"Sometimes - and now is one of those times - I really think that, if we looked a bit closer, and were a bit more honest, we'd realize that maybe, just maybe, exactly where we are is not only where we want to be? - but it's our dream, being lived. We just haven't given ourselves permission to admit that our dreams may be a hell of a lot simpler and more attainable than we had convinced ourselves they had to be."
this musing was posted on facebook by my friend jac (jessica aimee cakuls), an incredibly wise fellow groper-in-the-dark. my comment was as follows:
"my one big dream is for my writing. all the dreams for my life are tiny and everyday in comparison, and in the service of the big one. (which is so what rilke advises)"
i had just given jac a copy of rilke's 'letters to a young poet' because she needs it and i have copies lying around for when that happens, and the quotation i was referencing is this one:
"this above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: *must* i write? delve into yourself for a deep answer. and if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple "i must," then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it." --r. m. rilke 'letters to a young poet, #1
i have asked myself this question my whole adult life and have never trusted the answer. i've in fact distrusted it so much that i have done everything in my power to prove that the affirmative answer i continue to give is a lie. to the point of depriving myself of the time/space/permission/what-have-you to write with any regularity for weeks, months, even years at a time. but i always come back to it. give it the respect, if not priority, of something important to me. however, i've seen this half intentional deprivation as a failure of will, or proof of unworthiness, the flightiness of a dilettante. and it has kept me from identifying as a writer for more than a decade.
and then, unknowingly, i set myself a test. i decided to become nomadic and remained homefree for more than two years. in all that time i didn't live any one place, tho i came back to chicago a lot, and for the vast majority of this two years i had no actual space of my own. and i don't know if this happens to other people as strongly as i realized it happens to me, but physical space = psychic space. if i don't have a spot to be out of the way and alone, i cannot for the life of me focus on my self and my work. and somehow within this too-long time of no space i found just enough time to write that it served to highlight how desperately i needed to do it more. but i was raised a good catholic who feels that deprivation is virtuous. i'd dream of a room with a door and a desk set up near a window. that's all i needed. well, walls would be important, to keep people out and to put up huge pieces of butcher paper for mapping out plots. anything else, superfluous. but i didn't give it to myself for at least a year after i could name it as my one real desire. kept moving, kept traveling to stay with other friends (or the same ones again) and ignoring that little voice saying over and over, 'i must'.
thankfully, five months ago, something finally broke and this tirade came pouring out of me. after that, i finally started to build my life according to this necessity. in september i moved into an apartment with a room that has a mattress on the floor, a couple overflowing bookshelves, butcher paper on the wall, and a desk by a window with my typewriter on it. there is also a bedroom for my roommate, a kitchen, a porch, and all the other things an apartment is supposed to have. all gravy in my book.
and the miraculous thing is, that after starving myself for so long, the moment i had a real way of feeding myself, i actually did just feast and feast and never want to stop. i spent all of september and october planning and plotting and character sketching this novel that grew directly out of one of my oldest artistic obsessions, which just kept making more and more sense and fell into place exactly in time to start drafting it at the beginning of november. my dear friend polly mentioned NaNoWriMo and i latched on to it like a wolf on the jugular of a rabbit.
this was it, the final test. if i could write 50,000 words in 30 days, then that would prove to me that this desire to write wasn't about the cache of calling myself a writer, or wanting to be 'artistic' somehow, but actually feeding a real need inside me. if i didn't give up on this goal then this was something i was legitimately committed to. something inside me that surpassed the infatuation of a dabbler, the instant feedback loop/ego stroke of a blogger, the consolation of a failed actor.
i went from the mindset of an ascetic to one of a marathon runner. and the most surprising of all was that i was actually in shape for this task. i dunno if it was all the (admittedly unhealthy) stopping up of my voice for so long that when i finally let it flow it came so easily, or what. well, not easily--i've been working hard--but right. good. working on this novel has felt for my mind and soul exactly what eating well and exercising feels for my body (and incidentally, i'm taking better care of my body too--an added bonus/corollary) and it feels kind of amazing. i've been high on the feeling of working on this book all month. at 2am on a musical november sunday night outside of the california clipper, my writer-friend mairead witnessed me literally bouncing up and down with excitement about my novel, its existence, its potential existence, and my ability and desire to bring it to fruition. she laughed out loud at the sight. then she said, 'we've been waiting for this'. and at that moment i knew that my little voice has been quietly telling me the god-honest truth for at least 15 years. i walked home teetering on the verge of laughing and crying and apologized over and over to it that i hadn't been able to believe it until now.
but here i am, believing it wholeheartedly because i've gotten 50,000 words in and things are just now getting interesting and the last thing i want to do is stop writing, or even slow down much. i think i'll try to average about 1,000/day this month, which should at least get me to the verge of the 'fencing' scene (for god's sake, i hope) by new years.
an incredibly huge 'thank you' to everyone who has given me any kind of encouragement this month. that has been a huge factor in getting it through my thick skull that i'm finally doing what i should be doing. that this work is important, not just to me, but to people who want me to be happy/healthy/purposeful. you all know that you are the reason i think this life is worth living, that the stories i tell are basically love letters to each and every one of the people who has ever shared any part of themselves with me. because in my book, our stories are life, love, and food, which basically is my definition of god. cuz stories are meant to be shared and i want to (when the second or third or final draft exists) share this really long one with you. yes, you.