Being Responsive

Today, I looked at the date of my last post and realized it was November 17th, which startled me. I haven’t been good at posting, or at responding to comments. I wanted to explain why, because I think it goes to the problem that many writers have, keeping up with their writing lives as well as whatever other lives they might be leading.

There are so many people to whom I’m supposed to respond, in one way or another. The most important group is my students, who often need my help with their writing. But I get emails about all sorts of other things as well: things for me as a professor, for me as a writer. And then there are facebook posts and messages, twitter posts and messages. On an average day, I can end up responding to a hundred people or more.  (Not necessarily individually, of course.  But on Friday I taught, and was therefore responsive to, 48 students.  You see how the number can climb.)

A friend of mine who is an extrovert told me that contact with other people energizes her. Because I’m an introvert, it wears me out. All of those responses are little bits of energy, going out from me to whomever I’m responding to. And right now, there isn’t very much replenishing that energy. It can be replenished in various ways: rest, beauty, pleasure. Contact with close friends, which is replenishing rather than draining. But those are all things I have very little time for right now, and as a result I am almost always tired. Too tired to be as responsive as I need to be.

Too tired to write, which is a problem. Writing is interesting because it’s the one thing that both drains and replenishes you. Writing a scene leaves me both exhilarated and exhausted. But I need to at least have enough energy to start. (And time. It’s the end of the semester, and there’s so little time right now.)

I don’t have any particular wisdom to impart here. I just need to figure out how to live differently. I understand why some writers become recluses: they can pour all that energy into their work. I can’t do that: I’m not enough of an introvert, and I would be lonely. But I need to find a balance, and I don’t know where it is.

So if I’ve failed to respond to you about something in the recent past, that’s why.

Over the last few days, I’ve had the last two lines of Dylan Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” going through my head. You know what I mean, right? Here is the last stanza:

“Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? But when words go through our heads repeatedly, it’s the unconscious speaking to us. (That’s how it speaks to us: through dreams, through poetry). And that’s not a good message to get. It means that I’m feeling like a free thing chained, even though I’m singing. But this is a problem to solve, a dilemma to get out of. Maybe I need to go down to the sea? I mean actually go down to the water, which is only a subway ride away from me. Sometimes, when your mind gives you metaphors, it helps to actualize them. Which reminds me, oddly enough, of John Masefield’s “Sea Fever”: “I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide / Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.”

Maybe if I hear that wild, clear call, I’ll figure out what to do.  Or maybe the sea itself, in its ancient beauty and wisdom, will spare me some of its energy . . .

Meditation by the Sea

(This is a painting called Mediation by the Sea that is hanging in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I don’t think the painter has been identified. It comes from the 1860s.)

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6 thoughts on “Being Responsive

  1. Oh man yes. On school days I spend at least half my day teaching and all of my day surrounded by people coming in and out, and middle schoolers require so very much energy. After that even dishes require more energy than I care to give. Which I guess is to say: I feel slightly less like a slacker now? ;-)

    One thing that’s helped me a lot this year is to have my writers’ group: at the very least, it forces me to spend a certain amount of time each month with several of my favorite people and it forces me to spend a certain amount of time each month reading and discussing people’s work in a way that I don’t get to for my job. It gives me a lot of energy, and I’m finding that being “in practice” at socializing (as it were) makes it less stressful to make other plans with people as well. On the other hand, there’s no way I would have had the time or energy for it last year (when I arguably needed that energy and friend-time even more). :-/

  2. Yes. Go down to the water. Take time. My experience declares that time taken to fill up allows you to spill over everywhere – writing, responding, students. I’m an introvert too. And I’m an artist. And a coach. In the last 6 months I have shoved do-ing aside and made a ton of room for be-ing and been amazed at what still gets accomplished – in much less time, with a better attitude (one of love actually), and how much clarity I have around what comes next. Getting to clear tends to unchain you. Go down to the water and listen!

  3. I had a hunch you were short on time, and as much as I love your comments to our
    replies here, I’d rather think you are comfortable and balancing many tasks with joy.
    My good luck, is, after a hectic life I have come to the grace of time. The frustration
    never ceases but it is smaller. About 15 years ago, I did all the 12 steps of Julia
    Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, all by myself. I still do morning pages tho sometimes
    they begin in the afternoon, and count on going on what she calls ‘an artist date’
    with myself. That is, to be nobody but me on a quest for beauty and balance. For me, balance is between the need to be in compatible companionships, theatre,
    writing, going to concerts and plays and movies, and the necessary solitude of art.

  4. Whenever I find there is too much stuff in my head and not enough fire and heat left in my belly, it is usually to the sea or the woods where I retreat, especially to places where there is still a sense of the old wilderness. In those places being lost doesn’t ever feel like a bad thing. Since nature is where I recharge my creative and spiritual batteries, I am trying to find a way of getting into nature more regularly as part of a ritual of self-care. But it is hard! When I can’t get there, sometimes I will just carry my favorite book in my bag to work. Not to read. More like as a sort of beautiful talisman against fatigue, bad fortune, and mental gloom.

  5. I’m not sure I’d take the Dylan Thomas lines being repeated in your head as implying you are a free thing chained. You are not a prisoner of circumstance, you are only a prisoner of your own mind. You are longing for something of which you don’t seem quite sure of yet ( you think having more time might solve it, and maybe it would ) but I think it is something more. Like John Lennon said, “life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.” Life is about making choices. Like you chose to leave the corporate law world and enter the literary realm. Like I chose to stop by here and leave you this comment which you may or may not read. Good luck on your life journey, and know you are not the only one searching!

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