Tell Me Something, Good

Sometimes the world shifts and lets you notice a thing that you’ve been technically seeing all along, plain as the air you’ve been breathing and equally invisible.

One day it occurred to me that I could not remember the last time I had wanted to talk to anyone.

I had been talking plenty, whenever the situation called for it. I had mostly enjoyed these exchanges, even when I dreaded them in advance. My pause came from realizing that I could not remember ever once being in a silent state of restful solitude and thinking that it would be better if I were talking. Sure, I wondered how various people were doing; I wanted them to know that I thought of them, but these feelings have to do with love and connection and not the desire to utter any actual words. I had to really ransack my mind looking for an example of a time when talk was the thing I desired. Still, I couldn’t find any. I am an introvert who fears being something else, namely an alien ill-suited for life here. This seemed like an ominous sign.

Never? I wondered. What an inauspicious thing to observe in oneself. I immediately red-flagged this newfound awareness as the sort of thing I should probably never say out loud to another human being (The irony!). To be introverted is one thing, but surely this new awareness indicated some sort of solitary leanings in the extreme, possibly pathological. Perhaps some dark secret had been hidden and missed all along.

But then I realized something else. It was also true that I could not think of a single time when I was in a resting solitary state and I suddenly thought that I would like to write. (Not once? I wondered, checked. Nope, not once––not since childhood, anyway).  

I love writing like the desperate love anything––as in, it feels like misery but I would not want to live without it. I could think of plenty of times where I had to write, or decided to do so in order to fulfill some obligation, and other times when an impulse came knocking and I answered the door. I had often looked forward to long periods of imaginary uninterrupted interludes during which I would be writing, even though I had never actually thought, while resting, anything like: This moment would be greatly enhanced if I were moving a pen along a page. 

And yet, I could think of no examples where I had ever regretted writing (but a few where I regretted hitting “send”). Considering conversation, similar themes emerged. It was never the talking I regretted (except when it took me from writing for too long), only what I did and did not manage to say.

“Wolf Concert” by Tambako The Jaguar on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

Sometimes the world shifts and lets you notice a thing that you’ve been technically seeing all along, plain as the air you’ve been breathing and equally invisible. I did not dislike any available forms of communication: not speech, not writing, not dance, and not song. All were needs, and I had been prone to dreading each of them in particular ways. 

Words are so hard to deal with, and the dealing is always such a burden. Like hearts, like loves, like babies and bodies, and water; and bodies of water; and loving hearts; and the burden of carrying each one around, holding its beating insistence, its incessant demands; its relentless flooding of life into limbs and everywhere else it goes, in all the ways that are always so impossible to explain. 

Words are such a chore. I might put them off forever. All I ever want are those quiet, fluid, indefinable spaces housing the soft rise and fall of one beloved’s breath beside me; the weight of an open palm on my knee, and possibilities only tasted and never adequately described, by lips pressing into a sleeping head under my arm. All I ever miss is never words, but the sound of quiet breathing in the same room, its implied command a simple one, and as easy to follow as my own next breath. Like, Shhhhh. Like, Wait. Hold. Don’t Move. Here.

These words, these words, give me some. Let me give them back to you. Even though we both, by now, should recognize them for what they are: crude and heavy, the burdensome hot-mess cousins to the queens and kings and holy babies we are trying to sing about. Still, you work with what you have, and sometimes these are the only available tools after the quiet-by-your-side-breaths stop, and the weight of a hand has vanished, and a body fails to contain the parts that are relentlessly flying away.

Card Tricks and other Joys of Research

Writing gives me all sorts of excuses to go looking into cool things like a little kid on an extended break.

Sometimes, when I’m all out of sparks, I open one of my magic books. I have about five of these, acquired a few years back when I had a magician character in mind. 

That was my stated reason, anyway, but I confess that it is also true that I just think magic books are cool, and writing gives me all sorts of excuses to go looking into cool things like a little kid on an extended break. To the dismissive voice that might be lurking in the shadows waiting to shout, “Dilettante!” –I can call these pursuits Research (note capital ‘R’). This because I call myself Writer (see capital ‘W’).  It’s a title ripe for claiming, apparently, somewhat like Napoleon’s crown, but with much less bloodshed.  All you have to do is keep it is keep showing up, writing pen in hand, and move it along. 

One of my favorite writers of all time is Percival Everett, and I was delighted to learn, in an interview I listened to last year, that while he found the process of writing books generally difficult, angst-ridden, and unpleasurable (while also unavoidable), he found research to be a lot of fun. I was grateful that he dispelled the myth of writing as a grand old time. I have heard that it is for some, and I don’t think they are lying, but I’ve only rarely found it to be anywhere close to unpainful, much like necessary exercise.  That’s probably because my idea of fun is getting a bunch of margaritas and waxing loopy while making up song lyrics with friends, speaking in tongues and accents if with small children, or, if alone, laughing at cat memes. 

Point being, research has benefits. Among these is that when one of the horsemen of distraction come in (Thank you, Sarah, for sharing this “Four Horsemen of Procrastination”meme with me after I wrote about the challenges that come when the muse gets replaced by “That Guy“), to  ask, while I am trying to work out some interpretation of a proverb or philosophical paradox, something like, “Do you know any card tricks?” –– I can open an as-yet-unopened resource and compose an answer primarily of found passages and annotations. Such as this one, culled from the introduction to The Royal Road to Card Magic, by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue.:

Modern magic is a vocation, a national convention
conjuring an art. In return for time and effort,
reap friends and spectators.

There are many  
whenever a pack is uninitiated, 
dumbfounding with impressions
of skill. 

There is always something 
in the effective sleight, 
unless striking feats from
wonder to wonder.

I wait for some response. The dark horseman of distraction slinks off. He was apparently hoping I would join him in some sort of illicit internet foray into all manner of card tricks.

Here the internal voice gets a moment of jubilation. “Hah!” she erupts,  “Another point for research!” Gentle reader, forgive her this cocky jubilation, as she is an endangered creature riddled with doubt.  And to the retreating back of this hooded gangster, she now shouts: “I told you I was trying to get to these proverbs! Now what?!” 

And now I may get back to writing this thing I am meaning to write.

But Why Bother? In Defense of Nobody’s Heroes

There is a lot to value about artistic recognition, but this is a cheer for the value of being solidly nobody.

There is a lot to value about artistic recognition, but this is a cheer for the value of being solidly nobody. Considering the Zen idea of “beginner’s mind, best mind” helps to highlight how the point is to keep beginning. The people I find most interesting (both well-recognized and completely unknown) are those who are more interested in what is confusing or new to them than anything they have already done. Life rarely fits any limited ideas of what it should look like, and this is the deep appeal of the misfit creative beings who go on doing their thing, pursuing deep interests and questions: not because anyone is asking, but because there is some life there, and sometimes because no one else is looking for or after it. 

To share from the point of strangeness and isolation, a person may create openings in the walls of strangeness and isolation that prevent us from knowing each other. It is interesting and deeply human, and a deeply loving act of service: the project of creating homes and supportive ecosystems that work with and for ourselves and the lives around us, regardless of who is or isn’t asking, noticing, picking up, or recognizing. 

Frank McCourt was sixty-six when he published Angela’s Ashes. He had spent a career as a teacher. Alma Woodsey Thomas had her first show at the age of seventy-five, after a thirty-five-year career teaching art in DC public schools. Mary Delany was seventy-two when she invented her own art form, mixed media collage. 

I am currently reading Helen DeWitt’s brilliant novel, The Last Samurai, which she published at the age of forty-three. This may seem relatively young, until you realize how early and earnestly she began. We live in a culture that loves to celebrate the young phenom, the wild breakout success, but I take heart in knowing that DeWitt’s brilliant “debut” was her 50th manuscript.  In each of the preceding forty-nine, she had labored diligently and faithfully toward her art, in hopes that it would be read and recognized. She was right, but she may have been “proven wrong” if she stopped after the first forty-nine “failures.” I doubt these were artistic failures, now that I have read DeWitt’s work, but her singular brilliance and truly groundbreaking aesthetic no doubt made unfamiliar demands on her readers, so it was likely passed over, in favor of more easily accessible and familiar styles.

These heroes are the passionate, sensitive artists who managed to maintain artistic vision and practice while working in other roles. Recognizing and celebrating the life-giving courage of their radical acts can be a healthy antidote to the common tendency to see perceived limitations as impediments to artistic development. I could do my work if only –– fill in the blanks, depending on the mood and obstacles of the moment. But if the goal is protection and preservation of life, then obstacles and moods, while deeply relevant to our being in the world, have no relevance (generally, in professional life) on whether the work gets done or not.

“Pygmy Tarsiers” by Rodney Campbell on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic License. *

I am consistently honored, thrilled, and humbled by the power of artists who demonstrate this level of artistic professionalism even as they play working roles as plumbers and dishwashers, house cleaners and repair people; chefs and diaper changers and all-around creative inspirations for managing the way the flow of the substance of any given day can feel like trying to take a sip through a fire hose while trying not to perish from drowning or thirst. 

It’s like that. Not sometimes, not exceptionally; but most of the time, and consistently. I’d rather learn to work with these conditions than cross my fingers and hope for better ones someday. 

*The pygmy tarsier, a nocturnal primate native to Indonesia, was widely believed to have gone extinct in the early 20th century, but then it was accidentally captured (and sadly killed) in a rat trap in the year 2000. Fortunately, since then, several other members of the species have made appearances, and their movements are now being tracked and monitored with great hope, interest, and appreciation for their fragility. One of my favorite species of internet research is searching up newly discovered and rediscovered species. 

When the Muse is On Vacation and they Send in This Guy

So I am now getting down to it.  Ready.  Here I go. Wait –– okay, now.
What are you doing?

Writing. 
Why?

Well, that’s how you do it. 
What are you writing?

I don’t know yet.
So why are you opening a notebook?

It’s called showing up.
For what?

I’ll know when it happens.
What’s happening now?

We’ll see.
It doesn’t look like much. Is that a grocery list?

That’s for later. This is for now.
That also looks like a grocery list.

I make lists. 
Of?

Ideas. Verbs. Names of plants. Names of mythological figures. 
For?

For when it happens.
Oh, aren’t we grand? The happening: Live, ladies and gentlemen, right here! 

Look, I’m trying to do a thing here. Can you. . . go somewhere else?
You put in the order. Now I’m here.

Not for you, though. I can’t think.
What are you thinking?

I don’t know yet.
Hey did you see those images by that guy in the UK who does all the hilarious taxidermy memes? Look, look! You should check this out.

I really––– Oh, that is funny. 
Told you.

Okay, now back to work.
KK, let’s go. What are we doing? Wait, is THAT what you’re doing?

It’s not done yet. It’s just a list.
That looks pretty lame; are you sure you wanna go with that? How long have you been doing this?

Listen, can you just––
Do we have any snacks?