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"The Sustainable Writer"
Sustainability is something I'm tuned in to, since I live in a region known for a. rain and b. sustainable practices. (Quick review: rain, sustain.) Using resources in a way that allows them to be replenished naturally and the process continued indefinitely is a concept I can get my head around, something I believe in. 'Sustainable' oozes long-term, a good reminder for attention-deficit types like me. It is also an apt framework for my personal writing journey.
The droplets ping as they hit the trough of our old metal downspout, which reminds me, zing, I do have a want. I'd like one of those fancy shmancy rain chains I saw yesterday, a coppery spirally number to hang from the corner of our house, where I can watch tiny rivers wind their way down, down, down, maybe form the basis for a baby rainbow should the fickle sun bare his face in my paradise again.
I am a Sustainable Writer. I don't use a slate and chalk or pencil and recycled paper and I don't even shut off my computer every night to save electricity. (Although I promise to from now on.) No, I am a Sustainable Writer because I sustain a personal writing vision in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds -- a world where markets keep changing, publishers keep growing, everyone's a blogger, readers and movie-goers want it all, now, and to date, that 'all' is not necessarily what I'm writing right now. But I'm in this world for the long haul, and when my planet's at risk, I don't give up. I adapt my practices to keep on course and to keep on moving.
Being a Sustainable Writer means directing individual thought and action each and every day of my writing life. It means being intentional about my process and being a steward of my writing world.
Outside my window, the gray trickles from the sky like a leaky faucet. It's dripping, but not hopeless. On day two, the overhead sink overflows. A dank dull pushes on my shoulder blades, tightens my diaphragm, shortens my breath. I feel heavy inside. I need to restock the reservoir, recharge the solar battery, rewind the rubber band. Renewal isn't an option -- it is a necessity for even the most prolific among us.
I take a deep breath and unblock. I can nudge stalled energy and get circuits moving through conscious breathing -- or a few sprints up and down the stairs, some jumping Jills or a couple minutes of headset-aided silence. I can restock by reading -- magazines, books and online sources, maybe quotes, I like quotes. Or by listening carefully and dipping into conversations and the specific language people use in the grocery store, at the post office or passing by on the street.
I can also recharge by taking time out for a fundamental human need: Fun. I'm not masking procrastination here -- I'm redefining it. This is Physics. Fun turns "potential creativity" into "kinetic creativity." Fun is a walk in the woods, a bike ride or something passive like watching my nine-year-old ice skate. I keep a notebook nearby.
At four, she had a natural poise in ballet class but was a doe in the headlights during free dance. A frozen spire surrounded by giddy waters. At nine, she speaks only when she has something to say in words so soft her classroom teacher must bend down and lean in to hear. It's a deliberate quiet, a contained calm that stretches down to her toes and reaches far to her fingertips. Those same long fingers my husband joked could palm a basketball when she was born. But there's no ball in sight now. Or ballet slippers. She's a marionette cut loose. A dancer with bladed boots. A swirling, twirling dervish on ice. See the upturned mouth. The outstretched arms. She's anything but frozen now.
Being a Sustainable Writer means monitoring my energy and putting myself in the proper frame of mind to see stories unfold before me, and to have the patience to peel the layers. There are no quick fixes, but there are tips to keep one going.
Julia Cameron ("The Right to Write") offers the suggestion of writer's dates, a once-a-week creative date between writer and writer self, as a means of inspiration and renewal. Cameron suggests writers recharge by going to the art museum, a movie, a play, or whatever one chooses, but one must go alone. I second the notion, although it's not always practical to go off to the creative woods alone. A diversion, any kind of diversion, with or without people, can be helpful. Most of us have other lives -- moneymaker, mom, maid -- besides writing. The key is being present even when the task isn't pleasant.
The homeless entrepreneur deposits beer cans at the bottle-return bank as the three of us arrive lugging our overstuffed trash bags. My preteen -- a Paris-look-alike in sparkly pink -- tiptoes over cigarette butts and spoon-feeds the CAN DO station one at a time, pouting "ew" and limp-wristing her hands like palm trees between acts. Little sister, in warm-ups, plugs her target with water containers, which the bottle robot promptly spits back. I play shortstop between the two, speed-sifting my bags, keeping a bottle or can at the ready to lob into a lull in either direction. It's an ugly job, we get to do it and we're almost done.
"Are they using two machines?" The voice is deep, female, and catches me off guard.
Behind me, in right field is a thick woman with wire hair alongside two tall dark young men. I attend to my station and plug a brown bottle into a black hole. Moss drips from its grungy mouth. These bottles gather in our alley. We don't rinse them. I don't think you have to. I'm not sure of the rules. I'm teaching the kids responsibility, sustainability here.
"There are three of us," I say over my shoulder, keeping my eye on my job.
"Yeah," she says. It was a question all drawn out.
I glance back. More figures have gathered now with their carts and bags. They are Home. We are Visitors. Who's with whom here? My heart pounds. Who's on first? Doesn't matter. I grab my debutante by the arm and pull her close to me and baby. How about we focus on one machine, finish this job. We vacate a station and the tall young men descend on it like flies to honey ale.
We empty our bags, I hit RECEIPT, grab our rejects, turn to go.
The wire-haired captain speaks. "Thank you," she announces to the crowd.
I pause, my arms circling my kids, heart pounding outside my body now. I stand tall, aim between her eyes. "You don't have to be the sergeant of the machines you know."
She winces like she's hit, cocks her head. "Well," she says, softening somehow. "You think about it."
Sustainable Writers keep personal emissions benign and save ranting and raving for the page. But this isn't permission to detach from life and the stories all around. It means engage where your feelings take you -- within reason. Then pull back and think about it. Go to the page. Write what you feel. Weave emotion into the situation, the characters. Go where the energy is.
And value that energy. Watch over your personal eco-system. The other day the paraphrased Aristotle quip on my monitor got me thinking: You are what you repeatedly do. Okay, reality check: I am a coffee-swilling, pretzel snacking, e-mail-checking machine. (This is a work in progress; sustainability is a long-term commitment.) I tallied up the moments I was wasting each day and thought about what I might be able to accomplish with the extra hours. And I thought about the footprint -- or possibly hip print -- of my actions if I kept going in the same direction. I had to conclude all energy has value, my time is energy and I better not waste it. And perhaps, while I'm at it, I should trade the java for hydro power.
A tease of luscious weather, that's what it was. A day so glorious I could smell the earth through the sidewalk poem at the neighborhood school. Kids with nature notations migrate from far corners of the grounds to my mound of chalk. The young poets line up, bubble over. Hold out journals with underlined phrases, which I copy with care. The words take to the concrete in curves and circles and made-up fonts, and the line keeps growing because the most boisterous short writers pile in formation again and again. It's a never-ending poem. Sixty-foot long now, in all colors traversing the grounds, connecting the community. Nonsensical, lyrical, miraculous... and now gone. Because this morning, our words were washed aside by a runaway rain. A world of cement-gray flecked with shards of light. What the hail. I couldn't stop myself. The words took to the air.
"Why do we live in this god-forsaken place?" I stand and scream at the ceiling as my husband walks by. "Tell me why?"
He doesn't answer. I know he's thinking, 'Why do you write?'
It's the substitute letter carrier today, the athletic-survivor woman. The one who faces the drizzle head-on in shorts with a smile. I'm mired in reading and not in the mood to chit, so I lull, perhaps lurk by the picture window straightening the drapes until clunk of mail meets tile. Will today be the day? The turning point I've been waiting for in my writing career?
I take a deep breath.
Perhaps I'll have a cup of herbal tea first. Sit awhile longer on my sofa with this lovely book, "Letters to a Young Poet," by Rainer Marie Rielke.
Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait. Who said it and was he advising writers -- or maybe editors? Perhaps today is the day. The day I listen to Rielke's wisdom and learn to love the questions themselves.
end of segment
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