The Quiet Day

No more status reports. There’s no more status to report. I’m done.

It’s a nice feeling.

That’s what I experienced today. For the last few days I’d been rushing around, trying to make sure I knew where to go, what to do and say for the start of the semester. So even after the dissertation was handed in, I was a bit frantic. But today I didn’t teach, and I just stayed home planning the semester. Doing work for later. And for the first time in three years, I didn’t have a dissertation to write. Oh, I have plenty of work that I’ll need to focus on soon. But that one enormous project was not hanging over my head. I felt almost light-headed from the sensation of it.

I’m still in that strange state where I don’t quite know what to write, still adjusting to life post-dissertation. So I’m going to give you more quotations from the wonderful Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing.

Bradbury lists some of his favorite writers, including Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas. And he writes,

“Think of all these names and you think of big or little, but nonetheless important, zests, appetites, hungers. Think of Shakespeare and Melville and you think of thunder, lightning, wind. They all knew the joy of creating in large or small forms, on unlimited or restricted canvasses. These are the children of the gods. They knew fun in their work. No matter if creation came hard here and there along the way, or what illnesses and tragedies touched their most private lives. The important things are those passed down to us from their hands and minds and these are full to bursting with animal vigor and intellectual vitality. Their hatreds and despairs were reported with a kind of love.”

I love that last line, because I think that is what we do with our experiences, as writers: we take both the good and the bad of our lives and turn them into art, and in doing so we show a kind of love, because you have to love something to write about it, even if it’s hunger and cold and despair. Writers are alchemists. They turn the base metal of ordinary life into gold.

What Bradbury is talking about here is writing with a kind of zest and enjoyment for writing and for life, and I agree with that. Writing can be hard, but if it’s not something we enjoy doing, something we sit down to eagerly, we wouldn’t do it.

He continues:

“What has all this to do with writing the short story in our times?

“Only this: if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is – excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health.”

I think that’s a useful thing for me, in particular, to keep in mind. Because I work in a field where we are told to pay attention to the market, to what’s going on commercially, what’s popular now. But if I pay too much attention, I won’t be paying attention to the stories inside my head, the stories that genuinely come from me or through me (however they come). Vincent Van Gogh paid attention to the images inside his head, and they came out of him, and they were magnificent even if no one recognized them at the time. And no, I don’t particularly want to end up like Van Gogh, but I do want to create things that are individual, that are recognizably mine. And that are worth creating for their own sake, even if no one reads them (although of course I want them to).

A final word from Bradbury:

“I have come up with a new simile to describe myself lately. It can be yours.

“Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me.

“After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.

“Now, it’s your turn. Jump!”

Which seems like an excellent way to end a blog post.

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3 Responses to The Quiet Day

  1. Nivair says:

    Wow. Awesome awesome awesome post. Thanks for all the wisdom, from others AND from you.

  2. Matt says:

    “No more status reports. There’s no more status to report. I’m done.”

    Huzzah!

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