Now Some Thoughts on Writing
This past weekend I printed out all of the chapters I think will make up the book that I have been working on in some shape or form for over twenty years. I have not researched old journals to pinpoint the exact date where I started this story. I don’t have the energy to return to the pages written my younger self. Not just yet. I am, however, pretty sure I started crafting sentences with this story arc some time around the moment that I decided I really disliked living in California and that I needed to return to college. Ten lifetimes ago. Since I first started to type up these stories, I have learned a lot about myself and the world–both personally and professionally.
What I have now are nine chapters that might actually become essays with illustrations that I want to paint. Maybe not. Here are the five points I jotted down as the printer worked on recycled blank pages from my last draft.
- The main symbol, metaphor, or hub of what makes the story move. (If you’ve ever experienced a bike flat tire where all the rubber explodes, that’s where I’m at with a few chapters. A few feel perfect. A few are lacking tread.)
- A research question. What am I trying to teach the reader that will help this person in a real life backpacking situation? Where is the separation between wants and needs as a backpacker? (I thought a lot about this question this summer as I hiked solo).
- Find at least three readings so I can create a selected readings at the end of the book. I love reading books that give me ideas of what to read in the future. (Somebody really wants to write for The New Yorker, but I’m not naming any names.)
- Start the editing by hand process. Again. Only this time, type up the edits before moving on to the next chapter. (Gonna try and not let the part I like the least pile up).
- Research what is Next. (This is a big fucking question that I’ve chosen to table during The Plague).
This is what I do. It is progress that does not look like progress.
This is the closest that I have ever been to actually having a collection of stories/essays/chapters where somebody could actually sit down and read it. As I was backpacking solo this summer in the North Cascades, I thought about how I want to write something that I would like to read. For the first time, I could really see my audience. A person taking a nap in a tent. A person wanting to arm-chair hike. A person who really wants to take a nap in the tent but the story is too entertaining. A tent-bound page turner.
If you normally check in with me this year for back-to-school-type reading, I am giving my brain a break from all that outside the jobby job. I have returned to thinking about some ideas that I started with my first instructional design gig. What I notice is now being called “upskilling.” I see some Big Questions finding their way back into the leadership conversations about labor and education. What happens when sectors of the economy fade and there is not a need for certain types of laborers? What then for those people? What does it look like when an organization provides education for its employees? Does it look like a college program? A certificate? A badge? I’m not really sure, but some days I think it sounds like a word that rhymes with MOOC.
I am also thinking quite a bit about formal, informal, and nonformal learning. There is learning for The Workplace, then there is something that benefits your social skills or something else not really related to work but it is also not entirely personal either. Then there is the learning that you do all on your own, and that’s a space where learning for craft and art meet. It’s the Third Place outside of capitalistic pursuits. A respite for your brain. Growth for your soul, if you’re comfortable with that word.
If you’re not, allow Emily Dickinson to change your mind:
The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —
Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —
I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —
Now, a few thoughts and ideas to round out the summer.
Book Summaries or Summer Reading
Most hilarious: I read a historical fiction bodice ripper in the backcountry. I was solo, so I did not get the experience of reading the more saucy parts to my backpacking partners, and let me admit that I had other books to read when the bacchanalia and carnal delights got a bit tiresome. Books like these feel like they are written by historians who have realized that nobody is going to read their academic hot takes so they might as well slut it up with sex to get published. Whatever it takes, man, I’m not judging. I feel for these scholars. Here we are watching the defunding of the humanities and the constant bloat of STEM’s importance, yet nobody trusts science. Here we are with more access to information than ever before, and people trust random shit on a platform that was built to compare the looks of women. But alas, don’t give up hope, fair reader. You can read about history not as a movement about politics and ideas but of hot nookie. I laughed so hard at these turns of historical significance that took place because of one woman’s sex drive–usually brought on by large quantities of alcohol, gifts of jewelry, or dancing. Truth be told, I was ready to put it down when the main character murdered her rapist with a mortar and pestle she had been using earlier to make flour for his daily bread. He thought he was being crafty by backing her onto the kitchen table (he didn’t have the best fitness) and she was slowly guiding him to her weapon of choice (she’s a crafty survivor). That same kitchen maid would use those same skills to become the great queen of one of history’s most brutal kings. Who knew?
Most enjoyable: I reread Viriginia’s Woolf’s The Waves. Ginny is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I can somehow reread her books and experience what the Buddhists remind us about crossing rivers. That we and the river are never the same. Same goes for me and the Woolf. This turn–maybe my third reading–I noticed how she creates the passage of time with the use of the word “Now.” I’m sure the word appears dozens of times throughout the book, but I checked out a library edition that I could not annotate. I’m sure somebody has written a dissertation that nobody will read about this very topic. Now, I’m sure of it, is the main transitional word which brings you to new scenes and perspectives of the different characters. Words of liminal spaces. As in, Now, we’re going to discuss something different. Now the wind blew waves like soldiers rolling onto the beach. Now, the character is actually the sea and not the person thinking. Now, I can’t believe anyone is still reading this blog post. Now allow me to devolve into self-sabotage and despair. I mean, holyhell, Ginny wrote those masterpieces while bombs were blowing up her fucking town and she just went for a walk. What’s my pathetic deal? Surely that era was worse then the Fire-Murder Hornet-Sky-Plague-Earth Burning Late-Capitalism(tm) moment I’m living through. You know, I think about those kinds of things. That’s all. No big. Carry on.
Most useful for writers: Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. It has kind of blown my mind, and it has also really slowed me down as a writer. I didn’t really get into the last third of the book where he does a close reading of passages. I’m still paying interest on my last experience with close reading (also known as college), so I’ll return to those activities some other time.
Now a quote that speaks to my soul:
“One of the hardest things about learning to read well
Is learning to believe that every sentence has been consciously, purposefully shaped by the writer.
This is only credible in the presence of writing” (p. 44).
Tell it, Verlyn. He chose this spacing. Not me. Very poetic.
“Don’t try to distinguish between thinking and making sentences.
Pretend they are the same thing” (p. 97).
I do. Some days, I’m better than others.
Most useful theme: Thin Places. I’ve read several books that describe the “thin places” this summer, and it’s made me think about the period of sadness that I went through this past year. Aside from the pandemic (ha!ha!), I lost my dog of fifteen years, most of the mountain where I love to mountain bike, and little bits and pieces of life’s rituals and who I was. What used to be a rich dark loamy dense forest has all been logged. We’ve traded wildness for timber. Tamed the trails that used to be so wonderfully challenging. The new zeitgeist of mountain biking is just disappointing and boring. I don’t want to write too much here about how I really feel; some days it’s too much heartbreak. Some days are better than others.
For about six months, I was not sure who I was. Not really even sure if I’m fully back. Life was just a lot–not the “thin place” at all, but I wasn’t here. Present. The paintings I created during this time helped give structure to my days. Daydreams had dark corners for far too many days. Relentless. I’m not ready to write about it here, but I have hope that things are improving.
Some More Thoughts About Writing
My book? Moving along as I wrote above.
Now I’m at this painful step in the process where I have stack of papers printed out so I can do conceptual and technical edits. Then maybe I’ll take forever and a day to actually fix the work. I think about this book a lot, and this summer has been pretty good for researching my main topic which is narcissistically me walking on trails. Or becoming the woman I wish I was. Or the woman I had hoped to become. Or just about the importance of wild spaces in a world that I increasingly do not understand.
I do think this book is turning into something I would want to read. If I think about the hiker who is exhausted resting in her sleeping bag, I can better envision the story I want to tell. My audience needs a new sleeping bag or she needs to remember to repair the zipper.
In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard captures this present moment of writing with the following:
“It has been replaced by this changeling, this bastard, this opaque lightless chunky ruinous work.”
Exactement comme moi maintenant.