Friday, February 3, 2012

Keeping It Real

I hesitated to make this blog post. In the midst of all the vibrant delight that I'm feeling there have also been some substantial doubts and some long talks with myself and I wasn't sure that they were the correct tenor for the blog that exists as it is now. I wrote this journal entry in the first week of my time in Brussels when I was still staring down the barrel of "THE NOVEL." People keep asking "how's the writing going?" and I'm not sure if you've noticed, but there's a notable absence of a treatment on that subject. In the weeks since, I've substantially turned a corner in this regard. I've spent the past month in the equivalent of literary doodling: more than a hundred pages of short story starts, memoir-ish stabs, journaling, long letters to myself, flash fiction - just doing literary sit-ups really. And in the past week I made a command decision to start with a blank document and abandon the past three years of the novel segments that have been written at different times and in different moods and styles and just start fresh. I re-outlined, character sketched, planned and have since finished the first two chapters at an exciting sprint. So there's that, too.

I am posting this, because if you are a writer and you are unsure of yourself, if you're staring at a blank screen and wondering how you do this thing that you love... well, then this might help you feel not so lonely...

When I had an internship in New York City for one summer in 2004, I made a list of all of the destinations that I wanted to make sure that I visited before my time there was through. I saw almost all of them: The Statue of Liberty, the library, the World Trade Center monument, the MOMA, Gotham Comedy Club, the Bronx zoo, etc.. Every week, I ticked off another location and added it to my collage.

I spent the majority of that summer largely alone, but it was those excursions that reminded me of where I was and all that I could experience in that city. It was dirty and hounded and torturously, yawningly vast without any break. Where did all these people come from? Where did I fit in? But there I was – breathing in books that were hundreds of years old, there I was – smelling the dim but pervasive scent of shit in the Gorillas exhibit. I made my way out into the city and (in that way) was transformed. I also got a hell of a lot of writing done that summer. The bulk of my senior thesis.

This room that I’m now lying in feels like home – downy comforter, blue robe hanging balefully on the wall looking particularly woebegone. I have the limitless reaches of the internet before me, chat conversations ticking in and out of my browser and a still amassing to do list. It feels like home. But I don’t want it to.

I want to be transformed, but transformation takes courage, something that I seem to be sorely lacking these days. It requires me to get up and leave the confines of this charming room with its picturesque framed view of the suburbs and go listen to the chatter of other people speaking in a foreign language. I am hampered by my lack of confidence and a lack of that reckless and trusting faith that the universe will take care of me. After ten years of “real life” I am afraid of the food that I eat, the fate of the planet, the viability of love, most things that I experience even on a day-to-day basis. Everything that I have learned about life has led me to this conclusion “don’t trust; you’ll just end up profoundly damaged or at the very least violently embarrassed.” It’s something that keeps me inside this snug little retreat and out of the activity that might possibly change me.

It’s also keeping me from the page. If I venture into that territory too far I run aground on fear (as usual – “Jeez, did I really just use the thesaurus for “funny?” – “Is there really a character in that buttoned-down, limited, little mind of yours that can barely manage the story of her own life, let alone someone else’s for 300 pages? What’s your problem?”). And there’s always an available alternative – Bond’s facebook always has funny links on it, I’d best pay her page a visit. Still need to figure out how much it’s going to cost to get to Paris – I’d better go see what the fares are. Oh – it’s enormously complicated to put my loans on forbearance? Better do that now.

None of these things occurred during my time in New York. I had visitors constantly – almost every weekend – but during the week I was alone and fell comfortably into a rhythm. Get up in the morning and switch on Billy Joel, shower, adorn myself, subway, work (or whatever the hell that was), dinner somewhere (preferably air conditioned), and then home to write for two hours, hummus snack and a movie to fall asleep to. Bliss. On the weekends friends and family would visit. We’d tour, experience the city, knock a few things off the list and I’d be back to my own devices by Monday. Pages (not outrageously good pages, mind you, but certainly present) stacked up at the bedside. I wrote a short story collection in a summer.

You see – I was lying when I said I hadn’t ever lived alone. Well, not really. I’d just forgotten this portion of my history. And shame on me for not remembering. I did live alone for a summer and for that entire summer I was myself. A bit reclusive maybe, but politely, pleasantly, and productively so. I must shed my apprehension and I have to trust again. I have to get out into the city and be where I am – 6,000 miles away from the “real life” that I led a prison break from. I have to sit at my computer with the internet off and just doodle and stop pestering myself about this book that I have promised I will write and just write.

I asked Heather this morning: “you will still love me if I’m not a writer, right?”

“Of course,” she replied.

And somehow after she said that I produced another page, some lines of dialogue, a little vignette about my mother's watches. A little reassurance... sometimes it goes a long way.

Maybe if I didn’t place the burden of my ego on everything that I created, maybe if I knew that I was enough whether I wrote this silly little book or not, I would actually write this silly little book.

Today there was salad with vinagrette, bread and cheese, soup, lasagna, cheesecake, and tea. There was more. There was a run first thing this morning.

I don’t think people run on the streets here. I think they run in parks along paths. I did catch a raised eyebrow or two and JP said that he thought it would be “much nicer in a park.” But as I was pounding down the trattoire at seven this morning watching the sky smear gold and then to that familiar gray as I rounded the corner toward home hundred-year old bells reminded me of where I was.

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