The writing process sometimes escapes me. Alright, it often escapes me. Two degrees, two creative theses, and what I have left to show is a profoundly lonely sense of seeking.
Tonight I looked at the sky, dark tree silhouettes against a dying bright blue, and just beyond them a single star. Lately I’ve taken to swaying as my relaxation of choice. It’s an almost unconscious moving of my body, one unit back and forth, to and fro. This happens about my second or third hit of any number of substances – caffeine, beer, music, fill-in-the-blank. In fact, it started while I was surrounded by three of my best friends, listening to Holst’s Planet Suite play over the sound system in a very comfortable (and perfectly-carpeted) living room. We were in the hive mind. Of the hive mind. A kind of syncopation. In any case, we each took turns swaying gently while our bodies buzzed from somewhere deep inside their cell walls. (Each of us, I should say, except my husband, who is much too grounded for that sort of thing, even when in the hive mind.)
Now I can sometimes tap into that feeling, that movement, and I was in it this evening as I swayed on my porch. And each time I leaned to the right, a star emerged from behind the dark fingerling of a tall tree in our neighborhood. Back to the left, the star disappeared. There again, then gone.
This interaction parallels my experience with writing. Several very wonderful writers have discussed their own relationship with the craft, and what I’m attempting here is nothing new. It’s just that I have to say it. I’m still trying to earn my place in that camp.
Given the right conditions — the right music*, the right work-drug — the art will emerge. Sometimes as a single star, other times, a constellation, and if I am so lucky, a whole galaxy.
Here is what it means to create (in my experience):
You are sailing along in a single-capacity sailboat, cutting through a vast but quite calm sea. You can see nothing but water** for miles. You are the only one guiding the ship, and you feel capable (most days). It’s a rather lonely existence, being the only one accountable for your life’s work. You’re skimming along with nothing to look at except endless water. Small waves now and then—but then you’re creating those yourself, aren’t you? Once in awhile you turn around to see the boring wake you’ve made on your moving canvas. Still, there is something beautiful about the symmetric fluidity of nothingness, the straight line you know you’re leaving behind. Every day is more of the same.
One day you think you see something straight ahead on the horizon. You’ve been out here for so long—alone—that you’re convinced your mind is playing tricks. And you’re right. The moment has passed. A rogue whitecap, that’s all.
But the next day, there’s something else—the horizon is growing and moving upward. That’s the shaky outline of real trees. You’re approaching an island now, and you spend the next few days eagerly trying to aim for shore. The wind is picking up but it’s moving against you. Each time you lap towards the shore, you can smell the heat, taste the stale salt against the sand. This is what it means to find an idea and have it inhabit nearly all of your senses, only to be pushed back and back and back.
Tomorrow you’ll try again, not because you’re stubborn but because you can all but feel an entire new civilization inside of you, fraught with characters and conflict, with the lyrical game of life and more often, death. It’s a place to house meaning for awhile. What else is there?
*Current song of choice to guide my motion.
**David Foster Wallace described it best (and look at me even stealing his incredibly annoying habit of footnotes).