Tag Archives: write

remember death

Recently, a friend sent me this piece in which Russell Banks discusses his inspiration for writing: a gravestone inscription of Remember Death that sits near his desk.

I’m reminded (as I read Banks’s words now, and often when I write) of Andrew Marvell’s line, “at my back I always hear Time’s wingéd chariot hurrying near.” For some reason it gives me the feeling of a hand lightly touching the small of my back; a feminine image, a tuxedoed man ushering me inside while holding open the door. I don’t need to look over my shoulder to know that it is no mortal, but Death’s skeletal hand, resting on the curve of my spine.

Yet death is such an abstraction, so hard to keep near. I’ve more than once tried to be decisive about killing myself, tried to pick a date, so that I could write a suicide letter about the way I experience the world. Undoubtedly, the letter would turn into an essay and then a book and maybe something worthwhile would come of it. But I can’t convince myself quite enough that I’ll actually follow through with the suicide, at least never for long enough to actually write something worthwhile. Or, the times I begin to draft such an essay in my head, I’m already so far in despair that I know—with supposed certainty—that nothing worthwhile would ever come of it, or of any work at all. Everything is meaningless, I mumble to myself, everything is vapor.
Sometimes I worry that because I don’t remember death and because I don’t write—the causation is important—I’ll be diagnosed, someday soon, with an exotic, fast-moving, incurable disease and have to scribble down just one of the dozen books I have inside me before the spirit expires.
So here I am. Anxious, unproductive. Paralyzed.
Jesus said: If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring  forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will kill you. It feels true. And I don’t now how to get it out.
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the year of the pen

Last time the year rolled over, I decided to give up my obsession over goals and achievements in favor of focusing on one thing. An ancient Greek poet wrote, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  I was driving myself crazy trying to be a fox and never achieving enough to meet my standards, so I decided to try being a hedgehog.

I’m naming 2013 the Year of the Pen, the year in which I commit myself to writing. I chose a specific topic and am making notes on it every day. I enrolled in fewer classes so that I have more time to dedicate to my own projects. For Christmas, my husband bought me a beautiful leather notebook that safekeeps my thoughts, observations, ranting internal monologues.

I’m nervous. This feels like a big risk, and an unstable career path. For someone who was so goal-oriented and achievement-driven, stepping back from academia feels like a failure in itself. To leave a sturdy career path with regular paychecks in order to write feels irresponsible. But I’m doing this. By the end of the year, I’ll have at least one substantive work to start sending to publishers.

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