29 October 2013

How many times?

At this time of the year, every year, at least twice a week, I have the same conversation with myself. After the litany of cold cold cold miserable cold death despair hibernation cold I wish I was dragon runs its course, I wonder how many times I have to fall off the wagon before I learn to hold on tight. It makes me quote Pirates of the Caribbean at myself because this year has proven again that the answer is this:
"How many times must I tell you to call me Elizabeth get your ish together?
"At least once more, Miss Swann."
(Nevermind that I'm far less Elizabeth Swann or Will Turner and far more Ragetti, trying to make myself an eyeball out of wood and then wondering why I can't see.)

(And also, I'm quoting Pirates of the Caribbean at myself, so maybe I deserve what I get.)

The wagon remains as the wagon always was: wake up early, write every day, eat real food, go to the gym. None of those things are particularly difficult in their own right, particularly not if I switch to an actual alarm clock that I have to get out of bed to turn off. I did that five days ago.

The real kick in the pajamas was a piece from Pacific Standard about the folly of the snooze button. I'd been setting my alarm on my phone, conveniently on my bedside table, for 5 a.m.-ish every day and then manipulating it in various ways until I was waking up around 6:45, which is pretty much the weekday threshold for mornings around here. I'd been doing that all summer, too, in various countries and timezones. And that was also not awesome. (All the places I was were awesome. My habits, less so.) Waking up at that time doesn't leave me time to write before school, and it doesn't leave me feeling motivated to make anything particularly interesting for lunch, which inevitably leads to afternoon horror show of despair and low blood sugar and no desire to go work out. (It all sounds very dramatic. It all feels very dramatic. It's really not. Just very...sad and dull and unfulfilling.)

I have been writing, working on a variety of things, but the timing is wrong. I've been doing a lot because I have to--the semester is busy--but nothing feels quite right. 

So I changed my alarm set-up. I've had to give up my clever custom wake-up tunes that my phone allows and that my 1999 clock-radio does not, and I've moved it well past the foot of the bed. In the pre-dawn blackness, I confess that I will actually mouth the words, Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, to keep me walking out of the bedroom, up the stairs. I have to make it past the most comfortable sofa in the world (salvaged from Bill's grandparents' basement) then, too, but by then, it's become okay. My eyes open and adjust to the dark. I turn on the electric kettle. In the shower, I plan the morning's writing, and therefore every morning starts well.

I've been up appropriately early since Friday. I've done a lot of work in those morning hours, only about 90 minutes a morning (except Saturday and Sunday when I undertook a pretty gigantic academic revision task), including drafting a complete piece of flash fiction that's under 700 words between Monday morning and today. The last time I wrote a complete piece of short fiction--brand new, start to finish--was in March, when I wrote "Jonah, The Whale." I have a stack of short stories that I've been working on much longer than it took to draft my novel. Some of the reason for that, of course, is that I spent last year almost exclusively working on the novel. And I wrote that novel in those morning hours, some of the happiest I've ever spent, writing. 

The story shorter still: the process works for me. Why do I insist on stopping working for the process?

Time to start again. In this case, too, with writing, doing the same old thing continues to create new things. It requires little from me. So I can do that much. 

18 October 2013

dispatches from the shadow of the Tetons

I spent last weekend in Jackson, Wyoming, for the annual Wyoming Arts Conference. There's something terribly intimidating about attending a conference in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, which are visible from most parts of town. Right now, with the aspens all bright gold and the foothills and fields still their muddy Wyoming green-brown, the mountains don't look real. They are, of course, quite real--perhaps more real still because they were forbidden while I was there, the National Parks closed because of the government shut-down.

I wasn't sure what I expected in terms of what that would look like; I didn't expect white-and-orange striped sawhorses with stapled-on laminated signs barring entrance to half a dozen small side roads. I wonder what percentage of people I passed were stymied vacationers, how many of them were supposed to be hiking in Yellowstone right then, but if that was the case, it's not very apparent. Everything seemed to be business as usual, which includes a lot of people drifting here and there in search of a fresh coffee, which I did, too, between sessions. Downtown Jackson has a lot of good options for good coffee, and good food, and I took shameless advantage of that.

I didn't take advantage of the chance to take pictures while I was driving in, though, and I'm kicking myself because the drive home was done under a shroud of squalling snow, all the way from Jackson to Casper, and the trees were a sad, smeary mustard color, and the Tetons had simply disappeared from view.

Missed opportunities.

But having a hotel room to myself and a dislike for television and not much access to my usual evening inundation of sports meant the opportunity to actually do some more reading, which means, right now, Middlemarch.

It's on the list of Books I Am Ashamed At Having Not Read Before As An English Major, and it's so much a winter book, the kind for reading inside a blanket, and not simply because of the weather: if I'm wrapped in a blanket, or actually bundled up in bed, I'm not doing anything else. I don't have my laptop or my phone near. I'm reading. A book like Middlemarch requires full attention, and not simply because there are a fair lot of characters with not-so-dissimilar-names whose relationships hinge on a word or gesture in that incredibly nineteenth century way. Rather, Middlemarch demands and commands that attention because I want to pay attention at the smallest point of the sentence.

George Eliot is funny. I mean, honestly:
She pinched Celia's chin, being in the mood now to think her very winning and lovely--fit hereafter to be an eternal cherub, and if it were not doctrinally wrong to say so, hardly more in need of salvation than a squirrel.
I do, of course, have to reserve judgement on the whole--I'm not that deep into the book, and the fact that it requires all of my attention means that I don't pick it up as often as I would like. But it's good to have that reminder: I can't skip on to the page's end. I find myself doing that too often when I read, impatient and diving ahead for full paragraphs, only to remember--obviously--that I needed the middle of the page, and going back.

This book reminds me of some of the best parts of my graduate school experience, the dense and self-aware arc of the evolution of the novel. I loved those books. (I also hated them a little, but that's part of graduate school.) And this one, because I'm reading it for fun, I can simply enjoy.

(Which is good because there's still a lot of book left.)