It’s been nearly a month since I’ve written here. But I am writing everyday, up early in the dark. Books don’t write themselves, and I am seeing firsthand the deliberate determination and fierce desire that I have heard authors speak of my whole life. Writing doesn’t feel easy lately. It feels like shoveling something heavy from one side of the street to the other over and over. But it is still the only way that I make sense of anything at all, and I feel so grateful this thing is mine.
This is how it goes lately — I wake early everyday, brew coffee, set a timer for 15 minutes and use my hand with a real pen on real paper to get that space between sleepy dreaming and consciousness on the page. Then I open the computer and pick up where I left off before and sometimes use something scrawled in the notebook. Inevitably, I think it is absolute shit. Then weeks later, I print off the chapter when it is done, and it seems moderately less shitty than what it felt like when I wrote it. And I line edit and fill the holes or find the moments where I am just scratching the surface of what is really there, and I shovel in deeper. Again and again on repeat. I am in deep enough that I have no real interest in anything else right now – not Christmas shopping or news headlines or fashion or decor or men. Just words all the time, either my own on the page in front of me or another writer whose sentences I study to see how they are built. I am only 80 pages in and have no literary agent yet, and somehow my heart has set sail with this thing, and I don’t think it’s coming home until it is finished. This is the space I have wanted so desperately to find myself in since I began cooking this idea a year ago, and yet now that I am here it feels scary and burdensome and like some insurmountable summit I cannot reach.
I am in that space that people misunderstand and over-romanticize, the one where the book is this living, breathing thing you have to care for like a pet. It barks at me when I ignore it for a day, and it sometimes feels like I am just cleaning up after it. But every now and then – between the this is terrible thoughts and the will anyone ever read this anyway? thoughts – I see a glimpse of the whole picture it is shaping up to be, and I feel it for just the smallest split second. Like when the sun glints through leaves on a tree and you see the glimmer sparkle for just a tiny moment before it hides again.
In the past few weeks, I’ve also fallen down a Netflix hole of Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, and I cannot find my way out, but I’m okay with that. I’ve watched pieces of this before in preparation for writing papers about his ideas or teaching them, but this marks the first time I have watched him just because I want to. It speaks to me in ways I didn’t expect. I know him mostly for his ideas on the hero’s journey and their usefulness in the classroom when I teach students about how to view fiction, but there are so many other notable things he touches on in this series that leave me feeling full and less alone. In an episode I watched more than once just to hear it again, he talks about the North Star that lies in all of us that can take us where we are meant to go. In his words, it is so simple – just follow your bliss to find where you need to be. The brain, he reminds us, is only “a secondary organ.” The body, the heart, that pool of warmth and joy that you feel when you are doing what you love, that is where the real self resides. I am there, finally. Not sure where this will go and what the point of all of it will be, but I have tapped into that space where even the hard work feels right and good and true and almost unavoidable. I’m just going to stay here in the flow and keep going and see what happens.
In one of my daily Richard Rohr emails recently, he quoted William Stafford, an American poet from a century ago, who wrote, “There is a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change…. While you hold it you can’t get lost.”
In ways this has been a hard year. I’ve felt stuck in my tracks more than once. I have blinked for just a second and somehow the leaves are falling again, and it is the last of November and soon to be the end of the year. I want to say to 2018, No no no, I’m not done with you yet. This can’t be all it was. But maybe I am not giving enough credit to all the little things. The tiny imperceptible shifts that I can only see when I look back. The ways I am standing straighter and stronger and more sure than I was before. Every distraction that found its way to me was derailed, and sometimes it felt painful and senseless. The small annoyances and the large ones too, the break-up, the biopsy, all of it.
Every single thing that came my way woke me up and pushed me onward to find that pulsing thing that only I can judge and only I can give to my own self, that thread that pulls me on and on to where I’m meant to be. All I know right now is that it is hard but it feels right and that I am closer than I was when I began.