Want To Be

If there is one person I would like to be writing like, it's Donald Hall. I suppose I am writing like him, but I want to be doing it as well, with as much vigor, and such that it was more than enough to keep my family and I afloat. I just finished A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety and it was good, good, good. (Though I revere Ann Patchett, I disagree with her assessment on the back cover that it is one of a very few perfect books. The book is good, Ann, but it is not perfect and is equaled by your own This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage.) I should say that I want to be able to write prose the way Hall did, the way E. B. White did, the way David Sedaris, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, and Mary Karr all do. I've never been big for Hall's poetry, mostly I think because I don't understand.

For poetry, I'll take David Shumate who wrote this most beautiful of things called "The Long Road":

It’s one of those highways you come across late at night. No signs. No arrows. Just a road running north and south. You pause. You look one way. Then the other. Nothing. Only the hum of the engine, the chirping of crickets confirm you are here. You can’t remember where you’ve been. Where you are going. If it weren’t for the lines drawn through the middle, you’d think you were drifting down a river. Or stumbling upon a path through the sky. Remember, it is a moonless night. You are tired. Hungry. No one to talk to. Afraid that what you were thinking might have come true. You look to your left again. Perhaps you see a mountain. An ocean. A lover you wish you hadn’t lost. Spirits that seem so familiar, drifting in from the dark. You wait in that silence. It may be years before it is safe to proceed.

Perhaps it helps that Shumate writes prose poetry, which ought to be a bastard child but comes out instead as a an otherworldly thing, perhaps angelic.

If I were to want to be a different poet it would be Mark Strand in "Man And Camel":

On the eve of my fortieth birthday I sat on the porch having a smoke when out of the blue a man and a camel happened by. Neither uttered a sound at first, but as they drifted up the street and out of town the two of them began to sing. Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me— the words were indistinct and the tune too ornamental to recall. Into the desert they went and as they went their voices rose as one above the sifting sound of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing, its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed an ideal image for all uncommon couples. Was this the night that I had waited for so long? I wanted to believe it was, but just as they were vanishing, the man and camel ceased to sing, and galloped back to town. They stood before my porch, staring up at me with beady eyes, and said: “You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”

Then again, two of those guys are dead and one is alive in the Midwest. I've no inclination to die anywhere right away or to live in the Midwest, so I might as well go on being me, leaving odd things on the page (screen) and wondering how they connect.

Sick Leave

This is the first I've sat at the computer to write in days. I caught a cold last week that, while we were in Vermont, turned into something quite awful. I couldn't drive us home Sunday and spent Monday on the couch passing in and out of sleep, sneezing, barking a wet cough, and wheezing. This morning I am foggy, but able to sit and type while listening to music. Doesn't sound like much, but it's a world of improvement.

Throughout the sickness I maintained the habit of writing three Morning Pages each day. The pages are in my basement office and I'm too tired to go inspect them. Good. There's almost nothing in them. I wrote how sick I was and how far from finishing each day's pages. I trudged through those pages.

Is there a point to that kind of thing? Yes and no. Start with no.

Nothing of consequence came out of the words on those pages. Nothing in them will come out and become some new piece of writing. Nothing. Not a word. Four days of pages like that means over three-thousand words of nothing. I should have slept instead.

But I don't really believe any of that

As of this morning, I've done 1,747 days in a row of Morning Pages. Even sick and completely fogged over, I wrote three pages. The exact number of days is unimportant, but that many days adds up to a feeling. The habit of beginning each day with writing has become so important I do it even when sick and far from home. This isn't willpower. It's that it has become a reflex, a comforting habit.

Another habit I have been trying to establish is posting to the blog each day. Well, I blew that this weekend. I couldn't get a good piece together when I was that sick. Three things come to mind about that:

One: I can return to posting now that I'm healthy. There's no penalty for having missed a couple days. No one is grading this. I can forgive and understand the lapse. To suffer guilt or give up are the acts of a fool.

Two: Technology gets in the way. Morning Pages continued because pen and paper are simple. Blogging requires all sorts of mediation. I didn't bring a computer on vacation because I wanted to be with my family. The first morning at the hotel, I used a computer in the lobby. By the second morning I was too sick to go down there. Paper and pen are always available. Computers and wifi, not so much.

Three: I should bank a few blog entries to draw on in times of trouble.

I'm getting healthier and understanding things about myself and about writing as I go. Being sick yesterday I read, slept, and daydreamed. I found a possible approach to a book idea I've toyed with for years. The idea has to do with Morning Pages, health, and the ways in which the two feed off one another.

It feels good to be back to blogging. It feels good to have stayed with Morning Pages. It feels good to have shed the worst effects of this cold and to know that things will get better with each passing day. Mostly it feels great to know that I'm still a writer in sickness and health, until death do us part.

Blogs, Generally

I'm five hours away from home, groggy from a terrible cold and medicine I've taken to get me through. I have a cup of decaf for my throat which was so sore that swallowing woke me at four and wouldn't let me get back to sleep. I'm far from home, up early, and laid low by this cold, but have done my three Morning Pages and know the day will get better.

Yesterday, in Cait Flanders' newsletter, was this passage about blogs:

I've been craving stories. Journeys to follow. Even just the "boring" (NOT BORING) updates we used to share on blogs. Like what are you thinking about right now? What have you been curious enough to actually learn more about? And where are the BEGINNERS!? Where are the people who are raising their hands and saying "I have no idea what I'm doing, but here's what I'm attempting and my progress so far"? I miss those days. Blogging was actually fun, back then.

I get that. Almost all the blogs and newsletters I read are very focused and the writer is an expert (if not the expert) on that idea. This is how one builds a platform (ugh) and a following (ugh), through specific focus such as on living frugally, being much more Zen, or retiring early to name a few I have been reading. These are good for now, but I wonder if, like subscribing to Runners World, that focus wears thin. I could only subscribe to that rag for eight months before the same damn run your fastest 5K! article would make me puke.

My interests are general and so I enjoy Austin Kleon's and Alan Jacobs' writings which focus on the lives of their writers. Thoreau was focused on his living near Walden, but really it's a memoir of living. I like memoir. I like blogs that feel like listening to a friend. My friend is a photographer, but that's only a slice of what we discuss. Then there are Genesis, turntables, our shared history, the Thousand Islands, parents and wives, geology, writing, books, friends, and whatever else we think of.

Go back to the magazine comparison. I like The New Yorker and The New York Times, and I love The Sun because they talk about most everything. There are themes and a feel to each, but they range all over. That's what I like and so, this far anyway, that's what I write.

I have my own recurring themes: Morning Pages, reading, teaching, schools, running, and so on, but there isn't just one thing the blog is about.

I'm unlikely to build much of a following or platform that way, but then again, who's to say? I think of the blog like Morning Pages and I'm on the last few lines of page one of three, about to flip over to a clean, blank page two. It's early in the morning. I have only the slightest idea what I will say on pages two and no idea how the thing will end. It's a journey, an exploration, a way of learning. I'm a beginner. I'm by no means the expert, though I'm feeling more confident in my expertise about a few things and maybe they will become the focal points.

I should go. The coffee and medicine have eased some of the pain in my throat. I've done Morning Pages (about how to do Morning Pages away from home) and written this post. It's time to see what else the day has to offer and what I might want to think about next. This is just the beginning.

Can It Be So Simple?

I woke this morning after a very bad night's sleep. It was four-forty. I turned off the alarm but lay there until five thinking, "I just can't." Everything, including getting up to pee, felt impossible.

Then I got up.

Maybe it was the urge to pee, but I think it was the pages. Though I want to know the reasons for everything, it probably doesn't matter. I got up. I peed, showered, and pulled on clothes. I went downstairs and considered coffee. Not today. I took my pen down to the basement nook to write Morning Pages.

That required:

  • Three pages of blank, lined paper
  • My favorite pen
  • Forty five minutes

That's it. Well, that and faith that I can fill three pages freely and that doing so may benefit me and the people I love.

Morning Pages aren't complicated. Get out of bed, pick up a pen, lay out three pages and start writing. Don't stop until the bottom of the third page. Tomorrow morning do it again. It's enough to get you out of bed. And if that won't do it, your bladder will.