The writing llama says happy Thanksgiving. Here he sits on my novel in progress. I am grateful to the creative forces in the universe that allow me to write.
Because it is awesome…
At first we saw very little that was recognizable; or each other for that matter. We had been scattered all up and down the beach and there was almost no wreckage to be found. But after two or three days we started to find each other.
We came together as a group and combed the beach near the high water mark to salvage what we could. There was some luggage and clothing but not much else. There were four of us altogether and for a long time we didn’t even speak. There were just no words. Language no longer mattered. What could you really say? We walked about in a daze for a week.
Hastings fashioned himself a spear and went off in search of something we could eat. I stayed with the others and helped to build a camp. It was just William Tinner and Laurent Papille and myself…
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Because it is temporary
And fleeting, I cannot spend my time
Angry, seething at the news of the world.
Yesterday, I read a review of Sarah Palin’s war on Christmas book and wondered how we got a place where she has a book contract. For hours, this thought rolled around in my head. I read some reports on the disastrous implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act. I read about the awful tragedy in the Philippines, mother nature one again proving our smallness. Of all the news I read throughout the day, not one single article offered any solution to any problem. Complain, blame, scream.
I have to retreat from the news nearly every day. I’m not talking about retreating from the world, about being uniformed, ignorant, naive. I have to retreat so that I may become a better part of the world. When I am caught up thinking: Sarah Palin is a writer; the Republicans are ruining our country; we are helpless in the face of nature–I am doomed.
So retreat. How can I tend to my garden?
So retreat. How can I help?
So retreat. Disengage from the broken.
So retreat. Find the path.
So retreat. Sweep forward.
So retreat. Listen.
So retreat. Breathe.
So retreat. Invent.
So retreat. Create.
So retreat. To live.
And this today from Rilke:
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
This morning, just before I descended into my normal existential doubt-flood, I read this line from a Rumi poem. Normally, I read Whitman in the morning, but I’ve moved to Rumi for a while. He gets in that creative crevice in an entirely different way. This is the book I’m reading.
Please go to your local bookstore to buy it. If you simply must order it online, please try a local bookstore such as: RiverRun Books. They will treat you right. Anyway, back to the doubt: I can’t write. I have no time. The world gets in my way. I have nothing to say. The page is too blank. The words have all been used. Who needs more words? NO ONE! On the brink of those thoughts, I read this Rumi:
We must mix the varnish we have/and brush it on.
It’s the sort of thing I say to my students all the time–the sort of advice that seems impossible to internalize for myself. Get to work. You have yourself. You have your words. You have your path. You have all you need. It will be a lot of work. Don’t wait. Start immediately. Mix it up. Rearrange it. There exists in front of you a tiny crack in the world through which only you can see. No one else can get there.
Banish the doubt and get to work.
I need other writers.
I met Vincent Carrella in line to register for the Napa Valley Writer’s Conference late summer 2001. We had an immediate kinship and although we’ve not been able to see each other too frequently, we maintain that closeness. We share a great deal in terms of experience and sensibilities but our most basic connection is simply a shared desire to write–including the doubt that balances desire.
Vinny and I stay in contact through letters and social media. We follow each other’s blogs. We don’t talk as much as either of us would like. Wrapped (warped?) in our busy lives, we crave the transmission line of the creative space.
A few days ago, we spoke on the phone for the first time in perhaps five years. Why so long a break? I don’t know. Life. But when I heard his voice, it was not simply a friend I was talking with, but someone walking the same narrow path between creative expression and creative despair. There is no need to explain doubt to a writer.
On this blog, I write about my doubt and my non-writer friends and family react to the despondency with alarm, concern, or uplifting “go-get-em” inspirational quotes. They often tell me not to take myself so seriously. I need writers like Vinny for the simple reason that they understand. Vinny and I spoke for about 45 minutes. Toward the close of our conversation, he said, “If you ever need reminding, just call me and I’ll remind you that you’re a great writer.”
Do I think of myself as a great writer? Of course not. I think of myself as a competent writer or, on my better days, a good writer (it’s amazing how brilliant the average person deems a merely competent writer), but it’s nice to know that if I’m in the midst of doubt, struggling with the fear of the blank page, there’s a writer in California willing to tell me that I’m great at my craft.
Writers need writers for that type of fleeting elevation that allows us to return to our work, to the lonely job of trying to get the words on the page to match the images in our head.
Thanks Vinny, for being one of those writers who elevates, for continuing to attempt each act of creation, for putting pen to paper despite the enormous odds against it all, and for being a part of my writing life. Here is a link to Vincent Carrella’s wonderful blog: Serpent Box.