I went to see Ivan Doing read last night. It was the first time I’d gone to a reading in I don’t know how long. And though the it wasn’t particularly good, it did get me thinking about writing, which is always a good thing. I noticed more about the author than his words. I noticed his neatly trimmed yet somehow still scraggly beard, the way his trousers hung, his mostly pressed shirt that was obviously ironed and not dry cleaned. I noticed his stance, the timber of his voice, his engagement (and sometimes lack of) with his own words. I noticed his air of pretense, the stiff white hairs that stuck up from his balding head. The way he changed his glasses, one pair reading, another pair for seeing the audience. How his frames were almost exactly the same.
And I spent a great deal of time just wondering about him. Wondering about what he looks like when he writes, what his process his, what—to him—makes a good story. I didn’t ask him any questions. Somehow, I didn’t want to hear his answers.
Doig spoke mostly about his research and the particulars of the world he’d created. He spoke only a little about his characters. He seemed distanced from him, maybe as if he didn’t even really know them.
And I wondered about my own characters, what they’re doing now with me so far away from them. I listened for them. I wanted to hear them call me back to the page.
But I couldn’t hear them.
And now, a few hours after the reading I am still listening for my characters, still waiting for them to tell me about their worlds, to ask me to give them more. More details of their world, more interaction with each other. More life.
This morning I got up early, showered and headed off to a coffee shop for an Americano, a muffin and I the possibility of writing again. But it seems this is the best I can do for now. I’ve been away from the page for so long that I’ve forgotten how to reapproach it.
I can’t explain my reason for my absence. I truly don’t know what’s kept me away. It’s not that I don’t want to write. I do—very badly. But I feel, I suppose, like I can’t. I don’t know where that feeling comes from, or why it hangs over me every day. With that feeling comes the guilt of not writing, and the terror of knowing that if I don’t, I may not get back into it again.
I’ve been watching my friend John Paul for the past few weeks. I watch him from a distance. I check his blog every day to see what he’s been doing. He’s been writing. I imagine him as he was in grad school, serious about writing, nearly connected to his laptop. Pouring out story.
I admire John Paul—always have. I think about how writing is part of his life. From here it seems it is his life. And these observations make me quite jealous. Jealous and ashamed.
I spent two years in grad school, learning to be a writer, honing my skill and finding my characters. They spoke loudly to me then, even at that time when my life fell completely apart and I didn’t know how to reengage. John Paul was there with me, and I still think of him when I think of writing. I think of going to coffee shops and locking ourselves away in rooms in the library. I think of how much we worked, how our laptops faced each other and our fingers moved.
I want to find that rhythm again. I need to. Yet, even after writing a full page of nothing more than stream of consciousness, I still feel stuck.
Now Robin is the one who I watch write. Her work is quite different from mine. It is based entirely on fact and must be succinct and accurate. She doesn’t deal with character or dialogue. She works instead with a set formula. And though her fingers move considerably more slowly than mine or John Paul’s they still move across the keyboard with that sense of confidence (knowing, of course, that the fingers are the most confident tool in anyone’s writing life).
I think, too, of how my life has changed. How I spend so much of my time with Robin or on the phone with her. I think of how much I work now, how even when I am not at work I am working—checking email or identifying new strategies, new ways to fix problems or to grow the Center. These are the two pieces of my life and they are quite large. I have let them stand in the way of my writing and I am realizing—I am admitting—how I need to not let that happen. I am realizing this morning how comfortable here, hunkered over my computer, watching my fingers move.
This was once my Sunday routine and I fell away from it.
This is my today and I am writing. And for now I have to let that be enough.