Monday, June 27, 2011
Poem: Porch Writing
Your feet are bare
and the falling dusk wafts cool
over your skin as night falls.
You are writing again,
not snippets, but sagas,
something lost in the maelstrom
of life, and slowly returned to you,
not by a lightening bolt of inspiration,
but by a slow letting go,
a striping away, like Michelangelo's angel,
captured in marble, waiting
for the chisel to set it free.
And so here you sit on your porch,
life's dust surrounding you,
of effortless work.
For those of you who don't get the reference, there is an old story/legend about Michelangelo that when he was a boy and was given his first large block of marble, he was asked why he picked that particular block. His answer was that he saw the angel in it, and wanted to set it free.
Yesterday evening I spent about two hours on my front porch with my computer, typing until dusk began to fall. In the end, I had two re-written chapters of my novel done. It's something I began years ago, wrote a bit on it, and then let it go.
But as if often the case, it would not let go of ME. Ideas are like that, sometimes. They just won't let you go. And you either give in to them and begin to make them happen, or you don't and something is missing, something is wrong, incomplete, untill you at least give them a real go.
And that is the thing I have discovered about ideas. I don't have to finish them or make them perfect. I don't even have to succeed with them. But I have to give them a fair hearing. I have to give them some time and energy and effort so that if I decide to let them go, I can say without regret... "I gave that one my all. I did my best but it did not happen.". Then the thought or idea will finally let me rest.
I never gave my novel a fair chance. I know some of the reasons, and can recite them like a litany of excuses. Because in the end, that is what they are - excuses. See, I know what it takes to write a novel. I've done one, some twenty years ago. I wrote that one mostly just as an experiment, to see if I could sustain a narrative for that many pages. Having never written anything longer than a short story, I was totally intimidated by the idea of writing a narrative that would hold together for a couple hundred pages or more. So I wrote something called "The Prophesy of Peter", sort of a fantasy novel, as an experiment.
It took a year. I didn't do anything special except write a night or so a week every week for a year. And then I had a novel. No drama, nothing special, just doing it until it was done.
So my excuses, while on the surface, might sound like logical reasons not to have written this one, which has lingered in my mind, for nearly a decade. But I know the truth. I could have written the dang thing any time I wanted. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I had the power all along. I could spend a lot of time analyzing why I haven't, and I even know some of the reasons, but in the end, I didn't do it because I didn't do it.
And now I am. I've been writing for a few hours each week for a few weeks now. Part of that time has been experimenting, trying different voices, different tacts, and I ended up coming back to the original concept. So now, I've just gone to tweaking what's already written, and moving it all forward. No drama. Just doing it. Not even examining it too closely. Just getting it down. I can rewrite later. Now, it's just time to write.
I have been influenced a great deal recently by a book called simply "Do The Work" by Stephen Pressman. It's premise is simple. We often over complicate things, over think things, over analyze things, at the cost of not DOING. That if we want to actually do something. We have to do it. It sounds simple, but guess what... It probably is that easy most of the time. WE make it complicated or difficult. The work itself doesn't make it complicated.
This is something I already knew at some level. I certainly have experienced it. But like many lessons, at times the lesson loses it's potency by virtue of time, or events, or disuse. I needed the reminder, and Pressman's book came at the right time, just as I was experiencing reminders of the lesson in other aspects of my life.
I don't regret the time not writing on this novel. It's not like I haven't been writing anything. I've written poems, an odd story here and there, magazine articles, marketing materials, proposals, letters, emails. I just haven't been writing on THIS project. And in the time since I set it aside, parts of the idea have changed, grown richer, more heartfelt, less formulamatic. I think it will be better for the time baking in the background.
Why? Because I am enjoying it. I LOVE to write. And when I write something in that spirit of enjoyment, no matter what it is, it generally ends up being pretty good. No brag, just fact. I have rediscovered the pleasure of streaming together a long story, with a character deeper in history and flaws and strengths and growth than a short story or a poem allows. When I feel this way about a project, no matter what the project, it takes on a life of its own.
So, fifteen more pages down, who knows how many more to go. It's going to be a good year.
PS - the picture is of West Pawlet taken from the quarry across from my house. You can click on it if you want a larger view.