Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Writing Life


I'm back to the full-time writing life, at least for the next two months.  I am committed
to finishing three manuscripts that have been buried in a bottom drawer of my desk.
I have nightmares about them trying to climb out and ask for endings.

I believe the writer's life may be the most rewarding and most frustrating of all.
You work long hours with no boss except yourself prodding you on.  You have
no idea if what you are writing will ever see its way into print, and these days
into cyberspace.  You are told to envision your audience, but having never seen
them that is an act of imagination.  You spend months, even years, working on
a project that may never see the light of readers' eyes.  One day you figure
out that the time and energy you have spent on writing is less than minimum
wage, and even then you may never see a paycheck, and if you do it comes
in slowly with a royalty check that hardly pays for the time and sweat spent.

I remember years ago settled in on a rural farm heated by a wood stove,
vowing to finish another manuscript.  I would look at the window, hear
the stream outside, and watch the turkey vultures circle in the sky, wondering
how I got myself in this fix.  Some days for a break I would venture out
to the local bar in town to have a cup of coffee.  When I first moved in,
the locals would ask me what I did for a living.  "I write," I would reply.
"Yeah," they would respond, "but what do you really do?"  I finally gave
up trying to explain what I was writing but only how many words I was
turning out daily, like a factory assembly line turning out novels or poems.
And each time I visited the bar, someone would ask: "Well, John, how
 many words today?"   If I was working on a poem, I sometimes had to
confess less than ten words that day.  They would shake their heads
and not say how unproductive they must have thought I was.  One
day I brought a poem I had finished along.  I wish I hadn't.  It was
less than twenty lines.  No one spoke.  But I knew what they were
thinking.

There are days, even months, I gave up this thought of writing.  But
how can I do this when it is part of who I am?   This desire has been
there for as long as I can remember.  I blame Miss Garrett, my elementary
school teacher.  When I moved to a public school after my early years
in an experimental one where we did not sit in rows or have to read
boring, worn books,  Miss Garrett saw my suffering and encouraged
me to write.  And it saved me.

Maybe that's why I still try to figure out if I am a writer who happens
to teach or a teacher who happens to write.  I suppose now I realize
this is not an either/or issue but one in which the two are connected.
I am both.

So here I sit on a bright, sunny morning looking out my kitchen
window at the birds eating out of the feeder, the squirrels chasing
one another, the neighborhood kids chattering and waiting for a
school bus, the laptop awaiting words.  How many will I turn
out today?  Who knows?   But I sit and try to wring out of a
damp brain a few, well-chosen words, knowing I may change
them later.  But I have given birth to something that was not
there before and anyone who writes or paints or composes
songs or turns out parts in a factory knows exactly how that
feels.  It's why I and many others are here--to join in creation.

(I broke a vow I made a month ago to focus only on the
unfinished manuscripts and no detours, like this blog. I
guess I had to write this one so I could clear my mind and
restart the process.  At least I can say I wrote more than
ten words this morning.)


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Check Up, Check In

Not really a blog entry, but since some were worried I  quit writing blogs or left the country
until after the presidential election, let me assure you I am still here.  And writing more
than ever.

The title of one of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's books, Purity of Heart Is To Will
One Thing, has been my guide.  I tend to do many things at the same time, only a few of
them well.   So, having curtailed teaching a month ago, I vowed to commit myself to writing,
not even permitting a blog to interfere with my goal to complete unfinished projects--in my
case a half completed mystery novel and play and a longer essay about what it means
to be a teacher.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but in my case not so.  I am still
at work on the novel and the essay has turned into a longer manuscript.  I felt the creative
angel or devil if you wish at my shoulder encouraging me to write a short children's book
about a cat, Tux, who entered our household from our backyard.  I felt his persistence at
gaining entry was a lesson for everyone.  Now he often sits desire my laptop as I write,
a feline editor for sure.

So this is a progress report.  I am alive and well and writing.  I have discovered that
long range goals sometimes get postponed and often forgotten, but short range ones
give one a deadline under which to write.  It's a great deal like life itself.  It's not
immortality that breeds creativity, but death.  Knowing we don't have forever makes
each day more important.

Still here and writing,
John


                                                   Art in city park, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Gone for Awhile

Taking a sabbatical to read, write, travel, play, and otherwise do as little as
possible.   So I am out of space but not time and certainly out of mind.  Back
in early November.