“How so?” she asked.
“Well, instead of inhaling a bowl of strawberries, I have to stop and think about how I would describe the taste and the texture if I were to write about eating strawberries. So as I think about describing the life I’m living, I’m actually pausing to notice the little things I do each day.”
She thought that made sense.
But it doesn’t seem to work that way anymore. Instead of slowing me down and making me more in-the-moment, I spend so much time writing in my head as I’m living my life, that I’m rarely actually in the moment. I’m always a step ahead of myself, turning an experience or thought into a blog post, or making a mental note about something that might, someday, turn into an essay.
There is a funny essay, “Not Another Word,” by Gillian Kendall in the latest Sun that has to do with this very thing. (You can read part of it here.) Kendall goes off to a silent yoga and meditation retreat and plans to spend most of the retreat writing and thinking about writing. But she quickly realizes that the silent part of the retreat excludes reading and writing. She ignores this rule and continues to jot things down in her notebook, but she finally decides to try to stop writing for a few days.
Her big worry is that if she doesn’t write something down, it will be lost. But one of the teachers at the retreat suggests that her wanting to write all the time has become automatic. Kendall responds:
My puffed-up heart deflated at the truth-prick of his word, automatic, and I started crying again. My main activity in the world, the thing I considered most important about myself, had become mindless, reflexive, compulsive. I felt embarrassed — and enlightened.
Mindless, reflexive, compulsive. Is she describing me?
I’ve been up north at my mom’s cabin for the past week and a half, and I’ve had limited computer time (and very limited on-line time). I consciously took three full days off work—no class prep or e-mailing or work on the revision.
Instead, I stared at the tree-lined shore across the lake, glowing with bright evening sun. I ran (slowly, carefully) down the road, under a wide blue sky, past the grazing horses and the field of dairy cows. I floated in the inner tube with my girls. I drank wine on the pontoon.
And I feel refreshed. I’m thinking more thoughtfully about the memoir. I’m waking up in the morning with ideas about chapter structure and scenes that still need to be written. I’ve even started reading again after a little slump.
Maybe taking a little break every once in a while is what I need in order to keep my writing fresh, in order to keep it from feeling automatic and compulsive. Maybe I’ll even get to the point again where it will slow me down rather than speed me up. Maybe.