Pulitzer winner Elizabeth Strout on Mary Laura Phillpott’s blog says when she finally stumbled into a public writing career, she thought her family “may have found it was strange.”
I do not like the word “strange.”
Perhaps my students think I’m strange. Who spends spring break writing thirty-three thousand words? Especially when there are so many better things to do–catch up on all those TV shows, visit places you’ve never been, sleep, drink, go to bars, parties, sit around a backyard fire with friends as the stars rise into the sky…
And instead, I choose to lock myself solitary in the bedroom and pound a keyboard. That is strange. Anti-social even. But I need those moments.
I love teaching. I love hearing what the students have to say because what they have to say is vitally important for all of us, and because of circumstance or their youth, their voice is so often ignored. Even if I am the only one listening, that is a start and, for the moment, enough. But after a single class–whether an hour long or four hours long, I am physically exhausted. I make the drive home, sit down on the couch and too easily doze off to the drone of the television.
I have worked in meat packing plants where huge beef carcasses hung on racks, and you had to push the beef from one end of the warehouse to the other. I’ve worked in shipping plants loading people’s packages into the back of delivery trucks. I’ve worked in car factories and lumber yards. At the end of the day my body was sore. That bottle of Ben Gay always came out pretty damn quick. But I never felt so exhausted as I do after I finish teaching.
Moments of solitary, moments of quiet, me tripping over the cat in the early pre-dawn hours of the day, when the only voice you hear is your own, that quiet contemplation is where creativity really begins. A kind of mindfulness.
Without that solitary mindfulness, without that ability to recharge, I fear my ideas would simply dry up. I would sit passive, unable to communicate and react to the world I live in.
Allie Brosh, author of Hyperbole and a Half says, “Every time I’ve written something […] I’ve thought, ‘Well, there it goes–my very last good idea.’ […] Once you pick all the low-hanging fruit, fruit-picking becomes scarier.
I often go long stretches between writing projects. Or I write stuff that in the dark recesses of my mind I know is absolute garbage. I worry I am done. That I have nothing more to say. That I have come up against an unmovable writer’s block. But I have come to realize I need that time to be a little strange, a little anti-social, a little self-exploratory because I am not out of ideas; I am only out of quiet.
Hey, Wednesday, we are talking about Matthew Quick, Elizabeth McCracken, and Rob Delaney’s take on humor.And thank you again Mary Laura Phillpott for such a wonderful jumping off point.
In the meantime, check out some short stories and novel excerpts on the stories page!