Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friendly Surprises

Tuedays are a special day of the week for me.  I leave Morgan with a babysitter for three hours and sequester myself in a study room at the library. My only task during that time:  to write.  If I run out of steam, then I read.  But only heavy stuff.  No novels—novels are always an excuse for me to  not write.  I read the stuff that requires extra psychic space that I can’t seem to achieve even when Morgan is napping. 

           Recently my library time was exchanged for cleaning my friend’s house.  Cleaning is often a way for me to circumvent the writing task, but this time it was warranted.  My friend Jen was getting married in a few days and her soon to be in-laws were visiting her house for the first time.  Two other friends and I laughed, drank sparkling lemonade, cleaned windows, scrubbed baseboards, and straightened clutter.  It was a surprise for Jen; the kind of surprise that only close friends can do for each other.  After all, straightening clutter can be risky business.  Who knows what embarrassing items may be found.  We joked about the things we did not find—no naughty paraphernalia, no surprise habits, we found only the obsessions we already knew about:  gaming, painting, books, all the cozy signs of the life of Jen and Kurt.

Imagine my surprise, however, when  in the living room where I was putting away video game controllers, I discovered a copy of my graduate poetry manuscript Petitions. I must have given that to Jen three years ago.  In fact, embarrassingly, giving it to her was probably the last thing I did with it.   And here it was, not in some musky corner, but living and breathing in the center of her living room floor.  Still clean and unstapled, patient. 

Forgive me if I personify this artifact for a moment longer, but  here was this thing banished to the cob webs of my mind, but somehow also out in the world for anyone to find and read, existing without me.  I’m na├»ve to think that the things we create abandon us, even if we do everything we can to abandon the things we create. Whatever drove me to write those poems still lives in me, even as I have been negligent to that force.   My Tuesday practice came about because I am overly talented at telling myself that I’m writing, even when I’m not.  Just because I think in poems and essays in my head, doesn’t mean anything unless I write them down.
Deflecting the urge to write is not inconsequential.  That energy still works its way out, but usually in a more destructive way.  When I’m inattentive to my creativity, I’m apt to start crying at random, get bouts of anxiety,  and become obsessive about cleaning or some other endless minutiae.  At the Kachemak Bay Writer’s Conference this summer, poet Nicole Brown said to the effect:  “If you tell the voices to shut up long enough, they will.” The emptiness that ensues is ugly, and the risk of never finding your way back gets higher the more time passes. 

But it’s not enough to just create, there needs to be an audience.  Maybe not for everyone, but for many people having an audience is an integral part of making art.  David Bayles and Ted Orland describe in the book Art & Fear how common it is for artists to cease making art when they matriculate from BFA and MFA programs.  In school the audience is ready made of teachers, peers,  and school sponsored events  such as recitals, readings, productions, etcetera.  Out of school, we are faced with the task of finding our own audience.  Close friends and family are not always enough, although having their support can be critical.  Cultivating an audience means taking the risk that our work will be heard, possibly understood, and add meaning (good or bad) to other people’s lives.

Finding my way back to the blank page was no small task this summer. However, discovering my manuscript in my friend’s home made me realize that if I want to sustain a meaningful writing life, it’s time to get primed for letters of rejection.  The thing is, I don’t care (at this point) if I get hundreds of rejection slips, at least I’ll be engaged in the complete practice of the writing life. 

So what’s in store for next week? Writing cover letters and sealing envelopes. 

1 comment:

  1. Mercedes,
    Here's what happens when my mind wanders: I tell myself--"Sit! Stay!

    Where Does Your Mind Go When It Wanders?
    By Elaine Webster

    Wanderlust, a meditator’s nemesis. I’ve been meditating for enough years now, that I can pretty much do it anywhere, anytime. I start out all soft and calm, a smile creeps on my face, my eyes focus on the swirling light, then bam, I’m thinking about the ingredients of chocolate pudding. Not only the ingredients, but the way it tastes on a hot afternoon in July. July 4th to be exact, Independence Day. Then I’m wondering how it would feel to be independently wealthy. To go anywhere, buy anything, decide each day for itself. Where would I go? I know, the Bahamas. I have a friend who just came back from the Bahamas, where he swam with the dolphins. Not the trained kind of dolphins, but wild pods of them.

    Okay, bring it back to breath, reel it in, be still, be centered. That’s better. . . there’s the peace again. Aum. Do some housekeeping, sweep out the clutter, watch the energy move up and down the spine. Little swirling lights, and Master, sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear. He is so beautiful.

    Master liked sweets. I bet he’d like my chocolate pudding recipe. He also liked to play badminton in the upstairs hallways of Mount Washington. Badminton’s an interesting game. I have another friend who wrote a book about it―a rulebook. Back to breath . . . aum. Master’s here reminding me that meditation is not a mind game, stay in the stillness, feel the peace, feel the love. He says, “sit, stay” as if I’m a pet.

    Pets are interesting creatures. Dogs in particular. The embodiment of unconditional love that we crave. We’re gods to them, providing food, shelter, leadership and in return, they’ll die for us. Humans seem incapable of this type of love. Do animals simply not know any better? Or is it people that don’t understand?

    “Oh, Elaine . . .”

    “Yes Master?”

    “Where are you now?”

    “I’m here.”

    “Sit, stay.”