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 . . .
(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.)