Friday, November 19, 2004

A Navel-Gaze on Writing

Note: I didn't have time for my myopic morning pages this morning, so I'm writing them now.

If someone had asked me what my hobbies were when I was 16, I would have responded with something like, “piano, volleyball, listening to Sting, and writing novels.” Really.

For many years, probably half my life, it seems I’ve always had a book project in progress. Of the many I’ve started, I’ve finished three: a cheesy 240-page teen love story titled “Forever One” when I was 14, a 350-page Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test-type of hippie Yellowstoned adventure story titled “Gypsy’s Caravan” when I was 20, and 50 Hikes in Louisiana (buy now!) in my 30s.

When I was a teenager, I always had a book going. Actually, I always had three or four books, not to mention the short stories, poetry, and music that I was always working on. I carried a big yellow Esprit bag full of notebooks and staff paper. Usually, I’d lug a good 8 or 10 notebooks around with me everywhere. You never know when an idea might hit, or you might find four or five minutes of free time while waiting for class to start. I’d whip out a notebook and start working on Chapter 4, or crafting the transition from one scene to another.

I haven’t gone back to read those notebooks, but I think I still have them, somewhere in my three huge boxes of notebooks in the closet. I remember some of the stories: “Too Old to Live, To Young to Die,” about a 17-year-old whose friend tries to commit suicide; a Bridge-to-Terabithia-like story about a brother and sister who live on the River Road and invent an imaginary kingdom in the space between the levee and the Mississippi River; a series of Emerson-type essays, one of which started, “This is the time to live, the time to dream, for Heaven is the reality beyond imagination!” Complete with exclamation point. Hee hee.

And the poems. So many poems, mostly bad teenagerish poems, random collections of words that always included words like “ultimate” and “intense” and phrases like “clinging to the brink of childhood” and "hollow notes of minor chords." I imagined that they had some deep meaning that I couldn’t immediately see when I wrote them.

Though I did win a school poetry contest in 10th or 11th grade with a poem called “Of Winter Waves and Summer Snow,” which was heavily influenced by my discovery of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.

I was going to be a Great Novelist and a Great Poet (in addition, of course, to a Concert Pianist and Great Composer). But I quit writing poetry after penning a particularly bad poem about the piano, that began this way:

Master, grin your evil, sickly grin
Care not for me
For I have only given you my soul …
Mock my sacrifice.

Hee hee. I was an intense child. And a very unhappy one at times. Ol' George the Piano and I have definitely had our battles.

Is it bad that I still have and pursue dreams of being a Great Novelist and a Great Composer? I don't dream of the fame ... I just dream of being able to spend hours upon hours working on my art, and not being bothered by the day-to-day aspects of cleanliness, eating, sleeping, etc. And the sense of ... pride? ... that I get when I know I've created something beautiful or meaningful. To this day, I find such joy, pleasure, and even pride in things like playing "Logan's Song" (one of my songs I've written) or listening to a tape of myself playing the hard-earned Chopin Nocturne in B-flat minor. Or reading over an essay I'm writing and seeing a phrase that really "does it" for me. The joy of the effort is an end in itself. The resulting accomplishment--the "work of art"-- is just lagniappe.

I still write all the time. And the reason I’m writing about this now, today, is because …

I’ve started a new book. Remember the allegory I was writing about a few weeks ago? Well, it’s that one. Don’t want to talk about it too much, but I’m very excited about it. And it seems that every day, between the Precepts class, the Teaching Company’s philosophy class on the commute, and the books I’m reading, I get new ideas and new tools for expressing things. It’s hard to explain. But I am anxious to get up early tomorrow and devote my Saturday morning (as usual) to writing.

I have several other writing projects going on, as well. It’s just very difficult to pursue them when I have a pesky 8-hour-a-day job and an even peskier 2-hour-a-day commute. Not to mention my piano practice time, which I'm not about to give up.

In the past, my writing aspirations were quashed by Depression. Major, serious, life-altering Depression. No matter how many creative ideas you have, or how well you can write, it’s difficult to write when (1) your brain is pudding and you can't think in complete sentences, much less write in them, and (2) you can’t stop fantasizing about The Final Overdose or The Mississippi River Bridge Jump or The Wrist Slit.

I don’t think about those things anymore, thank God … although, since I know those experiences intimately, I can write about them with some honesty. And they will definitely be a part of my allegory (which I doubt will remain an allegory … but that’s what it is for now).

There are other writing projects that I want to continue and resume. For the last five years, I’ve worked on and off on a series of short stories about people who live in a nursing home. And there are several other stories that have lots of promise if I'd just work on them. Plus, I have a couple of essays that are 90% finished and just need a few more hours of work before they’re ready to send off into the world.

I just really, really wish I could take a couple of weeks off of work and find myself a retreat of some kind where I have hours in which to think and write, and where all my basic non-writing needs—food, shelter, a grand piano, etc.—are met. I want to make the most of my stable life for the next year and a half before the next hiking adventure.

Life is good. There is definitely a sense of possibility in the air today here in Cubicle Land. Definitely a good sense of promise. I feel like my sun is finally rising.

No comments: