I'm really enjoying the longer, darker nights and the cold weather. I love any excuse to stay indoors with a cup of tea and a book. I have also noticed how much I love the ways I can distract myself when I'm indoors with that cup of tea and a book. Since the close of the fall semester, I've cleaned out three closets, cleaned out under the bed, given 11 bags of clothes to Goodwill, bought and assembled a new desk for my office and a new desk chair, moved my filing cabinet from my home office to my office at the college, and watched more than a few episodes of my favorite trash TV, What Not To Wear.
Now, I'm reaching the panic moment when I realize in only three weeks we'll be back at work. Students will be back on campus, and I'll have squandered my precious time of darkness. In past winter breaks, I've completed two novels and the final draft of Writing Begins with the Breath. I place a lot of pressure on myself for success in these short five weeks. But this time, things aren't flowing like I'd hoped.
I am working on two large projects now -- a novel, UNBEARABLE COMPASSION, and a memoir, BETWEEN SKINS. That alone is new for me -- to be involved in two completely different projects. To make things more challenging, I realized last night as my final family obligation ended that I was in the "Texas" phase of both projects. How delightful is that! For those of you not acquainted with this labeling, the Texas phase of a project is that place where you're bored with yourself, your project, and your writing. You can't see a way out (Texas is a VERY BIG place) and you wonder why you ever got yourself in. Wouldn't it have made more sense to drive through only the panhandle? I've been in Texas before. It happens with every project, but there's usually something else to work on -- something still in the wonderful "dream" stage of the writing. Something I can use to pull myself out of Texas while I wait for the refueling to occur. But now, with the clock ticking down toward the first day of classes, I seem to be stalled in both projects.
Memoir and fiction require two completely different approaches. I had thought that would be a way to save me from this ugh-space. I find though, as any wise person could have told me, when I'm in the memoir, the fiction seems oh-so-delectable, and when I'm in the novel, the memoir screams to me from beyond its borders. I am seduced by both, but committed to by neither. Some of this is my fault. I didn't write as much during the fall semester as I'd hoped. I've been doing an intense yoga teacher training program and that has taken most of my spare time. I don't regret that choice, but it has its consequences.
I'm also happy, and this brings a unique set of circumstances to my writing process. I don't feel urgently compelled to create chaos and conflict. I don't feel I need to exorcise anything right now. This could all be denial, as my pinched shoulder seems to keep reminding me, but I will say I am happier than I've ever been in my life, and I am more stagnant in my creative work than I have ever been. Some friends of mine and I used to talk about this when we were in our twenties -- the dangers of being happy for the artist. What happens to the art? Does art have to be created from pain alone? Can it come from a non-contracted space and not be sentimental? I don't know.
So, I've turned to the blog to at least write something. To at least try to organize some thoughts. I miss my characters in my novel. I miss the story of my memoir. I miss the sentences falling out of my fingers like they did with previous novels. Everything gets more challenging. The more I read and write, the more I want to push my own writing. I want to try new things with narrative. I want to expand and explore everything I can, and then I doubt my ability to pull those things off. I wonder about writing at all in a visual age -- in an age where the literacy rate is declining rather than increasing. I wonder at all about the power or the reason for stories and books.
But then I visited Bookman's in Flagstaff. Bookman's is a wonderful used book store where you can still wander around aimlessly and sit in old thrift store chairs to thumb through your purchases-to-be before buying. Sometimes bookstores depress me. I see so many titles unsold, a few blockbusters on end-caps the extreme exceptions. I see that books have a shelf-life shorter than a can of soup, and that what may take an author ten years to write and five years to sell, can become discarded and remaindered in six months. So why do it? Why spend the endless hours alone in a room (even with a new desk and chair)? Why spend so much time inventing lives (your own included) just to regurgitate them on paper for someone else's consumption? I don't know, but this visit to Bookman's left me with tears. I knew as I had most certainly forgotten, that books and stories were the thing that mattered most to me in all the world. I know that sounds melodramatic, but if I think about what could be taken away from me, just about everything can fall away except books. I love them unconditionally, even if I didn't like the book itself. I love the attempt. I love that someone loved this so much they spent years in the world of their story. And I love most of all that they have the courage to offer up these years of suffering and struggling and writing and selling and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting just for a brief lifespan. A brief chance to fly into the world of reviewers and radio shows. So brief, in fact, that before you realize your book has been released, it's on its death march. But still, we offer our stories up to you, regardless of all of this. Regardless of the trends in publishing or the trends in reading. We offer our stories up to you, because ultimately, it is all that we can do, and in this world of too many choices and too much information, we offer up that possibility of listening to your own voice held in the arms of our stories. What else can we do?
Blessings for 2008. May your stories find their homes and their breath.