Book, Book, Book, Book, Says The Chicken

Donald Hall's A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety sits on the kitchen table here while I type. I was reading it while eggs hard-boil on the stove but put it down when I thought to write my own words instead of reading those of someone else. The eggs are from Wegmans as I am not at all ready to create my own eggs, either by raising chickens or laying them myself. Words though, I can squeeze them out with alarming regularity.

I've read Hall's prose since a friend recommended Life Work in the only way guaranteed to get me to read: I thought about you while reading this. My ego brought me right in. I've read that book three times and will likely read it again soon. Notes Nearing Ninety (I prefer the subtitle to the title) is a hodge-podge but, as I wrote earlier to Jerry, I like a good hodge-podge almost as much as I enjoy saying hodge-podge.

On the coffee table is Anne Lamott's Almost Everything: Notes On Hope. Like most everyone, I first read Lamott's Bird By Bird which is lovely in every way and have enjoyed the other books but also been disappointed that they aren't Bird by Bird. Still I can use some hope or even just notes on the subject and the book is good. Lamott's style is quirky and she makes me laugh at just the right times. Occasionally she leaves me so stuck on an idea that I read two pages and have to go back both to linger with the idea and figure out what I've missed while ruminating.

On the passenger seat of my car at the repair shop is Meet The Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames which is better written than I expected. The subtitle is Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living and that sort of thing appeals to me. In a chapter of Lamott's book she says we can't fill the hole within from without. I've got one of those gaping holes. I suppose we all do. Mine is a sinkhole that has recently opened to new depth. I like the idea of simple living instead of refinancing the house to afford all the things I want to buy and throw down that hole hoping to fill it up.

The eggs are hardboiled now. I've taken the pan from the stove, drained the hot water, filled it with cold water, drained that and refilled several times, and now transferred the pan, water, and eggs to the fridge with high hopes the shells have been shocked off and will be delightful to peel. Otherwise I'm going to go kill some chickens.

The fourth book, on the table with Donald Hall, is Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything open to a recipe for black bean soup calling for hard boiled eggs. I like Bittman's stuff and especially liked, even if I don't follow it, his Vegan Before Six idea through which he reclaimed his health. Instead of prescriptions he healed through good decisions. What an idea.

The books, especially the first three but maybe Bittman's too, feel connected and I'm enjoying reading them all at once. I go through several of Hall's notes, a chapter of Lamott's spirituality, and then a chapter of frugal living. There's a cycle through which I'm moving or hope to move. It gets me through boiling eggs, leads me to write a note of my own, and ends in enough black bean soup that you should come over and have some. Then we can read and maybe write books.

Process Stories

There are many reasons why I'm not being read by millions. First, I've got a lot to learn before I reach that kind of an audience. I need to learn how to write better (I always need to learn that), how to serve an audience, and how to get the word out. I read a great short piece by Damon Krukowski and was struck by what a fine writer he is, how he does things that I almost understand but can't yet make happen in my writing. I've been reading Dani Shapiro and there's an art and grace to her work that is clearly the result of having put in the work. I need to put in a lot more work before I reach millions.

There are other reasons why I'm not yet a household name (outside my household and that of my mom), but the one I'm thinking of today is how interested I am in process stories. I'm loath to look back and count, but my guess is that I've published at least fifty stories about how I work, tools I use, and even times of day when I'm most productive. It's not that I'm so full of myself (though I am too full of myself more often than not) as much as I love these kinds of stories from other creators and want to tell my own. Austin Kleon often talks about his processes and shares what he has learned of other people's work. Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg have written books about process and I've read each of them multiple times. In the words of the great philosophers Depeche Mode, I just can't get enough.

Were I to meet any of these writers I so admire, I would ask them to tell me about their days. When did you get up? Did you make coffee? Do you stay in the house or go out? Do you need to write first thing or does it wait? I'd want to see their writing spaces, ask what word processor they each use, and know what they do about their phones and other distractions. I'd want to know every detail.

There's an entire network on cable (probably more than one) devoted to watching people cook. There should be one on which we watch people write. I want to just see them at work. Ohhhhh, so they keep their back to the window. Interesting.

It's a wonder I'm not a television exec.

Today I'm happy to have heard Chris McDougall, author of Born To Run, Natural Born Heroes, and the forthcoming Running With Sherman describe his process on The Consummate Athlete podcast. McDougall can't write first thing in the morning. Instead, he screws around all day — feeding the chickens, goats, sheep, and donkeys, riding his bike, walking and running with friends, answering email, and calling in for podcasts. Then, at night, having gotten all hyperactivity out of his system, he sits and cranks out work until one in the morning.

This is great!

What excites me is that I could never work that way. I'm a morning person. After dinner my brain turns to sludge even without bourbon. There's just nothing there. (It has been argued that there isn't much there to begin with, but I'll leave that for another time.) In the morning I'm ready to go, can't wait to start. I'm just that way.

As I push on this writing thing, I get nervous that successful writers work so differently than I do. I find myself thinking, maybe I should... There's something to be said for learning from other people's methods — I don't have everything worked out — but the point is to craft my own methods. I'm not going to spend the morning feeding animals (it's not that involved a process to feed two cats and a dog) because I need to start the day with the pen in my hand, the keyboard beneath my fingers, ideas appearing on page and screen as if by magic.

I'm working on the reasons why a million people aren't reading this post. One thing to work on is refining my process. Every time I read or hear of another writer's methods, it inspires but also relieves me of the worry that I'm doing this thing all wrong and should give it up. That's good because because I don't have any kind of future in developing television networks. None whatsoever.