the problem with immersing myself in books during this time is that I’m not paying attention to my favourite subject: that little space of world around me and the people in it.
By the end of winter I start feeling trapped by it – the darkness, the extended periods of painful temperatures, the ugliness. Let’s face it – snow in the city is only beautiful when it first falls. Then it becomes dirty mounds on sidewalks and on edges of parking lots and lining curbs everywhere. I’m all about the changing seasons, I feel lucky that I live in such a climate – but by late January, I’m finished with this damned season.
I’m sure it’s all related to a lack of sunlight. In fact I know it – after an hour’s lunchtime walk in bright sunlight today I felt heady, almost drunk. And the move to Daylight Time this past weekend has flipped some internal switch – I get to evening and find daylight and I’m noticeably happy. Lots of my friends are still complaining about that lost hour of sleep – I’m practically giddy for it; I’d gladly sacrifice two hours to have Daylight Time back again.
I wish I was one to write myself through a down or difficult period. The last few months of hunkering against the weather, coming out of the subway after work into the dark, the sequestering away from humanity and losing myself in other peoples’ stories – have all caused me to close off, and thus close off that well of stories.
During today's lunchtime walk I stopped and looked ahead at a length of sidewalk on which there was no snow, no ice, no slush, no puddles; just a clear sidewalk under a sunny sky. And when I stood there looking at it, I felt a sense of freedom I haven’t felt in more than a month, a welcome desire to get back outside of myself.
As I walked on, one of my favourite song verses ran through my head:
You say you'll give me a highway with no-one on it
Treasure, just to look upon it
All the riches in the night
U2, from Rattle and Hum, 1988
Let’s call that little simple little verse, with its image so humble and idea so rich, beautiful thing 25, and my theme for escaping the bonds of winter.
Last month I signed up for a blog challenge to post something every day. I should have known better. My creative self doesn’t manage real well with rules. It was good for the first little bit – it gave me the impetus to stay in the moment, because in the moment is where I find things to write about. But it was also December, and for me, December is a month of parties and shopping and preparing and friends and events – it’s a month of distractions. And this particular December was particularly distracting.
I do approach this blog with the intention of writing every day. Everyone who engages in this process knows that if you write every day, your readership is more likely to grow. I enjoy the growing numbers as much as anybody – creating something, and sharing it is a source of enormous personal satisfaction. I am exceedingly grateful for you, that you show up to read what I have to say, and that you may have shown up to find I haven't written, again, is the primary reason I chastise myself for missing days.
But I got a little jaded, I suppose, as I explored the many bloggers also participating in this and other challenges, because so many would fill up space with nothing just to get a post up. Some of the posts would even say “I don’t have anything to say today, but here I am.” In one respect that’s GREAT – a cardinal rule for any writer or artist is to show up. Sit down and if all you have to write is “I have nothing to say” write it anyway because it may turn into something else. At least you’ve kept your office hours, and if a writer didn’t have any discipline, then nothing would ever get written. But in other respects, you write because you want people to read you, and a sure way to get someone to run the other way fast is to say “I have nothing to say, but listen…”
That kind of stuff belongs in my journal, not on my public space. My space is about ideas, not clicks; style, not volume. Experimenting yes, but striving to maintain a standard more so. I’m certainly not above light and silly – I’m sure you’d dump me quick if I was always long and serious. But if a post isn’t interesting to me, it sure won’t be interesting to you, and you are here because something I said once resonated with you enough to bring you back.
And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful. So this year's posts will be dedicated to you. I couldn't think of a better reason to try a little harder and dig a little deeper, could you?
“Long before I wrote stories
I listened for stories.
Listening for them is something
more acute than listening to them.”
If there's anything I've learned about myself and the creative process it's to have patience. I've learned to accept that once in awhile life demands that you just live it and save the documenting of it for later. No doubt there's something going on that requires some sitting with before there's any interpretation to be got out of it. Still, each day I look at my blog space and each day I think of the people who stop by to read what I have to say and there is some inner chastising happening. When I don't write I miss it – and I miss you.
This week, my job continues to hammer at my consciousness like a spoiled, loud child. "In-between moments" have been spent with a notebook, mulling around some ideas, some new directions, creative and otherwise. And I'm reading stories and preparing lessons – this semester's Creative Non-Fiction class full on and once again I'm discovering new writers and new people and the joy of fostering creativity.
And I've visited and shared meals with both of my daughters who have ended the "sister roommates" era and are establishing homes of their own. Several years ago, becoming an empty-nester whacked me over the head with an impact I hadn't anticipated. Who'd have thought that suddenly ending the responsibility and the nurturing and the sharing and developing and encouraging would leave you standing there dazed and wondering where you'll ever find that kind of purpose again?
Oh, but I love my grown up daughters. The purpose and intent behind the raising of them has produced gifts far beyond that which I ever imagined. And to be in their homes, feeling the love and the values I based my own home on as central to theirs – I feel nothing but gratitude. And anticipation for all those experiences that will come next.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to simply hold back and let the well be filled, even if that source remains a mystery.
Thanks for having patience with me my loyal friends.
Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering you own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.
~Saint Francis de Sales
… make soup.
I mean, what else would one do when one has a little case of "I got nothin'?"
Why not find a rainy night in which to go to the grocery store and fill up almost more bags than you can carry while balancing an umbrella over your head walking home. Why not make soup?
And not just one kind, make two! Hell, you've got a stove and a slow cooker – don't be a slouch! Embrace the avoiding!
When you have a little case of creative block it's easy to justify any avoiding tactic. Because making three weeks' worth of work lunches ahead only frees up writing time in future, right? And cleaning the kitchen real good afterward calms the mind. And throwing in a load of laundry is just your way of avoiding a stint of standing-blankly-in-front-of-open-closet tomorrow morning. And checking facebook and finding out that others like soup - well the making of the soup has become a higher calling – it's one's responsibility to share the recipes with one's friends, isn't it?
Just two days ago I stood at the front of a classroom and gently told a writer to "make your office hours" and "just show up" and "set that appointment with yourself to write."
But I truly believe this too: sometimes it's also okay to just let the well refill itself. Sometimes your creative being is regenerated when you do another sort of creating thing. Sometimes this other kind of creative thing looks unremarkable and even kind of ordinary. That might be called resting a little. Letting the vessel fill itself for a little while.
So you might as well fil it with soup.