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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing, and retreating

Lately I've been dreaming about a writer's retreat, though I don't even know where I'd go and can't afford it at the moment. But in my head, 4 or 5 days in some beautiful oasis somewhere sounds heavenly. Much as I now have the perfect writing home, sometimes it's not where I want to write--or rather, my life is not the one I want. I don't know whose, exactly, I would want, but there's this restlessness that I don't know what to do with. The conundrum is that the more I retreat from what really matters, my words, the worse off I am. I know that deep deep down, that the only way to both afford anything beyond the basics of rent and food and to fulfill whatever crazy impulse led me to being a writer rather than a lawyer is to not retreat from my deepest fears, insecurities, and flaws, but rather to put those front and center, blare them in the most well lit words and sentences I can concoct. I see glimpses of that depth, that rawness, sometimes, on good days, or good hours, when I can let go of my to do lists of busy work, stop doing the math on word counts, and say something human and real and scary.

I wonder if I've lost that ability to actually turn all the awkwardness inside me into something worthwhile. I read a memoir recently that I hope to get to cover, and it got right in there, into the heart with all its yearnings, the gaps between who we are inside and who we look like on the outside. I know that too often I kill my wisps of writerly dreams by speaking them out loud, letting someone else suddenly control the story. Sometimes those embryonic ideas are so filmy, wispy, airy and invisible that they disappear when you let them out too soon. Most of the time, I don't even dare think them. I let the fear win, because I am so desperately afraid of failure.

Today I wished for the first time in a long time for a "real" job, one with a boss and coworkers and tasks and insurance and a paycheck. Out of all the things I hate about freelancing, which are small compared to what I love about it, being my own boss is the worst. I despite being anyone's boss, but I'm a bratty employee to myself, which is, of course, irrational, but my worst bratty self is hardly rational. I hit a wall where I couldn't see that, in fact, I'd written three quarters of the essay, that the other quarter was waiting for me to go somewhere more than just the surface of the topic. All I saw was that one invisible, empty quarter, and I retreated. I let that blank space tell me what my day was, what my worth was. I'm starting to figure out that freelancing isn't about any one day or piece or story or book, but the sum of them all, and the daily pushing of myself to Go There, rather than retreat when it gets hard. Sometimes that means sitting with that pitch that you've agonized about for months and spending two hours even though it's not your area of expertise, to a dream magazine that arrives every month in your mailbox. Sometimes it's pretty much praying that that last damn story to finish that stupid book shows up, somehow, somewhere, cause you're sick of it and sure that no one will want to read it anyway. And sometimes it's the opposite, that sublime moment when something crosses your path that's the perfect phrase or prop or example, or you overhear a phrase and steal it for a story title, the plot bubbling up in seconds to frame those pretty words you can already envision in a table of contents.

I still want to go to a writing retreat--somewhere the air is filled with people like me, except they don't just dream big, but live big, write big--like I still wish I could go to Edinburgh, but I also know that in this process of figuring out who I am as a person and a writer, the most important place I have to be is in a chair, in front of a blank page, filling it up not with the same old thing, but something new, something daring, something that will very likely horrify someone, somewhere, with its realness. Today was one of those test days, making sure I still believe, that I see the end of the rainbow, and that if I don't, I regroup, reconfigure, give up what's not working and find something new to replace it. 2013 seems to keep throwing me curves, flipping anything that seems secure, taunting me to not just pretend I want to write, but to actually do it, or let it go. Though I've picked a profession where defeat and rejection are built into the marrow of it, I realized today that I don't truly want to retreat from writing, that, if anything, somewhere deep down I like those challenges. That's a hard truth to face, but I'll be back tomorrow, pitching probably far above my station, hopefully a little more ready to push forward, rather than retreat.

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