Not the best of all days, not the worst of all days, but as sometimes happens, I’m ecstatic and inspired. A little bit manic, perhaps, and a little bit rock and roll.
What happened today? My sister, A., and I had a writing retreat to work on the memoir we’ve been writing about our father since 2012 or before. I’ve written a lot about my dad and the memoir before, but today I want to talk about the writing process.
When we started writing the memori, Dad was dying, and we were taking care of him; we continued to work on the memoir (sometimes affectionately referred to as The Man Who Couldn’t Hambo, or poetically referred to as A Memoir in Three Voices) during the period after he died when neither one of us was or could be or had to be working.
Working for pay, that is. A. and I both did some important work on grieving, and writing the memoir was certainly part of that process. I did a lot of acting and theater creation, and that was joyful work.
Our retreat today was meant to get our momentum back, and in some ways, we didn’t quite. A. was feeling particularly down and frustrated late in the day at what she’d accomplished. One of our goals was to write “shitty first drafts” (per Anne Lamott), and A. was not even feeling proficient at that. Me neither, really, but it seemed to me that setting aside the time to engage, as well as raising the big, grey elephant question in the room — do we still want to write this book? — was truly significant, at the very least energetically, as a way of focusing our intention.
I could spit out the platitudes to make A. feel better, but when it was my turn, could I be as wise? Of course not! On our retreat agenda was the note that near the day’s end, “PK: seek / create a regular / daily, concrete or specific task or habit” as an assignment to keep going. (I’m a huge fan of projects and setting my own rules, which is how 90 Blog Posts in 90 Days came about, as well as Circumambulating Seattle and Not Dieting, three of my obsessions of 2015.)
“How can I answer the question of what my daily memoir writing practice will be,” I said, “when I don’t even know what I’m going to do with the whole rest of my life?”
This is the express crazy train, skipping all station stops to the end of the line. I ride it quite frequently. As a self-contradictory and therefore ambivalent human, I tend toward polar opposites even as I argue against binary thinking. I’m a great person or I’m shit, I’m lazy or I’m working all night, I’m going to rule the world or I’m headed straight for the poorhouse. I think this dichotomizing is a great way of draining my energy.
So is envy, which I had a heavyweight bout with internally today, and I don’t want to say much more about envy than a) read Bonnie Friedman’s Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemma’s in the Writer’s Life; and b) by dinnertime, I figured out how to make envy into lemonade, so whatever the story is behind my feelings, I made a new point.
To whit: I am poised to decide whether I’m going to follow one of three paths — to be a writer, to be an entrepreneur, or to be an impresaria — for the next 6 months. I gathered up my sense of envy, brought it home to ask S. his opinion, and before he could really develop his own I had talked myself into
following my own path because it’s the only path I can follow
as it has been the path I’m on and
I can no longer fight my nature and
I have no more excuses and
all I have to do right now is choose one branch for now and follow it with all my energy and
maybe get a part-time job and
get really clear on how I’m going to invest my time and money
and cut out all the rest.
I’ll be naming 6-month focus this week. I promise. Myself and any interested readers.
Next up: The popular chimps who run yearbook have the most sex and get the best food.