Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Dixie, our Jack Russell Terrier, woke me and my wife up at 6:30 this morning, with a series of whelps from downstairs. There was nothing wrong. She just wanted outside for a bit of play. Now, she is stretched out on the grass, soaking up morning sun. Archie is inside, alone, hesitant to move from a favorite spot on one of the ragged sofas.

As for myself, I'm again sitting under the sweet gum tree listening to a choral of cicadas, birdsong, and late-morning traffic, contemplating how to approach the rest of the day. Hopefully, by the time the sun sets over Cincinnati, I'll have written a few words that delight my ear.

Yet, sometimes, even a few measly paragraphs can fill like a trek to the South Pole. You make endless preparations—outlines, notes to yourself, arrangement of your desk, a pot of fresh coffee. Then, you settle in your favorite chair, coffee steaming beside you, almost ready to work. But then you pause for a moment, and check your email, just to make sure you haven't sold a slice of your time to someone else. All clear, so you take a deep breath and get to work, right after you check the news on CNN. And ESPN. Now, while you're at it, you may as well look in on your fantasy football team and make certain that everything is in order for the upcoming draft.

Finally, your preparations are complete. You've donned your metaphoric snow shoes and are ready to trudge into the vast white emptiness of a blank page. But wait, it's been an hour and you've already drank your coffee. You could use a refill just to get the old mind cranking. So, you wander into the kitchen, pour yourself another cup, and return to the office to settle in your chair with a nice steaming cup of Sumatran coffee.

But wait, what was the idea for that poem? Where was I in my manuscript? Perhaps you'll open up a new document at this point, fiddle absent mindedly with the fonts, subtracting and adding serifs before finally settling on the font you almost always use anyhow. Or perhaps you'll open an old file, hoping to be stunned by its quality and to find a work-in-progress that you can continue into the afternoon.

Then, the phone rings (of course). Your spouse wants to say hello or tell you about the deer she saw wondering by the side of the road through suburban streets. You could use a break, even though you've yet to jot down a single word, so you take her call, and then wander to the kitchen where the donuts on the counter are just too tempting.

Soon, the morning has slipped away, and you are beginning to doubt that you can achieve the simple goals you set for yourself earlier this morning.

Does any of this sound familiar?

For me, the past few days have taken on that kind of shape. I've been mired in a bit of a lull and have had trouble focusing on any one particular task for an extended period of time. I think, for a writer, such inattention can be hazardous to your career. Yet, I don't personally think that one or two days of laziness can signal the untimely demise of your aspirations. In fact, I believe that years and years of laziness can settle over the careers of even the best poets.

For me, I've been constantly emerging from long periods of idleness where life's other demands like finding love and earning a living robbed energy from the seemingly less pragmatic goal of publishing poetry. I've spent years of idle time immersed in one duel or another with a video gaming system. I've wasted countless hours looking longingly at creature comforts—like a $50,000 convertible—that aren't exactly congruent with the lifestyle of a poet (or a novelist).

In the 10 years between now and graduate school, I learned that discipline is far more important than talent. Indeed, even if I'm as talented as I think I am on fantastic writing day when the words seem to fall together seamlessly, like the tide washing across the coastline, I know that isn't enough. It may sound trite, but you do have to believe in yourself. More, you have to believe in the work you are doing and provide the work with ample time—regardless of how you come across that time. And when you find that time, you have to utilize.

For me, discipline has been the most difficult challenge of my sapling career. To be honest, I'm not horribly well organized, and as I've said before, one of my favorite past times is sprawling on the couch for a nap with my two dogs.

Yet each day, I set out to explore the figurative Antarctica of a blank page. I struggle to convince myself that, even with a mere handful of readers, the trek that I’m about to embark on will not be a fool's errand. I pack my figurative supplies each day and set off into the snow.

And when I fail—and I do fail—I try to learn from the day's events and begin making preparations for that next excursion. So, now, having returned to the page, I'll keep working until the sun has set. I'll take a few moments, here and there, for a snack or to coddle the puppies. I'll take another breather when my wife returns home from work, but for today, at least, I'm suited up, exploring a barren wilderness, and arranging syllables with the odd mixture of folly and faith that seems vital to continuing. I'm placing one snowshoe in front of the other, one word, the next word, and so on.

And that, for the moment, is all it takes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your metaphor of the snow! I'd love to read of some places in Cincinnati that you pass by/go to/etc., places that figure in your life and days (for me Skyline Chili was pretty prominent!) - if mentioning such places ever fits into your posts, that is. I just miss Cincinnati; since I spent some of my youth there, the city will always be nostalgic for me.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Les said...

I like Gold Star, myself. I'll keep it in mind for future reference.

Driving past Mt. Airy forest, the many, many church festivals, past the main-street feel of Cheviot...

Yeah. That makes sense.

Thanks for posting!

7:23 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home