Thursday, April 28, 2011

When the just-right words aren't there

For now I've put aside the post I am trying to write on how, I believe, most of us live adaptively. It is there, in draft form, resisting teeth-gritting efforts to make it behave. Susan mentioned a short story of hers that is convalescing. My piece is still at the dinner table, refusing to eat its big-as-a-quarter and mealy lima beans, the lights have been turned out and I expect in the morning to find that it has either run away or slept at the table, unwilling to give an inch.

An idea which appears so clearly, which I could probably articulate if I could talk it through, adjusting as I go, will not always surrender itself, at least not in the expected amount of time, to becoming orderly and coherent. In some ways I am still at the vintage Underwood, rolling a sheet of copy paper (and making a carbon copy) into place with the certainty that in, say, 45 minutes I will have something ready to go to press. It doesn't always happen that way and, as I would like to have one or two more posts written before the end of the month, this topic has been set aside.

I really don't believe in writers' block, though I have days - or more - when the words will not fit themselves together in a pleasing fashion, when I know my correspondence voice would speak for me but I reject it as being too informal or goofy or unprofessional. As though there were rules here.

Years after the fact, how many of us still subject ourselves to the black-and-white, good or bad, live or die rigidity under which we grew up? Standards, expectations of a certain level of work, keep us sitting up straight and, please, inhibit us from making up words like ginormous or bromance. Is there room for those of us who write to allow something to be good enough? Or will there always be the wish to polish and edit, to refine and clarify, to know that confusing isn't the word we want but murky is?

As I move with the caution of a bomb diffuser into poetry, I see how prose may be more forgiving, how fewer words require even greater precision. There are moments when I question whether becoming more demanding of my writing is the road to contentment and I know the answer is yes. It is about becoming better at what we love. I would not be happy as a half-assed auto mechanic and will do what I can not to be half-assed at writing. Eventually we reach a plateau, but if what we seek is growth and not immortality we may be able to rest there in peace. For now, the essay that cannot be coaxed wins. But in a generous, parting gesture it suggested something that might fill this space for now.

16 comments:

Erin in Morro Bay said...

Lima beans! The bane of my existence between 4 and 13. Yes, we had to sit at the table until we finished them - and they got bigger and more mealy the longer they sat on one's plate. Adulthood may not confer the right to do whatever one wants, as we thought when we were children - but at least I never have to eat lima beans again!
Erin

Antares Cryptos said...

My blogging voice is my correspondence voice: informal, goofy and unprofessional.
At last the freedom, liberty and equality.
Vive la difference!
*waves flag*

(Either that or time, that unwieldy beast, does not permit me to go back and edit, polish or refine every single post)

WV: dilici :)

Donna B said...

Looking forward to the results of your labors...I believe in you and know you will find your voice.

Vespersparrow said...

Dear Marylinn, every thing in Nature has its own gestation period--seeds, baby animals--and so all of us who write must patiently accept that it will always be so, that part of the process of writing is letting it sit on the kitchen table--in front of lima beans, if you wish--while you go about doing something else. It will work itself out in your deeper mind, where there is no static, no criticism--and it will reach for what you need and will hand it to you on a platter one day when you're not expecting it. Patience is everything.

And yes, you must keep learning, you are as hungry for it now as you ever were. Hopefully, after a bit, you will be content with what you've learned and the pieces you've worked out, and that critical voice which you'll always need in part can stand at tht back of the chorus so it doesn't have the 'teeth' it used to. It will let you just do your work.

I hope there will come a time when you can be satisfied with what you've done, and in that peace, not hear the harpy shrieking in the background. xo

Jayne said...

And fill it well, it did! Marylinn, you put on the boxer's gloves here, put 'em up against my biggest fear. That plateau is a killer. It's not only dry, barren, but it's so vast that it strips me clean. The openness is scary. I want to run for the hills to hide my daft nakedness.
No matter what you write, you do it well. Very well. You need not worry a bit. I always look forward to what has been percolating here. The fresh roasted aroma is sensationally awakening! :)

susan t. landry said...

i'll second that hubba hubba, marylinn; whatever you write, you have a distinctive, measured, poetic, and rational voice--even when you are musing on topics that are as slippery as a peeled grape.
xo
susan

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - There are enough rights - no more lima beans, no clothes one can't stand - to have made it worth waiting for. I think I have selective amnesia for what resulted from NOT eating the lima beans, for I did not. Bleccchhhh...big enough to slice and share, mutant and vile. No more! xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Antares Cryptos - Sometimes that more casual voice creeps in and is welcomed. And some topics just seem better suited to less frivolity...but I could be making it all up. A mind like the wheel of fortune, stopping on whatever edict fate delivers. But if we weren't subject to internal dialogs, we wouldn't be doing this, would we? :0

Marylinn Kelly said...

Donna - Hello, good to see you here. Whether that essay ever comes together or not, I plan to keep rolling along, making friends with the voice seems here to stay. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - I assume that the adaptive post will either come together or it won't. Sometimes that soapbox shouter part of me feels compelled to take on a topic...then the fever may cool or a different perspective present itself.

The harpy really doesn't do so much shrieking, or if she does, I no longer hear it as loudly. There is always, or so I assume, the wish to do well but within that, the work eventually has to be put up on the wall. Otherwise, what's the point. You will surely hear me say this many more times...this, too, is a process which I have come to understand and my patience with it waxes and wanes. Writing is an essential part of me but so is the desire for a quiet mind. So on I go, playing Henry Kissinger between the two. (and does all the hunger ever really leave?) xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Jayne - Thank you...and for sensing that fresh roast is nearly brewed, a pleasant image. I can only know my own process until I hear from others that theirs in similar, but no matter how many years, how many essays or articles or stories there have been, there comes the barely-distinguishable thought that this might be the day when my wobbly ankles will give me away. Keeping at it is the only indicated thing. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Susan - A peeled grape, or, around here, a peeled mango, elusive and uncatchable. Thank you. I hope the bits all wind up back in the bowl; sometimes I'm more certain than others. xo

Laoch of Chicago said...

I definitely think writing poetry is hard than writing prose. My guess is that poetry is more of a right brained activity than prose which is definitely left brained.

Angella Lister said...

and yet the right words did come. the ones that were ready to arrive in this thoughtful post.

those other words will come in their time.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - I have yet to know which part of my brain will (notice future tense) be the source of poetry. Not any part I am currently employing, it would seem.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angella - Thank you. All we can do is show up and trust the words will come, isn't it? xo