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 naïve 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.