Recently I did a survey of my journal entries for the past few years. A year ago I would have said that I don’t know myself very well. Well, if that were true it could only be due to shutting myself down so thoroughly that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. The journals show that I do know myself very well. My ruminations turn repeatedly to the following themes: time management, time anxiety, insecurity as a writer, is writing a waste of time, discipline; that’s pretty much it. Yes, there are topics about parenting, relationships, marriage, spirituality, and the Christian life. But more than anything else it comes down to anxiety about time management and writing. How do I find peace with this? I find myself preoccupied with what I SHOULD be doing to such an extent that it paralyzes me from doing anything. Once your kids are grown, what do you do with yourself? Be a good Christian, follow Christ? Sure, but we all need a bit more personalized direction. Where do we find it? In our marriage? our church? our friends? our work? our past times? Yes to all these. But there is somewhere in the soul of each of us a place where we feel engaged in a special way. Where we can alternately lose ourselves in the best kind of way, most self forgetting way (where even the act of thinking or writing about yourself can be self forgetting because it isn’t really about you as it is the concept of function of the heart, head, and spirit.) We become engrossed in a book, a project, repairing a car, playing a sport, doing photography, cooking. It’s the place where we are really very present, and just want to keep doing, thinking, creating, fixing whatever it is we’re engaged in.
Especially since I have been working full-time the past 8 years, I have largely forgotten what that feels like. I want to say that travel gives me that rush, but it doesn’t, even though I love traveling. What I have really had a difficult time with is maintaining any consistent engagement in the areas that most satisfying/exhilarating to me: writing and reading. I wrestle with guilt and a compulsion to justify these activities on a grand scale. At times I have attempted to make it “God thing”, an “art thing”, a “self fulfillment” thing, I feel it has to be a thing of some type. I suppose partly because the amount of energy I want to put in it seems excessive, when compared to what I see others do in these areas. So consequently I normally read less than many people. Tom always reads more novels a year than I do! No contest! And–with no guilt. So uncomfortable am I with allowing myself to W/R that I waste huge amounts of energy fussing about it, verified in the repeated journal entries that are in essence should I / could I ? Where I could spent an hour and half curled up on the couch reading something!
So there’s that. Then there’s another layer. Once I have given myself permission to write it’s not enough. Writing alone, I know, should be enough, keeping a journal, jotting a poem, but I want it be constructing something larger or with an over arching purpose as I write. I don’t mind writing blah, blah, blah (little ditties that are pretty empty of content), at least for a little while. Eventually I will say enough of this, and go do laundry, vacuum the house, and go to Krogers. And if I am disgusted enough with the emptiness quotient I may stay away from my journals for a good long while.
However, I am a smart enough writer to know three things: first, writers have to write regularly whether or not they have anything to say. Even if you go session after session writing about your lunch the day before you’re doing exactly the right thing (well mixing up the topic would be a start) Don’t be afraid to say “the right thing is the write thing” (Also— Write lots of cheesy things because you never know when you might accidentally say something decent). You have to show up. You have to keep the engine oiled. The writing faculties of your brain are like muscles in your body, frequent writing keeps one agile. So developing a writing discipline, at best a schedule, at least an ethic, is primary.
The second thing I know about my own writing which is seldom poetry and almost never fiction is a need to feed. I cannot write for very long without some source of inspiration. While a person can and does draw mostly from their own life and experiences, I know for a fact that reading good books stimulates and inspires my writing quicker and better than anything else. Certainly writing is always a mix of life experience and the externally sourced, and that for certain topics we draw more from one well than the other. Personally I feel like a dry cistern when it’s all personal output and no external input, regardless what I am writing about. This brings me to my next quandary, keeping myself in books. In spite of my love for books I am a lazy reader and a tired old secretary whose eyes and attention span feel pretty spent by 8:30 at night. It is what it is. And yeah, I can fall asleep faster than anyone else I know, with the exception of one of my friends who’s been diagnosed with narcolepsy. But the fact is, she and I go to the same book study where we go around the room and read aloud. One of us has to be actively reading in order to stay awake, and it isn’t her. So if I want to read in the evening I need to start ASAP after supper or it won’t happen.
The last thing I know is that writers need to have interaction with some audience eventually. Writing needs to be shared, I mean it is a form of communication. I have been a bit of fan of the idea that I will be read posthumously, like by my daughters on rainy July afternoons when they’re retired, and skip the publishing, sharing, critiquing, revising, fun of writing. I routinely show Tom what I write or occasionally put in a blog and let my daughters see it, now while I’m still around to hear their reactions. It seldom goes any farther than that. Few people I know presently are even aware that I write at all, and I don’t see much point in telling them. I have a blog or two that I put things up on and let WordPress list it in the current post feed. A few folks may take a look, and make a comment. But I “know” in a more theoretical than practical sense that having some sort of writing community is considered important by people who know something about developing the writing craft. Finding a local community right now in winter of 2014 would take more time and energy than I have; online it could happen but I would have to be more in the groove with my writing than I am at this moment to take that step. For the moment that part is on the back burner.
So the big three as I perceive them are: a writing practice ethic; inspiration from reading; interacting with others about my writing. I have a ways to go in fitting them together and fleshing them out, but I understand them well enough. The hindrances are guilt and lack of time. Lack of time is always at play in life, and you work it out as best you can. But guilt is not a necessary struggle but an elective and one, I am happy to say, that is on the way out.
This fall I started to see the sunset. My own personal sun is going lower on the horizon. There is a limited amount of light left. Do I want to spend that light vacuuming, I ask myself? Not if no one’s coming over, I answer. I want to spend it with Tom and my family. I want to spend it playing with my grandchildren, visiting my friends, participating in my church community, engaging my job with integrity and good will. I want to learn and love humanity and nature more completely. I want to spend it watching good movies and reading good books, listening to music, having wonderful meals. I want to be on Lake Erie, in Missoula, in the mountains, in the forests, Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, fresh air, pine trees, flowers, gardens, hiking, beach walks. I want to live in this present life, embracing the situations that God has placed me in, knowing His presence in a moment by moment way, carrying his presence into each encounter with people, and thanking him for the beauty of nature. And I know I don’t have all day. None of us, except the very young can hold any hope of that. When you are looking at that kind of sunset what place is there for guilt? The only guilt to be found is passing up an opportunity to connect with other image bearers of God. The only regret is to be so bogged down with tasks that we can’t hear the soft voice of the Holy Spirit in the room, or we miss the beauty of friend’s hello.
When we have jobs that claim 40-50 of our hours each week, there is not much spare time. The evenings are short and weekends are compressed. There are some items that have to be done, but there needs to be time to be creative, inspired and inspiring. For me this means time to play with ideas and projects, read books, keep journals, make lists, grow ideas. Unless there is a conflict with either taking care of some essential tasks or spending time with others, I should have no reason for guilt and no anxiety about use of my time. How I manage time may not always be black and white, but it can be much more relaxed than I have perceived it in the past. So I want to be done with those types of journal entries. Sometimes anxieties are nothing more than bad habits we fall into and I am ready to shed this one.