Friday, April 25, 2014

What You Are Working On and What Works on You

You have a friend who asks you with some regularity the question "What are you working on?"  Sometimes your answer surprises you, because it seems to come from one of the ten or twelve notebooks or clutter dumps spaced about your studio rather than from some inner focus associated with the mind, heart, or viscera.

You like the fact of the answer surprising you as much as you like the awareness that you are at any given time so scattered in your focus and so apt to be working on so many things at once rather than the equivalent of the actor in some stage or rehearsal or performance, remaining "in character" all the while.

Your process has made a measure of sense to you, even though most of the time the idiosyncratic nature of it appears to you to be working against itself.  Some of the voices in your head who belong to entities not a part of the cooperative that is you are voices that chide you for your scatter.  

To this day, indeed, to this very day, you pay some homage to one of these voices by making a habit of making your bed a first thing priority.  You make your bed before you dress.  Even if there is coffee left over from the night before, within easy reach, you do not allow yourself a sip until the bed seems restored to a semblance of what it looked like the last time Lupe, the maid, appeared to change the laundry.

One of the inner arguments you have with yourself is the one in which one of your more rigid internal presences argues--actually taunts you--with the vision of how many more things you'd have in your published book case were you to work exclusively on one project until it is done.

Your appointed spokesperson for the counter argument is quick to present the impossibility of your life, as now constituted, to such a path.  You are, this spokesperson posits, geared to the parameters of that nasty buzzword, multitasking.  Your strategy has for some time dealt with the need to do a number of relevant and irrelevant things during the course of the day, having the result if you making use of spare moments between such varied chores as teaching, editing, reading, exercise, household chores, and writing.

You rather like the sound of this spokesperson, once he finds the groove, reminding the jury that you are every bit as productive on such days as you are on days, say during summer vacation, when there is little or no teaching, when you are more apt to focus on a single chore.  Then, much like Spencer Tracy in his portrayal of the fiery lawyer Clarence Darrow, in Jerry Lawrence's play, Inherit the Wind, you drop the closing argument.  Sometimes, when you have a more or less uncluttered day to address your work, your priorities are capable of being naps or reading rather than composition.

You could, and have, had lifestyles in which you wrote all day and, for the sake of spare cash or, indeed, grocery money, would have to take some detours around a contract to deliver a novel by X date in order to craft an essay on Western history for the likes of Charlie Sultan, who published such magazines, or the occasional short story for a Western or science fiction or mystery magazine.

Life doesn't happen to you in one-project-to-the-end increments with enough regularity for you to get accustomed to it.  In fact, life doesn't happen to you that way any more than driving your 2008 Yaris anywhere at all allows you to look only straight ahead, ignoring the rear view mirror or those mounted on the sides at eye level.

When your friend asks you what you are working on, you may find yourself surprised to hear yourself referencing a short story you began some weeks ago or a novel you at present have as number four or five in future projects.

Only this morning, you found yourself thinking with some fondness about a nonfiction project you want to work on after you finish the novel you wish to get back to after you finish your current nonfiction project.  Part of the energy driving this future project is the audacity behind its concept, which will begin with a relevant essay on D.H. Lawrence and his still-felt influence, then present a series of twelve essays on American authors you've already chosen, reveling in the audacity that you will title this project Volume Two of what was D.H. Lawrence's Volume One.  There is even more energy to come from the fact of you recognizing a harmony you intend to be inherent in your essays with the tone and register of voice in Lawrence's Volume One.

To some extent, your plans are pie in the sky, potential arguments to the point of you wishing more to have written than to be in the midst of writing.  Again your Clarence Darrow-like spokesperson to your defense.  You do not minimize the time and effort needed for a project and in fact extend your own carrot before you; you will have to live a long time to get a shot at the things in your notes and notebooks.

You have just accepted delivery of a new batch of Field Notes notebooks to go along with the Moleskines and the yellow lined notepads. 

The true answer to the question is that you are working on yourself, in hopes of arriving at a state of greater understanding, mischief, and ability to outdo the horse whisperer and the dog whisperer by becoming the word whisperer.

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