Warning: this blog post is a bit of a ramble. It’s been a while since I posted, so many of the notions bouncing around in my head have found their place here, however tangentially connected.
There are times when I literally ache for a stretch of days in which to write. When days become a week and I have not been able to grab hold of my story and ride its erratic currents for long enough to wrest it into some semblance of a narrative with meaning, it hurts. Because returning to the story always takes time – time to focus, to remember, to gather all the existing and envisioned pieces and hold them lightly while setting down the next word and the next…
In a proprioceptic writing exercise in Sanctuary a couple of weeks ago I set off by exploring the edge of this longing and the things that keep me from what truly feeds me.
Too many tasks – the gathering of funds, the endless flow of foods from shop to car to fridge to stove to mouth, the maintenance of precious friendships, the duties of varied posts, organizations, retreats, advertising, the bits of driveway tracked through the house, the peeling roof, the exploding water tank, keys tossed by the door and an empty gas tank, the story the story crying from my bones, from the laptop… I know what I mean: that no matter how vigilant I am in keeping a balance, everything swings precarious… What do I mean by precarious? I mean a danger of tipping so far off centre that utter chaos ensues. What do I mean by chaos? I mean a mess where everything scatters into so many pieces they can’t be retrieved, and then there’s hunger, exhaustion, my fucking head exploding. And what do I mean by that? A head is not likely to actually explode. But even as I write that, I think, oh yes, yes it is. It has and it will. Have I gone so far astray, been pulled from the silence I only licked the edges of? What do I mean by that? That my life is filled with distractions, like drugs or toys or other things which don’t nourish the silence. And yet. There is this – the forgiveness for being weak, human, lazy and the gratitude for embodiment, playfulness, the senses. I love it when I see. What do I mean by see? I mean when the truth of the brief gift of the container of body with its attendant pettiness, longing, delight, hurt, and ego is apparent. Where else in the universe, I ask, is there such a possibility to experience hunger, cramps, hair growing in unwanted places, choice, a silk scarf on the skin, the balancing of a fruit basket or a pan of asphalt on the head, the clipping of a fingernail, loneliness or the illusion of it, importance or the illusion of it, the rigging of makeshift things to replace what belongs, how things work or don’t, the drawing of water, the flow of ink, words that mean more than one thing, nonsense, or that hiccuping coughing burbling thing known as a laugh, orgasm? Flight. Breath. A broken bone. A list of ingredients in minuscule print. Beginning. Ending. The middle bit. All miraculous and rare, destined to dissolve much sooner than later.
In August I took part in a retreat facilitated by Barbara Turner-Vesselago, in which I had a good long stretch of uninterrupted writing time, and in which many of the writers were able to plumb some dark rich places. There were mornings where I shook as I wrote, needed to run hard and fast and throw myself belly first on to a soft cushion of grass to ‘come back’. In some ways it was better than sex – the release was that profound. (Please note, I said, ‘In some ways’)
Here’s what Barbara had to say about the process in an email to the participants:
It’s funny what happens to writers when they’re working on their own (or not working, as the case may be) for a little too long. I sometimes feel as if the writing, and even the person, is peering out from a bit of a cave. As the days went by, and the writing was shared and strengthened, it was as if people – and their work – stepped out into the sunlight, to be seen. To shift metaphors, there was a deepening, and a strengthening of focus that allowed me, as the reader, to be very fully present on the page.
It seems to me that what gets in the way of that – what constitutes the cave, in effect – is an obstruction made up of the writer’s fears. And maybe the isolation means that we start to feel very responsible for something that is not ours to begin with. I’ve always liked Jean Rhys saying, “All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.” I like it because it shifts the emphasis off me, or you, and onto the lake, so that writing becomes something we take part in, not something we have to “do” from a standing start. If we belong to the writing and not the writing to us, then all we have to do is give it our best shot, whatever that takes.
This is my river. I have two days to add to the river. No distractions. No exploding head. No chaos. Just the overflowing river. The quiet fire. And story.