Archive for May, 2008

watching life go by…from a window in the library

May 27, 2008

In Writing toward Home, Georgia Heard addresses the many challenges a writer faces when drafting/composing a large work.  A chapter entitled “Doing What I Have To” takes up the (sometimes commingled) subjects of discipline and “letting it go” entailed in the writing process.  She explains:

“While writing this book I didn’t vacuum my house for four months.  The spiders were ecstatic.  They wove their sticky webs over everything, connecting chair to couch to table.  Each time I passed I would look the other way, pretending not to notice that they had moved in, this time for good.  Dust balls roamed freely.  I temporarily lost some of my friends.  They began to leave messages on my answering machine: ‘I hope you’re okay.  I haven’t heard from you in months.  Call me back.’  I was obsessed.”

I don’t have spiders, but I’m with her on the dust balls problem.  And truth be told, it’s almost killing me.  I’ve never been the kind of writer who gets lost in her writing.  I mean, yeah, I get into the zone for hours here and there, emerging for a dose of sunshine or a glass or wine or a some human contact.  But I have never been one to ignore my domestic duties (self-imposed) or my friends.

Until now.

Not doing my “chores” is difficult—I find it nearly impossible to simply “look the other way.”  Dishes in the sink, laundry in the hamper, visible dust on a surface—it’s enough to make me crazy.  However, I’ve been working really hard to follow Heard’s dictate on that score.  She writes that it’s an “important decision—momentarily to give [one’s] heart and time over to [one’s] writing.”  And I agree.  I’ve got the messy home to prove it.

What I can’t let go of is the “temporarily losing the friends” part.  I feel so awful!  Even as I type this post, I feel that I should be replying to an email or returning a phone call.  I realized today that I missed a friend’s birthday!

I’ve always prided myself on leading a balanced life when it comes to my work. Until now, I’ve operated under the assumption that if the writing didn’t come out between, say, 9:00 and 5:00, then it wasn’t meant to be. I try to treat writing/scholarship like any other job. Lately, though, I’ve been writing to the detriment of almost everything else in my life.

I know I have to get the work done, and I know that means sacrifices, but I continually come back to this feeling that I’m missing out on life as I log hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours at the library. Is it worth it? I wonder.

In other news: what gives people the idea that it’s “okay” to speak above the faintest whisper at the library? If you have to talk to someone at a library, make it quick and quiet—or take it outside! Sheesh.

(I know I’m getting old, but seriously. Shut up!)

Also, I couldn’t resist writing the first two paragraphs in “academic-speak” as it’s all I’ve been writing lately…

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a little faith, please?

May 18, 2008

So, I’m writing the introductory chapter to my dissertation (paradoxically the last part to be drafted) and I’ve been struggling mightily.  It’s not so much that I don’t know what I want to say—although that’s always part of it—it’s that I’m having trouble putting into words all of the “big” ideas I have about my project as a whole.

(Meanwhile, said difficulty is with me as I type this post as well.  Ugh.)

For a while there, my inability to state clearly even the most basic reasons for writing was pretty severe.  Even my usual tricks of the trade—write letter to friend using everyday language, fire off series of sentences restating the same idea in different words, talk it out and then write it down—were useless against this writer’s block.  At one point I said to myself (and then to Russell, and then to a comrade in the field) “I think I’m in over my head here” and I really worried that it was true.

In a moment of desperation, I pulled out a series of folders with titles like:  “Introduction notes,” “Rhetoric of Science—Introduction,” “Language and Ideology: For Introduction” from my files.  I had been avoiding these files for the simple reason that it had been nearly a year since I’d even touched them.  As anyone who does any writing at all (or, really, enters any creative process, I think) knows, the place you begin seldom matches the place you finish.  I figured that the notes in the folders would be worthless because so much had changed since I began this project and, rather than lose an hour or seventeen mooning over dropped threads and withered ideas, I planned to vett the folders when I was done.

I don’t often like myself.  I barely ever congratulate myself on anything.  But today I would like to go back in time and kiss the me of a year ago for being astute enough to create, organize, and lovingly file so much TOTALLY USEFUL information.  Nearly every single document in the files supports or clarifies my project as a whole. 

(I’m fighting the urge to delete this post lest I irritate whatever arbiter of luck/small god of writing I owe for this breakthrough.  But at the same time, I really wanted to record this moment so that I don’t forget that my system works.  Ah, existential crises…)