Articles

Hiatus interruptus

This blogging thing can be like writing thank-you notes — a simple exercise in civility that becomes onerous if you put it off too long. As I mentioned long ago, there is a phenomenon known as “blogger fatigue,” and it afflicts every blogger at one point or another, especially those of us who want to use our blogs to do more than recount the ordinary events of our ordinary days.

As you’ve seen, I tend to go on a bit once I start a blog piece, so I often avoid starting one. Ergo, when I don’t have proper energy or focus, I go dormant. The blogger disappears and someone else emerges from the ashes.

But that’s enough blogging about blogging, and it’s enough of a mea culpa. For better or worse, I’m back.

I’m taking a deep writer’s breath these days — doing a fair amount of public speaking and teaching a class on Joseph and the Nez Perce at a local university. This shift in realities is both rejuvenating and humbling.

I keep trying to explain to my wife, and anyone else who will listen, how utterly unlike their lives my writing life is. On a simple ground level, imagine not seeing your boss in four years, not having any co-workers, not having to go to work, not having any contact with anything other than your imagination. Then, challenge that imagination with a single project in which no one you know has more than a passing interest, and get up, day after day, trying to generate enthusiasm and diligence in relation to that project.

In the back of your head you may be saying, “That sounds great.” But let me assure you, as they say about old age, it’s not for sissies. You gradually remove yourself from reality and you lose the perspective that comes from the emery of human contact and shared ideas. Your mind becomes a monster that you have to tame and control, and your days become shapeless entities that you have to wrestle into form.

My wife goes off to work, my son goes off to school, and the world stretches amorphously before me. My peer group consists of an overweight golden lab, two cats, and whichever creatures have wormed their way into my imagination that day.

Three o’clock on a winter afternoon, I’m still in my bathrobe, which I have now dubbed a “writing robe” (see Rodin’s sculpture of Balzac), the light is waning, and nothing has come out of my mind but fretting and drek.

That’s a bad day, and they are not uncommon.

On a good day, however, the mind has become a garden of possibilities, and I walk amongst them like an imaginary stroller in one of Monet’s paintings.

In short, each day becomes inhabited by “one big thing” that consumes the mind and colors the heart.

Compare this to most people’s lives — my wife’s being the most immediate example — of “hurry out the door, make the meeting, finish the report or grade the papers, meet with the co-workers, fight off the emails, answer the correspondence, correct the misunderstandings, and put out the fires.” You know it well — chances are your day is one of those.

I call it the difference between being a pitcher and a batter. If I don’t pick up the ball and throw it every day, there’s no game. For the folks with normal jobs, you hardly get to pick up the ball, because there are fifty coming at you at all times.

Well, lately I’ve been in your world, and I’m not sure what I think of it.

There is a brittle excitement about it, and a constant nervous twitch, but the shape of the satisfactions is very different and the weariness that comes at the end of the day is of a different quality.

The emotional rhythms of the day, too, are very different. When you are writing you have to keep absolute control over your emotional balance and pace of intellect and spirit. The challenge is to stay in one place, metaphorically and physically.

Now that I’m in the world of speaking engagements, classrooms, grant forms, deadlines, students, and paperwork, I see that the success is in moving things along expeditiously, and in being able to shift emotional and intellectual realities fluidly and efficiently.

Most of you are probably saying, “Tell me something I don’t know.” Well, I knew it intellectually, just as you probably can understand the writer’s reality intellectually. But it’s that walking a mile in the other person’s shoes that really changes the awareness.

So now I’m out of the rare air and down on the streets. I’m trying to make time enough in my day for all the obligations and responsibilities rather than trying to make a day enough out of the time that stretches from sunrise to sundown before me.

I’m enjoying the energy and company of people rather than the energy and company of my imagination. The world is a busy street I have to navigate rather than an empty plain that I have to map. The abstract pleasure of mastery is replaced with the immediate pleasure of service, and the satisfaction is in the accretion of small victories rather than the successful prosecution of a grand war.

And so it is that the blogger returns, at least temporarily a member of the human race. I’ll retreat to my castle soon enough. But there is something very good and honest here. After all, to borrow from the Freudians, sometimes a bathrobe is just a bathrobe. It’s good to be reminded.


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