One of the greatest struggles I have is finding the balance between having a writing life and just living a human one. Discipline is a necessary tool in the writer’s shed—and yet so many times I have come home, determined to write, only to find nothing was happening, and that I had skipped something enjoyable in the futile hope I might spend the evening deep in the current. If you write, you know what I mean: when you are in the zone, it is one of the best possible feelings. When the work is going well, it’s worth trading for.
But the other side of that—skipping pleasurable, important, joyful moments of existence to write, only to find the writing simply will not come—is almost as painful and frustrating as the other is blissful. Then I’m stuck at home, uninspired, and doubly annoyed to be stuck there while somewhere not far away, friends are drinking good beer, saying droll and affectionate things, and bonding in ways that might actually inspire future writing.
Being a hermit has its advantages; god knows you have to set some boundaries. But sequestering yourself for your art—if your art hopes to be human—seems potentially misguided. Yes, I know the Belle of Amherst hid away in her room, feeding her genius and communing only with friendly mice and Jesus (it’s hyperbole, Dickinson scholars; don’t send angry letters). But were she around today she would likely have succumbed to social pressures. She would be Tweeting and Facebooking (“Emily Dickinson is nobody. Who are you?”) and perhaps desperate, as I occasionally feel, for silence.
Finding balance—has anyone nailed this one? Just recently, I almost skipped a reunion of old friends from high school for the sake of going home and writing. Instead, I went, and not only caught up with dear erstwhile companions, but met new ones. Good ones. And if I had just gone home, instead? I would likely have been frustrated and ended up sitting on the couch, staring through a Law & Order episode and brooding.
One of the best stories I’ve ever heard on this conflict—it may be apocryphal, but is referenced in at least two biographies—was about the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who reportedly skipped his own daughter’s wedding because he thought a poem might come, and that the wedding might break his concentration.
The first thing I thought when I heard this tale was “What a dick.”
And the second thing was, “You know where your precious poem was, dude? It was at your daughter’s wedding.”
But who am I to think Rainer Maria Rilke was doing anything wrong? Maybe he was skipping a wedding when he wrote "An Archaic Torso of Apollo."
This poem is for Deb, Warren, Jordan, Justin, and Ben. Also for Angela, who is also—like so many of us—struggling to find the space for a writing life that does not eclipse actual living.
This draft flew away.