This holiday weekend has been full of barbeques and parades and swimming and food and drinks. Yesterday we spent the day with friends at their lake house. Today, in the morning, my son and I walked in our local parade with the cub scouts. This July 4th afternoon, however, was free, nothing planned, nothing pressing to accomplish, an afternoon perhaps to sit down at the computer and write. Time, free time, so glorious and rare these days.
My computer was calling me, but I kept refusing to answer it. I slept, I watched TV and I worked outside for a short time. Nothing was written, not a word. I kept telling myself “don’t worry, you don’t have anything to write about anyhow.” Sometimes I feel that way, that there just isn’t anything interesting to say. I beat myself up about it too, even though writing to me is only just a hobby at this point, something I do for fun, as a creative release, a way to put my thoughts and ideas and humor into a place where others can read it. It’s not a job or a career. There is no editor breathing down my neck to get something accomplished. So why worry about it? I don’t know, but I do.
Perhaps it’s because I enjoy it and it feels good to write something. I think creativity is like a drug for people who have talents like writing or art or music. It’s not about the finishing of a piece; it’s the effort that goes into it that feeds the artist’s soul. When you are working, you are in that place where the mind is comforted by the words that flow onto a page, or by the paint splashing onto a canvas, or the notes coming from a guitar. When the piece is finished, I in particular, immediately begin stressing about what will be next.
When I finally grabbed my laptop at about 5:00 p.m. this evening, I glanced across the room at one of our bookshelves and there sat at copy of a book that my grandmother had given me as a birthday present back in 1992. The book is The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard and it documents her life as an author and the challenges and successes she often encountered. I had always told my grandmother that I wanted to write a book, although as I look back on that, I really had no idea what I was telling her and what my motivations were to make such a statement. I never wrote much as a young person and never felt compelled to study writing or journalism in school. Maybe in hindsight though, I knew something that just wasn’t ready to show its face to me.
As I was waiting for my laptop to boot up, I grabbed the book off the shelf and began perusing some of the pages. I had read it from cover to cover back in 1992, but I don’t remember much about it. Glancing through the pages and reading some of the passages, I came to a story she tells about one of the many days spent writing the Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This particular passage caught my eye as it starts out;
On the Fourth of July, my husband and our friends drove into the city, Roanoke, to see the fireworks. I begged off; I wanted to keep working. I was working hard, although of course it did not seem hard enough at the time – a finished chapter every few weeks. I castigated myself daily for writing too slowly. Even when passages seemed to come easily, as though I were copying from a folio held open by smiling angels, the manuscript revealed the usual signs of struggle – bloodstains, teethmarks, gashes and burns.
I put the book down and thought it quite timely – as I sat here struggling to write something on July 4th, 2011, I trip over a passage where Annie Dillard is having the same crisis. Of course she was on her way to writing one of the classic books of our time, while I was only trying to write a blog post. But it made me feel validated in a small way, knowing that even the great authors struggle at this thing we call writing. She finishes the passage telling us how she did spend time that evening writing and at one point she parts the venetian blinds in her study and looks outside.
“And there were the fireworks, far away. It was the Fourth of July. I had forgotten. They were red and yellow, blue and green and white, they blossomed high in the black sky many miles away. The fireworks seemed as distant as the stars but I could hear the late banging their bursting made. The sound, those bangs so muffled and out of sync, accompanied at random the silent, far sprays of color widening and raining down. It was the Fourth of July, and I had forgotten all of the wide space and all of historical time. I opened the blinds a crack like eyelids, and it all came exploding in on me at once – oh yes, the world.
I hope you all are having a wonderful Independence Day holiday weekend. I hope you all got to spend some precious time with friends and family. And I hope that amongst the food and the drinks and the fireworks, you were able to find some time to put your words onto a page.
Happy Fourth of July!