It's About Being Clear
Letter from the Editor, Fall 2011/ Winter 2012 originally appeared here at Our Stories Literary Journal
Before I sit down to write, to lay out the next scene of my novel, piling away on a chapter I; I try to be clear, as clear as I can in the process of what I am going to get to next in my book. It is clarity that I am aiming at above all else. I do not believe I am alone in this endeavor, in fact, I believe it is one of the universal elements that tie us to the past writers—chances are Homer had a fly or two buzzing in his ears, to the current masters of the written word who late at night stop writing as the rain comes down outside of their window. We are trying to commune with something deeply spiritual and waiting for the moment when the words come quickly out to find their way to our page.
We, us writers, are all struggling to “make time” to give ourselves an hour, four hours, a half hour before the kids are asleep to churn out some magic. Getting to that space where you are not just dawdling online and cruising your friends Facebook photos and reading the Huffington Post, or opening up whatever application you use to write to settle in and jot down as much as you can before the timer expires, the kid starts crying, the boss shouts over the phone, “Do you have that TPS report or not?”
I read recently read somewhere (does it matter where?) that Jonathan Frazen took the great leaps in his personal life to remove the wireless card in his computer, he superglued out the Ethernet plugs ensuring that his laptop, (or his desktop or his iPad or his whatever, who cares) could not access the internet AT ALL while he was working on his latest. He removed the external web interference so he could use his computer like a typewriter. This is a way to go to silence the inner telatape, no? I thought of doing the same, tried. I can't do it. More aptly, I don't give a damn to bother. It hasn’t exactly worked for me as a writer—I am constantly bouncing around ideas, attempting to get my facts straight and “clearing the air” in different aspects of my life in order to transform the writing that I’m working on to get to the work. Distraction, to me, is part of the process to get to the silent part of the brain that lets the writing come out. It is the discipline that get there that matters, not the amount of gorilla glue you have oozing out of your computer's orifices. The privilege that Frazen and other writers who have working writing gigs is by teaching or being endowed with book deals is a world that only exists within a small, finite group. These are the writers that can let the agent or personal assistant take care of all of the bills, the nannying, the etectra, ectera, to just get right down to it they don’t have to do much of anything besides, well, sit around and write. Brilliant, no. This is not stated with bitterness or jealously but with the reality that we are not at the level of the professional writer—at least not right now. You must accept that the best practices of the professional writer will not be our own. We must make do with the time and space that we get to write our own creative work, as it comes. So I do not advocate taking your brand new Macbook and ripping out the wireless card and smashing it with a ball point hammer screaming, “Take that wireless world, now I am free!” because, in a sense, you are no more free or “clear” (as I like to say) to write than you were before. You still have all the quibbles of modernity clapping you on your back while you’re trying to work on the novel, the short story, the poem, etc.. You still need to figure out how to get the student loans refinanced and you still have the boss who is shouting at you now to not only get that TPS report done but who is likely to fire you because you superglued lego macho man Randy Savage into your Ethernet plug. Bad, very bad.
Here’s what I suggest-- at various times during your day you should be taking inventory of what is ailing your psyche. For me, lately, I have been concerned with a friend who lives far away from me in Hawaii. She is going through a rough patch so I am keeping up a correspondence with her and want to ensure that our friendship is not negatively impacted by the novel and vice-versa, feel me? I want to ensure that whatever it is that she is going through that but that I am addressing it directly to her. That I am writing her an email, that I am calling, skyping, texting, blahblah because I know—I am hyper aware (because it has happened) that whatever it is that is sitting on my shoulder I will end up taking away from my work. I’ll be distracted thinking to myself, “I should really write her back an email,” and then what happens to that hour—it gets poopified. The writer does not need to be a completely self-absorbed narcissist only interested in what resides between their pages, either. We can take time to connect with our outside world, get clarity with those who we love the most and set the world right. To me, writing with this sort of peace or clarity in my heart allows me to access the world that I have created in a thoughtful and deliberate way, which then taps the emotionality that we have waiting to be explored. I believe I am a better, more humane and thoughtful writer when I am okay with the world around me. Some of you may disagree and that’s fine, there are far too many examples of writers who have shuffled their families and friends around like cattle through their lives, pissing on friends and mates like they were the dead carcasses of war victims. That is not the sort of writer—no—that is not the sort of human being that I want to be. So in short, the sort of writer that you are is a reflection of the sort of human being that you are—I believe this.
One last point and I want to address here for a second is the privilege of being a male writer. Women, I hear you roar. The work of the children, the unevenness of society and pay which provides a steady gainful employment in the world of IT, business and administration, and fields dominated by men has continued to be a bastion of male privilege, leaving women at home or facing lesser pay regardless of their brilliance or the power of their writing. Personally, if it was between a dude making a few million off of crashing big banks and a woman writing a novel, I’m picking the woman every damn time.
The laws and benefits that govern that a woman is to stay home with child are bizarrely uneven. Employers typically provide women with scant time off for pregnancy and then just some added weeks in exchange for the additional charge of raising a child, all the while braving the societal disorders that implicitly state that: man work earn big money and woman stay home and make bigger baby, is well, a sham fest garbage pile that every couple must examine as they foray into parenthood. So, I am calling on every man whose partner is a writer—all of you listen up, “Give your partner time during the day to write, you have to do this!” Repeat after me: ‘my job is not more important than their novel,’ good! Perfect. You need to do this just so that you can support the world of letters. You are doing the world a favor by supporting your partner in their quest to find some relatively small amount of time to write every day—think about it, how much time do you spend in a given week just straight up loafing around at work? The extra long martini lunches with the guys, etc.. (maybe I’m missing Mad Men, sorry) cruising the internet, playing fantasy football or what have you. Not that I’m saying your time loafing isn’t important—it is—just think for a damn moment how badly your partner wants to be getting to their desk to write. Think of it this way: if you give them an hour a day where you are taking the kids to the park, out to eat a snack, where you’re just zoning out with them on the Wii or whatever and Mom doesn’t have to worry about them, she could write a page or two a day. Really! A page or two a day means that she’ll have a four hundred page novel and two hundred pages of short stories in one year. IN ONE YEAR DUDES. That’s huge. So instead of complaining about your boss during that one hour when you get home—just chill on that until dinner time (which you should be making by the way, or ordering some Thai, mmm me likey the Pad See Euu) and let her write. Kiss her on the forehead and take the newborn out of her arms. Send her your love as a partner and say, “I want to help you make your dream of getting that novel published a reality.” That would earn you those new slippers for Christmas. Boss.
To me, being clear is the only way that I am able to write every day. I have maintained a page a day for the past 11 months and I have 360 pages of a manuscript that I am about to finish. I could not have done it without my lovely wife and by being clear in my life. Thank you all for listening, now go on and get to it.