Friday, August 2, 2013

it is a delicious thing to write

"It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes."

- Gustave Flaubert

"Always be joyful, no matter what you are. With happiness you can give a person life. Every day we must deliberately induce in ourselves a buoyant, exuberant attitude toward life. In this manner, we gradually become receptive to the subtle mysteries around us. And if no inspired moments come, we should act as though we have them anyway. If you have no enthusiasm, put up a front. Act enthusiastic, and the feeling will become genuine."

- Rabbi Nachman of Bratslau

Fly Heavenward Dear

by Rumi

Fly heavenward, dear. Let your wings unfurl to their
full expanse.

Gather from the sky's fields and intimate regions
that rare, unalloyed quality and light.

Bring it back to your nest. Weave it into your eyes,
sounds, movements and touch.

Then invite all of us over to your house, if you are
willing, if you are let us stay.

(from The Purity of Desire: 100 Poems of Rumi, transl. Daniel Ladinsky)

I've spoken to a couple of people lately who are starting out in the creative life. And wished that I had the words by Ira Glass memorized when speaking to them, but instead mumbled out a poor paraphrase. And I think they're so important to read, internalize. So here they are:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

- Ira Glass

There are a lot of things that no one tells mid-career authors, either. The thing is, you've put in the work, you've fought your way through. You've even published several books. You've gotten a few good reviews, you've lived through the horrendous ones mainly with the help of a few friends who may have also lived through horrendous reviews. You haven't been completely ignored but neither have you been made a huge fuss over. Good. There's a moment, maybe a long moment, when it seems, or it feels, that no one is much interested in your work. You're no longer the new up and coming writer. Nor are you the established older writer. No one really wants to give you a grant, and the prizes pass you by. Years pass, and you've published nothing, though, yes, you've been writing. The manuscripts pile up. This will make you anxious. Very anxious. But okay. Freedom. No one is watching you, you can write what you like. You can take a month in the summer, lie fallow, and dream, and remember what a delicious thing it is to write. You can take a minute and unfurl your wings and fly heavenward, bringing all that is light back to your nest. You can take long walks with your dog, and look at other peoples' roses. You can look at the time you might, god willing, have left to you. What is it you want to write with the time remaining? What is it you most want to give? Sit with that, savour the question, which is really quite a beautiful one. Even if it seems a mad thing to believe, believe that the publishing world will catch up with you. Believe in the one person who will some day pick up your book (for surely eventually someone will publish it), the one that now languishes as a rumpled, dusty, coffee stained sheaf of paper, crossways on a shelf in your study, along with all the books you've read, that you love, the ones you've read and admired. This is the point where you might lose faith, or, yes, take an even greater leap of faith. This is where you continue. Which is not quite as exciting as fighting your way through. This is where you get to remember and revive the deliciousness, the very exquisite taste of writing something difficult or gorgeous or harrowing or wise. You are alone now in a way that you haven't been alone before in your writing, your art making. This is a gift. You are pared down now, thinned out now, hungry. You know radiance, you know what it is to be illuminated, you won't settle for anything less than the purity of art, of soul. Continue. This is the way. Continue. 


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