Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wandering Genius

Yesterday I went for a walk with a friend at lunchtime. It was a great day for a walk - sunny, warm - but not a great day for getting writing done after work. My friend invited me to a seder, and I declined, saying I had too much to do around the house. This was a lie. I didn't have too much to do around the house, and I love seders, but I planned to spend the evening writing, even though the sunshine and sweet air gave me the sinking feeling that I wouldn't get much done.

So, last night I indeed "wrote." I thought about writing, worried about writing, and felt bad about not physically writing, even though the machinations of writing were grinding away inside my head as I walked my dog, sent a few emails, and watched a video online.

One of my writing teachers at Hampshire College, Michael Lesy, gave fewer assignments than many professors because he said we needed time to think and plan. That was the first time I'd heard reverie acknowledged as being just as essential to creation as the actual creating. Sometimes I'm OK with the reverie, but often I'm impatient. Although I want to see results, I must put up with the inertia and unruliness of my own mind. It just insists on daydreaming and wandering. In that way it's like my dog - trainable, but so much.

As I walked said dog along on a wooded trail, I wasn't consciously thinking about the order of the poems in my chapbook manuscript, but when I got back to the house I'd decided to move one of the poems from the end of the book back to the beginning of the second section, where it had been originally. "Great," I thought sarcastically when my "writing time" was up. "Three hours later and all I have done is shuffle some papers around." I was reminded of the quote from William Wordsworth (is that who it was?) about working on a poem all morning, taking out one comma, and then putting it back in that afternoon.

"You've chosen a vocation in which the rewards come very infrequently," my wife said that night as we watched the NCAA championship game at the local bar, a good venue for me to bemoan my temporary and non-life-threatening misery at not conjuring the willpower to sit down and add copious amounts to my scribbled word collection that night. I thanked her for pointing out the obvious and told her about the video I'd watched.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, was talking about "genius," but not as you might expect. She says that instead of a person "being" a genius, all of us "have" a genius, which to the ancient Romans was a daemon or spiritual being, kind of like a personal muse. It makes sense when you hear her say it. (Thanks to poet Adam Rubinstein for sharing the link.) My wife, however, immediately thought of my cat, who usually sits on my lap while I write. "Don't ask me to call him your genius now," she said. "I just can't do that."

1 comment:

  1. "the inertia and unruliness of my own mind" Kat, this is soo true and interesting and gets me thinking. I too often have the issues where I feel that I have not written enough. One day it's a comma, another it might be a paragraph break. So you are not alone in the inertia and unruliness of your mind--every writer is there with you! I had a friend in undergrad say to me once that when you are an artist you expect nothing but perfection in what you do, but in that same breath you are missing out on the perfection by worrying about how to make it perfect! Also, I have a great therapist who, if she had a sledge hammer, wishes she could pound it into my head that any time spend doing what one loves (writing)is time well spent--even if it is dreaming, thinking, contemplating about the writing!
    I love reading your blogs...you are like Sherman Alexie: talking about important life issues with humor!