Let it Roll
The writing life can only be lived in the Church of Second Chances. We observe. We experience. Something wells up like water. Water waiting for words.
On good days, the words spill onto the page. Other days, they settle like acid reflux, somewhere between my heart and my stomach. I get lost in my head, which is a very dangerous neighborhood. In my head, it is dark as winter and it is an echo chamber and Mrs. Gibson, my third grade teacher, is still telling me what a loser I am because I can’t spell and my penmanship sucks. And I’m frozen between what I think I can do—what I’ve been doing for 30 years—and what Mrs. Gibson tells me I will never, ever do, not in a million years.
It takes an act of nature to just write. A near-death experience works quite nicely to open the channel between the head, the heart and the fingers on the keyboard.
Being present to the here and now also helps.
In the morning, I practice being exactly where my feet are as I walk Main Street’s sloping sidewalk with my domestic partner, Oliver Wendell Woofer. We turn right to amble along Ten Mile Creek. I like to go early, before Mrs. Gibson reports for duty, before the demons of my own ambition and perfectionism wake up.
When my head is where my feet are, the sound of the rushing creek replaces the stories that buzz through my head. Some stories inspire, others get my knickers in a knot. There is a risk in being where my feet aren’t. I could end up in some other world, a world, say, where the colleague whose lesser book makes the bestseller list happens to mistake arsenic for salt at his celebratory barbecue.
I would save him, of course, heroically. Other than that, I am not sure how the story would end. Mrs. Gibson would begin to ridicule my spelling and lambaste me about the sin of jealousy before I got to the end and the near-end would be in some self-hating Three Mile Island, someplace else.
Ten Mile Creek, on the other hand, is endless and here and when its sound replaces the static in my head, my heart has a chance. I notice the changes in the little patches of woods along its banks, the progress of the buds on the trees, the miracle of moss, greening.
We cross a little brook as we head home. The brook is Oliver’s personal artisanal spring. His big paws splash a song of joy.
This morning, I heard that song and because I heard it, I also noticed, in the dirt on the other side of the brook, rhubarb pushing up, up, up from the dark underworld of winter toward the light. Beside the rhubarb, a clump of three daffodils were busting like little suns in the gray dawn.
I felt myself rising as we headed up the muddy incline home. I walked faster. It’s easier to write as a feeling rises.
Committing that raw feeling to the page is an act of faith. I have to believe that there is a diamond in all my spew. Sometimes it’s just a single shiny word. Sometimes a word can glitter brightly enough to light a path through the underbrush of the seemingly unrelated, the unparsed, the unanalyzed, the unplanned passages that appear on the page. That through line—whatever the heck I’m trying to say—can appear in ten minutes, or it can take ten years.
It doesn’t matter.
Time doesn’t exist when the channel between heart, head, and hands is wide open and free of the dark rocks and jagged edges of doubt.
My doubt diminishes in direct proportion to the number of words I write. They don’t have to be good. At least not at first. They just have to be out of my head and onto the page.
When I need to remember that, I listen to Mary Oliver read Wild Geese.
Or I re-read the poem.