Saturday, March 01, 2008

All lit up.


I spent a lot of yesterday sitting at my desk but not really doing much that was of any use. To be sure, yesterday was a piano lesson day, which meant that I was on foot or at the piano or errand-running for nearly three hours. But I had such a clear feel for how it would be to sit down at the computer and spend the rest of the day working--and then I only sat at the computer and puttered.

Just before I headed out to dinner, I drew a card from my Observation Deck (one of the many writing guides I brought over here with me; I believe that I've told you of my fondness for writing guides). "Ribe tuchus," it said. "Sit still." The trick of the Observation Deck is that you get a deck of cards and also a little guide book that explicates each card. I laughed at the idea of the "ribe tuchus" card and proceeded to flip through and draw some more cards. But when I opened the guide book, "ribe tuchus" was the page I reached first. Right, I thought. I guess I should take this one seriously.

And thank goodness I did. I decided this morning that I would follow the book's suggestion and force myself to sit still for an hour, during which time I could either write or just sit still. I know myself well enough to know that if my choices are writing or doing nothing, I'm going to write. It's not (even though I almost never believe this) that I don't like writing. It's that I like everything else better, most of the time, or at least think I do. So the new trick is not to give myself a choice--or rather to give myself the kind of choice my mother used to give me, one where both options have to be conducive to the outcome I want (which in this case is to proceed with my writing) (my mom used to use this trick in, for instance, department stores, where she would pre-select some acceptable clothing options, among which I was allowed to choose) (it's possible that this was my first lesson in only asking the questions to which one actually wants answers: if you don't want your child to choose a particular thing, don't ask her whether or not she wants it). One hour or 600 words, I told myself. Whichever comes first. And then you can walk to town.

At 1:30 p.m., I started my chronometer and opened my current piece of writing. Away I went. The phone rang ten minutes later, but by then I was involved enough in trying to work my way into some conceptual contortions that I was able to tell my beloved Lexingtonian that I was writing and couldn't talk. By 2:30 p.m., I had 409 words--and permission to stop.

That wasn't so bad, I thought. I'll do another session later on. And so I tootleootled off to town and found myself at my favorite used and rare bookseller's shop. (The owner knows me well enough now that he knocks £1 or £2 off my bill every time I buy from him. I have often had this effect on booksellers, who recognize a hooked girl when they see one.) There, I scored a book about one of my new favorite painters, Alfred Wallis, a fisherman from St. Ives who began painting when he was 70. (There were more good scores in my book peregrinations today, but that's the one about which I was perhaps most pleased.) I have gotten to know Wallis's work through its presence in the venue where my chamber music concerts take place; the more time I spend with them, the more affection I feel for his paintings. Go take a peek at the website to see some of my new friends, though be warned that the site doesn't work with Firefox for some reason; all its arrangements go wrong in a way that they don't if you use Safari. (And if you're on a PC, I don't know what to tell you.)

The afternoon kept on getting better, the sun high, the breeze lively, the streets thronged with people. There were babies and old people and people speaking in foreign tongues that to them are not foreign at all. There were shadows and that kind of dotting puffed cloud that makes everything stand out in higher relief against the sky. I stopped on the bridge to kiss the willow's new leaves. I noticed that the only red tulip among the purple crocuses and the daffodils in Clare College's spring flower border has disappeared, presumably nicked by someone else who couldn't stand to leave the clarity of that red and had to have it for herself.

At 6:30 p.m., I started the chronometer. By 7:40, I had 316 words (slowed down a little by having to rewatch a scene in a documentary I'm describing). That's 725 in all. I can live with that, for a Saturday, and for the first day of an experiment. Rather than push my luck, I'm going to do the one-hour-session trick again tomorrow, at least twice. Maybe three times. But at least twice.

For now, it's honeyed hot milk and Alfred Wallis: Primitive.

And tonight I feel good enough to restart my word count, which I discontinued in October when I decided I didn't want to talk about it anymore, at least for awhile. I reserve the right to stop talking about it without prior notice. But for now:

Today: 725 words (for a total of 2673 in the essay--that's 2673 since last Monday, kids).

7 Comments:

Blogger KYlitprof said...

Bravo. Hooray for successful writing tricks!

9:36 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Yes! Though I am bummed that I didn't get a chance to talk to you, I am very happy that I got so many words (and the structure of much of the rest of this piece) hammered out.

9:46 AM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger KYlitprof said...

We missed you, too, but it was worth it. I'm proud of your discipline. (Also, I'm a bit envious as I don't seem to be able to marshall similar discipline as I've been avoiding and stressing about some grading that MUST be done soon.

9:35 PM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Poking-Stick Man said...

Good work on the word count -- and on finding an approach to getting yourself writing consistently. I used a version of this system (via post-it-notes) when I was struggling with my Hardy chapter.

Remarkably, it was nearly 50 here today -- though I spent much of the day indoors at Open House pointedly not being visited by prospective students.

word verification: fakkhg
(presumably as in "fakkhg high school students aren't interested in lit!)

11:38 PM, March 02, 2008  
Blogger Gryphon said...

I'm happy to report that the site works just fine with Firefox on a PC. Lovely to know that he exists on-line!

12:01 AM, March 03, 2008  
Blogger meli said...

sounds like a brilliant idea! i'll try it on wednesday, when i've got all my marking and teaching out of the way...

4:50 PM, March 03, 2008  
Blogger Dr. S said...

The brilliance of it--or at least I hope that it will work when I get home...--is that it might encourage/enable writing in bits and pieces during semesters when I'm teaching. Or, tailored a bit, might even encourage grading! (Especially since I don't have a baby around. I somehow suspect that a baby might not help the marshalling-of-discipline project, in ways that might require gentle self-care rather than self-criticism.) I tend to think of work as needing to happen in great bursts. Figuring out ways to let it happen in small bursts might save me.

5:15 PM, March 03, 2008  

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