Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Words, time and words

Paintings by Kristin Vestguard.
There is a shipwreck aspect to writing. Surrendering to the call means other pieces of life are abandoned. The tighter its grip, the farther I drift from ordinary. I hadn't thought of writing and me in these terms until today, until a ship I hadn't known I was waiting for sailed into view.

I am so thankful for the writers I have met recently through our blogs, yet it is still a solitary, lonely business. At times the connections make it feel more remote for I see where others have found the thread they need and I, in my own eyes, am stumbling around, getting my foot caught in a bucket, stepping on a rake, having misplaced the last known pencil. I find it impossible to explain the writing desire - or is it a compulsion? It is not like anything else that I can name...a day's work can produce pages of words, but if they are not the right words...

So much about life I find to be acts of faith and writing is surely one of them. So is getting out of bed in the morning. A writer has a place she wants the writing to take her - and those who read the words - but, at least as I practice it, the act is much closer to interpretive dance, I don't know which way I will bend until I do it, than to, say, something for which I have created an outline and have a...plan. I haven't done an outline for anything since junior college and what I remember is writing the outline after the paper. You can guess what that did to my grade.

The left side of my brain gets a lot rest. It is never invited over to play when I write; the times when it has popped in to see what we were up to, its suggestions made me feel like I was trying to swim while zipped into a sleeping bag. While taking part in a fiction writing workshop, someone asked (not the classic "where do you get your ideas?"), "How do you know what happens next?" The only, the honest answer was, "When the car pulls up, I wait to see who gets out and then tell about it."

My rescue vessel arrived in the form of a writer friend who has taken some time away from writing to do the work for which we rely on that other side of the brain. Life, rude and intrusive or the opposite, sometimes needs us to talk to attorneys, reduce soaring piles of magazines and mail, make arrangements, show up. But in talking to her, feeling our mutual urgency about whatever it is that we're doing - for neither of us is sure, we just know we have to do it - I wept for knowing that this is not madness and that fact could be confirmed.

Drama in my everyday world is, in my opinion, something loathsome and to be avoided. When I use a word like madness my self-regulator tries to give me the stink eye. I look away, knowing this isn't the exaggeration it might seem. Pushing forward with a body of work that is not a novel, not a collection of poems or short stories, more a gathering of thoughts from heart, mind and spirit, is not a wholly rational act and, because of its solitary nature, becomes a questionable investment of all the resources, down to those dollar coins the post office machines give as change.

It may be a measure of commitment, the single mindedness that makes it possible to float so far from known landmarks without having a clue that I am no longer tethered. The work may be epic, the work may be one paragraph that builds upon another, or one word, followed by three more, but the force it exerts once the call is answered could pull a bulldozer out of quicksand.

One of my core beliefs is that each of us is called to something and as long as it does no harm, the possibilities are infinite. I wobbled and waffled for years, trying to understand the call, trying to meet its expectations, halfway trying to dodge it and substitute an activity like writing. It now has me for however long it takes or however long I last. There are far more meanings to the word surrender than waving the white flag.


Erin in Morro Bay said...

"There are far more meanings to the word surrender than waving the white flag." What a beautiful sentence - I stand in awe at times observing the power of your words.

Penelope said...

'It now has me for however long it takes...' Yes, the demanding task. We have each been given one, it seems. 'Alas!' or 'Joy!' — depending on the day or hour. Strength to you, Marylinn.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - Thank you so much...we who have this calling, this goal, all I know to do is press on, which I know you understand.

Penelope - Equal measures, sometimes, yet leaning toward joy...imagine what ill-fitting tasks might have come our way (although I don't believe that would happen). Thank you, and strength in your endeavors, as well.

Sherry O'Keefe said...

A writer has a place she wants the writing to take her -

several times lately you've made a comment that has been a key to the lock that has stifled me. the above line has helped me find my place again in my empty journal.

Robert the Skeptic said...

The need within me to write is not very compulsive. I think about the millions of books and the ga-zillion words that have been committed to paper and doubt that there would be anything I could ad that would be of any significance whatsoever.

But as a filmmaker, the parallel thought troubles me. Film is my media. I had a compelling and unique story to tell. But now that the story has been told, what then? Do I seek another? Do I wait until one presents itself? Or do I say, my one contribution is of significance on it's own merit and I need say no more.

It seems writers, though, are compelled to write or they cease to exist. Am I wrong?

Donna B. said...

Marylinn, you and I seem to be tethered to the same realization. We have done this before... In reading your post, I thought of a book I am reading: SHADOW DIVERS by Robert Kurson. It is about some American shipwreck divers who find an unknown German U-boat off the New Jersey coast. It is a true story and a movie is coming out in 2010...

In the book, describing the diving, (of which I have never experienced) they dive down 250 feet to the wreck, following a dive line. Visability is poor. They have so much time to search, then the majority of the time, they must return to the diving line, taking up to 90 minutes to decompress as they slowly rise to the surface.

This reminds me of what you were saying in your post about writing. It takes focus, disapline, risk, patience, following a plan, a structure, guidelines. Contrary to what I thought, the majority of the divers preferred to dive and search alone.

It is like diving, in that we dive into a dark abyss with a premise, a thought, an outline... we think we know where we are going, but then something else pops up and we want to explore it. We cannot deviate or allow our folly to overcome us or we lose our perspective.

We need to colaborate and support one another. I want to do a book on my Dad. I feel like someone dumped a truckload of slippery seaweed on me. I feel all tangled and confused. Overwhelmed and unsure where to start...

I can so relate to the solitary isolation of writing. We need a support group. That is the purpose of my blog, Discovering The Purpose Of Our Lives...we need to start a writers support group. What do you think?

Also, I went to Penny's (Penny's Word) blog and discovered it had been deleted. I emailed her personal email, hoping her daughter or husband would check it and give me an update, so I could share it with you and Jerry (as I know you both follow her too). I have not heard a word. Have you?
I am just sick about her accident and hope she has not had a turn for the worse...

Donna B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sultan said...

This is beautifully expressed.

Claire Beynon said...

Yes, yes, Marylinn. Surrender can be an act of courage, whether it has to do with standing up or standing down?

Thank you for another rich post. As other readers here have already said, your words are powerful, illuminating, a bunch of keys offered up in open hands - and so much more besides.

Seems to me you are doing what you must - writing. Because you have to and because you have valuable things to communicate. Your words contribute meaningfully to our community and connect up all kinds of dots along their way.

angela simione said...

"...and I, in my own eyes, am stumbling around, getting my foot caught in a bucket, stepping on a rake, having misplaced the last known pencil."

such a resonance. with the entire post, and especially this sentance. the drawings and bits of writing are some sort of attempt at manufacturing a flashlight for myself. a way to see the world so i can actual ask a question. pin a question down. and more often than not, i feel like i'm flailing rather than searching. but i've chosen to just keep on responding to whatever call this is. i can't not respond to it.

your statement "One of my core beliefs is that each of us is called to something and as long as it does no harm, the possibilities are infinite." is a massive comfort to me and right away i trust such an assertion. i need to trust it, i suppose. and to know that i am not the only diver in the dark, to use another commenter's metaphor.

thank you, marylinn


Marylinn Kelly said...

Sherry - Thank you for telling me. I am so glad that you have found your place in what is, by now, a journal no longer empty. To think that what we need to find for ourselves, when scattered, may be seen as valuable by others...I could not hope for more.

Robert - I can't say that my need to write contains anything as altruistic as adding to the vast body of written work; a thought that seems meaningful in my head may be much less so when exposed to the light. We get to write. We take nothing away from anyone by doing so. And while we (I assume) still exist whether we write or not, the experience is painfully diminished.

With film as a medium, the process of creating is, first of all, more logistically complex. If you do it without collaboration, many skills are required. I guess my question is, what part of it is the most fulfilling? I interned at a cable station, learning camera, editing, make-up, on-air, news writing...of which I really loved the camera and, briefly, especially after watching Haskell Wexler's work, thought of making documentaries.

From the stories you share on your blog, it seems clear that you know what is worth telling. We, and the world, contain endless points of view, myriad stories. Of course your contribution is significant and stands alone. But does the process keep tugging at you? I believe your eye will lead you. I am coming to accept that the act of working at something we love is sufficient in itself; that we have a result or a product is a gift. If you want to talk more about this, I am happy to continue the dialogue.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Donna - Thank you for your thoughtful comment on this post. I understand what you are saying, though I think we may each have a unique approach to our process. For some, collaboration is an effective answer, for others, it may need to be more solitary. I have found what I would call a supportive community through meeting other blog authors who write or produce creative material. For me, right now, I find the day doesn't have enough hours or I don't have quite enough of myself in it. Just the process of writing what I do write requires pushing ahead with as little distraction as I can arrange.

I am not good at a plan, I never have been, unless the plan is simply showing up at the keyboard. I know that consistency through structure works very well for many highly successful writers. But I think intuition also plays an important part in what we create. If some nugget appears and lures us in a different direction, how can we know its value if we don't pursue it, at least for a while?

The project you are taking on, the book about your father, must feel overwhelming as you look at the sum of his, so far, 90 years. You notice I write in short, posting-length blurts. For today, that's what I can manage. Sometimes we benefit from setting the piece aside and either writing - or doing - something else, often returning with a fresh point of view. We can talk of this more, and I know we will. But right now, I don't feel that I am able to commit to being a reliable, participating member of a support group but am there in spirit with all you gather.

And I haven't heard any more about Penny, but suspect that her family is focused on seeing her recover and keeping themselves as close to normal as they can. I know there must be many eager to know how she's doing,but we are, at best, a distant thought. And seeing how they stepped forward immediately to let us know of her accident and progress, I think we will hear when there is something to report. For now, all I know to do is keep them all in my thoughts.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - Thank you so much, I appreciate your words and they help encourage me for whatever is next.

Claire - My thanks to you. I read your comment to a friend who understood how much it means to be seen as contributing to the greater community. You and Sherry both mentioned keys which tells me that what I dig for and unearth as part of my process resonates more widely, which is so affirming. May we and our dots continue to connect.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Angela - You are far from the only diver in the dark, as Donna helped us know. My sense is, however, that all of life is like that, not just creating. It is not a negative aspect, it simply is, and the more often we acknowledge that and speak of it to one another, the closer we feel to whatever is the center.

It may be a defective part of me, but I am wary of the supremely overconfident. Doubt may be the shameful sock with the hole that we put on - forgot the laundry, again - when we wear our best suit and best face to go out and champion ourselves. I have trouble believing that anyone is without at least a particle of it.

It could just be for today and tomorrow I will have a very different tune, but I think there is something almost giddy about the magnitude of uncertainty we humans face. What warriors, what optimists we are to keep showing up when nothing is promised or guaranteed.

TO ALL WHO HAVE COMMENTED: Again, I thank you for helping create a serious, meaningful dialogue about our shared process...I am, at times, briefly overcome and need a space before I reply. You all make this so much more than I ever expected. xoxo

Donna B. said...

Hello again dear friend. I am sad to bring this terrible tragic news, my Penny's husband emailed me. She died 8-26-10 of a cerebral hemmorhage and was buried yesterday afternoon. Her blog and email have been deleted. I wrote about her yesterday on both my blogs.

I keep re-reading your blog. You express yourself so elequently and the words you choose are so inspiring and magical, generating seeds of creative thought as I read them.

You are your Father's daughter and he has passed a talented gift onto you. Embrace it, because you have an incredible and captivating way with words.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Oh, Donna, I am shocked and saddened to learn about Penny. Halfway around the world, known only through our blogging correspondence, she was so full of life and love for her family, so generous with her praise. If you are in further touch with her husband, please share my condolences and healing thoughts. I am so sorry.

Thank you for letting me know, as well as any others who come here who followed her writing and photography. And I so appreciate your kind words. Aren't we fortunate that our mutual compulsion brought us together. Take care, my friend. xoxo

RachelVB said...

this is a beautiful post. I often wonder about the walking world and the writing world. The further I go into the writing world, the longer I want to stay there. Can it lead to obsession at some point? There is a pull to immerse myself in that world because it is a world of color and fear and creativity and so much possibility. It is a muddy world where nothing is clear. I'm learning this the more I make myself a part of it.
We are lonely creatures and want so much to be a part of things.
I haven't had much time to write in the past couple of days and my need is even greater than it was when I was doing it every day.
I feel it is the most natural high. It's a drug to me - that's the only likeness I can find. It's a want. It has highs and lows.
All I know is that I can't stop it. and my need for it is something I may never be able to touch. But it will move me forward in life and writing.
Once again I think we need balance between the worlds - but that differs for every person. I love both aspects of my life - walking and writing. I want to maintain both.
You are not alone in what you feel - though we feel our loneliness in such drifts.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rachel - Thank you. I think all who respond to a call of creative work find their feet in two worlds. Then, for me, one day the call became more insistent and I knew, as there can only be one thing at the top of the list, that it was writing. The process for me, for today, is about the doing and not about the destination. It may be an obsession, it demands a great deal and it absolutely is a high, it is breathing. But I do think that we are allowed a certain balance - where else will we gather the images and ideas to translate into words? - while acknowledging that we have given ourselves to this task. I am quite sure there are many of us, each forging ahead in our unique way. xoxo Marylinn

Elizabeth said...

Fantastic post that I'll chew on for a while. Thank you Marylinn. You're a constant here in blogland -- a true curator of the beautiful and interesting, as well as writer.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Elizabeth - Thank you. Hard to remember when this universe didn't exist, with all we've found here, all we do. I take your words very much to heart. xo