It’s hard to find time to read books. Snatches of 30 minutes here and there; when I’m travelling on bus going in to work, in the morning just before the kids wake.
But over the Christmas break, that’s where I get to indulge in long reading stretches. Because of the time of the year, where we’re just about to say goodbye to one and about to welcome a new one, I feel the need to recharge. Reboot the system.
Books on the creative life and the creative process are always part of my reading list at this time of the year. An artist’s life in some ways can serve as an instruction on how to live a rich life.
I’ve just finished Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro, and so much of what her observations on her creative life can be applied to life in general.
Rhythm is a gentle aligning, a comforting pattern in our day that we know sets us up ideally for our work… Life doesn’t pause to make room for our precious writing time. Life stops for nothing, and we make accommodations. There is no stasis, no normal, no such thing as a regular day; only this attempt to create a methodology. Having a rhythm is no magic pill. Without a doubt, we will be pulled away. At times we will be frustrated and unproductive. But if we have our one way of working – a number of pages, or hours, or words – we will eventually return to it. This return won’t be easy. The page is indifferent to us – no, worse. The page turns from us like a wounded lover. We will have to win it over, coax it out of hiding. Promise to do better next time. Apologize for our disregard. And then, we settle into the pattern that we know. Three pages. Two hours. A thousand words. We have wandered and now we are back. There is comfort in the familiar. We can do this. Breathe in, breathe out. Once again, just as we’ve been doing all along.
Writing was how my husband and I both made our livings, and we had a mortgage and doctors’ bills. I had to write. I had no choice. I continued to stare at the wall until – it took the better part of a year – a story started to form at the center of the most shaken place inside of me. As my boy began to heal, I began to write a novel about maternal anxiety. What else was there? I was a big, quivering heap of maternal anxiety. I wondered if I would every find any other subject interesting ever again. Love and the terrifying, concomitant potential of loss, were, for a long time, my only subject. I had been forever altered by our brush with catastrophe. It was written on my body. My instrument had changed. And I now understood that it would continue to change. That there would be more befores and afters ahead. Fighting it was futile, impossible. Accepting, even embracing this, was the true work, not only of being a writer, but of being alive.
On Ordinary Life
We are revealed to ourselves – just as our characters are revealed to us – through our daily actions. When making my son’s breakfast, I try to focus simply on cracking eggs, melting the butter, toasting the bread. It doesn’t get more elemental than that. As I drive down country roads taking Jacob to school, I remind myself to focus on the way the sunlight plays on the surface of a pond the silhouettes of cows in a field. I’ve learned that it isn’t so easy to witness what is actually happening. The eggs, the cows. But my days are made up of these moments. If I dismiss the ordinary – waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen – I may just miss my life.