Durham has a lot of good things about it, but a good independent radio station is not one of them. And so I spend my days in the kitchen listening to classic rock and hold the distinction of being the only one in the kitchen for whom the songs were my soundtrack for high school and college. One of the songs that plays daily for reasons I don’t understand is Bob Seger’s droning plea for the masses to have empathy for his rock star life, “Turn the Page.”
here I am out on the road again
there I am up on the stage
there I go playing the star again
there I go turn the page
I mention the song not because I’m in the mood to do a little Bob bashing, but because I’ve been reading and thinking about writing and wonder how different I am from Bob when I use this space to write about what it feels like writing.
here I am back on my Mac again
there I go blogging away . . .
What I’m reading these days is Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write (brought back into my view by my blogging buddy, Simon, who is always worth reading) and she is giving me much to think – and write – about. Here’s the latest paragraph that has hounded me:
[Writing] all the time, whether or not we are in the mood, gives us ownership of our writing ability. It takes it out of the realm of conjuring where stand on a rock of isolation, begging the winds for inspiration, and it makes it something as do-able as picking up a hammer and pounding a nail. Writing may be an art, but it is certainly a craft. It is a simple and workable thing that can be as steady and reliable as a chore – does that ruin the romance? (35)
Before I answer her question, I have to back up a bit. I have not written as much as I would like over the past couple of months because many nights I haven’t felt like I had something to say. Cameron got me thinking a week or so ago when she said,
Writing is about getting something down, not thinking something up. . . . We can either “think a plot up” or we can “jot a plot down.” We can either “think of something to write about” or we can write about what we happen to be thinking about. We can either demand we write well or we can settle more comfortably into writing down what seems to want to come through us – good, bad, or indifferent. (10-11)
She then quotes Henry Miller:
“Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself.” (11)
Ginger and I have been working on the room in our house that is our shared creative space. A home office, perhaps; we prefer to call it the studio. The biggest task continues to be to find a place for everything, which means, first of all, we have to go through the stacks of stuff that have lived on the floor now for some time. I spent the morning and part of this afternoon going through stacks of papers and old journals and, with Cameron’s words ringing in my ears, realized I’ve had seasons when I have been a better listener to my life than I appear to have been over these days when I felt I had nothing to say. I learned – again – I am a better writer when I speak in concert with my listening and offer harmony to the melody that is already playing, if you will.
Yesterday’s poem provides a good example. I found this poem on the Writer’s Almanac several days ago and noticed it came from a book of poems by Charles Darling called The Saints of Diminished Capacity. I wrote the phrase down in my journal because it was so rich and because it seemed to describe those close to me who are dealing with fresh grief and are having to play hurt through these days. When I sat down to write yesterday, I understood – again – what Cameron meant when she said we write things down, not make things up. I just wrote what I saw and heard, and what I felt and then I spent some time doing my best to craft the words, to revise and edit, to make my offering an adequate reflection of what I had seen and heard.
One of the snippets I found today reminded me of an afternoon I was walking across Boston Common. A guy who looked as though he had spent the night in the park was standing up on a small brick wall playing his guitar and singing. As I walked past, he was singing these words by James Taylor:
everyday I wake up just the same
waiting for something new
every night I have myself to blame
for dreams that haven’t come true
especially today I’m feeling blue
If I had been writing the soundtrack for a movie I couldn’t have scripted it any better. Sunday, in her sermon, Ginger recounted an experience she and I had walking through Davis Square, one of our favorite Somerville haunts. There was a homeless man sitting on the curb and and as we passed he said, rather loudly, “Change.”
I blurted back without thinking, “I’m trying. I’m trying,” as Ginger reached for coins in her pocket.
Writing draws me because it is such a wonderful metaphor for living, as much as anything. Listening makes me a better writer; listening makes me a better human being, as well. You get the idea. Our choice of words make a difference. If I write (or live) feeling that I have a story to tell, I’m not sure that lasts very long. None of us likes to be told things very often. But from my listening to life, I have a story to share, the way we share sandwiches or rides or sunny afternoons, then I may be on to something strong enough to make you, well, turn the page.