While thousands of writers are madly dashing off a first draft in NaNoWriMo this month, I have been actively not writing. I mean, it’s an actual activity, this not-writing. It takes thought and discipline because the routine of writing for hours everyday is a hard one to break.
Why am I ‘not-writing’? Because after twelve years, it was starting to feel like a rote process. I wrote because…well, that’s what I did. You have to do something, right? I’ve told myself for years that it’s a good thing to do, that it’s important for me to be doing it and that, in and of itself, it has value. But I think, every so often, we need to step back and look for some kind of proof for what we have allowed ourselves to believe.
Or maybe I’m just having a mini crisis of faith.
When you first start writing, you work hard at establishing it as a pattern in your life—you have to carve out space and let go of the myriad of other things that gobble up your time. It’s essential. And then you have to focus, give yourself over to the process. Also essential. All of this single-mindedness is a good thing, but it can make you a bit myopic and because of that, I think you also have to occasionally step back and consciously consider what you’re doing, how you’re spending your extremely precious time and ask yourself if this is what you’re suppose to be doing—what you want to be doing. You have to ask yourself “why?” The question of value always looms large in my heart and soul. Which is why I think it’s so important to make sure whatever you’re doing, you do it consciously.
So I’ve made the conscious decision to step back and look around me for a while. To put myself more physically in the world. Plus, after spending the majority of time in my head, pounding virtual words into my keyboard that then vanished into my laptop, I’ve felt the need to make something solid, something physical, with my hands. I’m just not yet sure what that solid something will be…
And so in the past few weeks, I’ve been going to galleries and museums, I’ve been thumbing through some old sketchbooks, I’ve pulled out my bag of wool fleece and felting needles, I’ve sorted through a closet full of half finished craft projects. I’ve also spent a good deal of time talking to artist friends, asking why they make art. And I’ve been catching up with some other old friends that remind me of where I’ve been and the parts of me that go beyond ‘writer’.
It’s funny how these ‘why’ questions seem to always go deeper and deeper and turn out to be part of this search for the meaning of life.
The other thing I’ve been doing is reading what other writers have to say about writing and about living and have come to realize how much my life has been guided by writers. I picked up Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinker Creek—a book that resonated so strongly for me in my twenties. Now that I’m a unapologetic urbanite, this book doesn’t touch me in quite the same way as it did when I was living in a tiny cabin on an island in the Puget Sound, but what it has done is lead me to some of her later words that, when I read them a few weeks ago, shot through me like an electrical charge—they rang so true:
“We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate. Buckminster Fuller hinted at a reason we are here: By creating things, by thinking up new combinations, we counteract this flow of entropy. We make new structures, new wholeness, so the universe comes out even. A shepherd on a hilltop who looks at a mess of stars and thinks, ‘There’s a hunter, a plow, a fish’ is making mental connections that have as much real force in the universe as the very fires in those stars themselves.”
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.
We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed…Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house…We create things—buildings, gardens, music, art, stories—to counteract the flow of entropy. Not only that, but also, perhaps, we create things as a physical act of bearing witness and of giving praise. Maybe each act of creating something could be seen as a kind of prayer, a form of saying grace.
This week of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the many, many blessings in my life. My family. My friends. The animals who make me more human. This jewel of a city on the Bay. And for all of the makers, all of the creators making things as a way of noticing, as a way of praising and to counteract the flow of entropy. And to all of the writers who have and continue to guide me with their words. Without them, I would be truly lost.
Take Good Care,