First, a bit of business. I’ve been telling people that I’ve started a website as a way to report to the New Hampshire community on the Artist’s Fellowship I was awarded. I tell them that I’m doing my best to chronicle my writing life, the creative process, and to reveal a bit of the inner workings of a regular, fiction writing Joe in the midst of creating. That’s not the problem. The problem is that people then ask me if I’ve started a “blog.” And I reluctantly have to admit that yes, I have started a blog. Then I feel the need to quality that statement with a quick acknowledgement that the word “blog” is an ugly, flat, toad-like word (and I mean no disrespect to actual toads, whom I cherish with all my amphibian-loving heart). Yes, I say, I am blogging, but I hate the word and wish we could call them something else. There’s an old Simpson’s episode in which Lisa says, “A rose by any other name would swell as sweet…” and Bart says, “Not if you called ’em stench-blossoms.” And that’s what the word blog is to me. A stench-blossom. How did we get locked into using such a utilitarian word to describe the sheer explosion of creativity that the World Wide InterWeb affords? Creative people who never knew they were creative are now online writing, posting photos, diving deeply into the creative state (you know, the state that E.M. Forster says will allow an artist to “draw up something normally beyond his reach.”) and all we can come up with is a condensation of Web-log? Well, I suppose I have to be the change I seek… so I pledge to do my best to usher in a new word for blogging. For now, I propose Zapping. Why? Because it’s snappy. It somehow relates to the speed of the InterWeb’s informative flow, so I’m going to go with it. To the right of the weekly post, you will see a new link section entitled Zaproll. There, I will link this blog…er… I mean Zap, to other Zappers out there. Will you help me Zap a more creative term into existence? And if you have a better suggestion, I’m open for discussion on the subject.
Now, on with the regularly scheduled blog…I mean… Zap. This week was a strange week for me as a writer. I’m back to teaching, so my energies are spread thinner. It is easy to feel the surge of the creative state when one is on break from class, but harder to sustain when class plans beckon, and student papers loom. Still, I’m grateful for my job. Two weeks ago, I saw a crew of cold, presumably grumpy, workers on a roof in bitter cold weather, tearing off the old shingles, and applying new. They had to shovel the snow off the roof first. When I think of that job, and then ponder my job, I know I have nothing to complain about. It’s been so cold here that I’ve not even been working on the renovations of my house. Of course, last week, I spend a good deal of time fighting the ice dam on my roof, and then addressing the heat loss problem, but still, when I go to work, I am in a relatively warm office, and talk to good students with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the courses I teach. And then there were family concerns, service work, pets to take to the vet…blah, blah, blah. The daily life of chores shocks me out of the creative cosmos and into reality constantly. I’ve allowed it to take me away from writing for months at a time because when the important stuff of life calls, what chance does writing fiction have? What chance should it have? Indeed, in an economy like ours, at this point in time, why should I be practicing the craft of fiction in the first place? Again, these are thoughts that swallow many writers and drive them from the page. I don’t have the answers necessarily, but I do know that when I am reading a good, moving piece of fiction, I am enriched by the experience differently than I am by hard physical labor, or by teaching, or by viewing a painting, or listening to carefully crafted music. The work of the fiction writer does not provide easily quantifiable results. John Gardner once wrote, in his book, “On Becoming a Novelist” that writing is like a yoga, or practice, and that the benefits are mostly spiritual in nature (not monetary) and that for those truly called to the profession, those results are enough. And for me, the practice of fiction this week, was powerful. As I noted in another post, I’ve been completing a novel manuscript longhand. On Tuesday, early in the day, before I went to school, I came to the end of the story. I felt it in my fingers as I started writing that day, felt it in my palm, the way the pen nestled there. I knew that I was coming to the end, and that if I focused, if I was able to shut out the noise of my head telling me that what I was doing wouldn’t amount to much, that what I was doing wasn’t work, that what I was doing was a massive waste of time, that I could bring my story to a close within a few pages. And since I was at my table, since the pen was in my hand, and my daily life of chores was cast aside for just a few hours, the muse did visit, and I did find my way to the last sentence. Of course, this is only a first draft, and first drafts for me are miles away from final drafts, but I felt the weight of drafting lift—the sheer imaginative jolt of filling up blank pages—and the weight of revision descend. Since then, I’ve been translating my writing into the computer. All week, the work of fiction has sustained me even though life goes on around me and my responsibilities to my family and my friends and my job are unchanged. I make the time to be at the table, and the energy of the creative state makes time for me. The first draft is done. Now, it is time to begin.