4.24.2010

I need to get out my machete already...

"But how?" my students ask. "How do you actually do it?"

You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what the landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched- like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your heard and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you're working, and you say yeah, because you are.

Yet somehow in the face of all of this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.

-From Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott


"Clearing a space for the writing voice" is a necessary, and yet daunting, task. I often feel the constant prodding to document, express, provide a voice for the unending, and often random, ponderings that consume my thoughts, and yet...at the end of the day...there's yet another blank page in my notebook. Ugggghhh.

I can't even count the number of small notebooks I've bought over the years with the intention of taking down scribbles of life whenever the opportunity presents itself. But alas, I've failed miserably every time and the notebooks' only function is as scrap paper for my gum or a place to write down directions, phone numbers, or a casual game of hang man.

But what I've learned from reading Ms. Lammot this afternoon is that writing demands discipline, just like anything else in life. It must be a daily, deliberate, conscious choice to begin "hacking away at the others with machetes." But it's worth it.

So, like she says so eloquently, "You might as well just go ahead and get started."

Here's to yet another life discipline.

Let the writing commence.


p.s. I leave for South Africa one month from today! Seriously amazing.

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