How do I procrastinate writing? Let me count the ways…

I’ve given myself quite a simple, straight-forward task.  Every Wednesday, write something about anything and post it almost immediately.  The theory is that this will be a freeing exercise, which will rescue me from being too anal about my writing, and from taking myself and the whole pursuit of writing too seriously.  I’ve already written a very serious novel, which took me  upwards of a decade, and let me tell you, after the first 4 years, freedom’s just another word for everything left to lose or toss off a bridge. There’s got to be fun and freedom in writing, right?  Otherwise, who in his/her right mind would keep doing it?

Nonetheless, this self-imposed directive is not as easy-peasy as I’d imagined (isn’t it always the case that life never lives up to the imagined?).  It is almost 2pm and these few words are the only ones I have managed to put down.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to convince myself to just do it. I have made several very attractive bargains with myself:

  1. Write out in the backyard in a little notebook–that way it won’t seem like work.  Excuse: It’s hot in the backyard, and transcribing is a drag, which will indeed turn the exercise into work.
  2. Write after lunch. Who can write when her stomach is grumbling?  Excuse: But who can write on a full stomach, which is sure to make me groggy, in the middle of the afternoon.
  3. Take a nap and then write.  But no napping longer than 20 minutes, or the whole bargain is off according to science.
  4. Recycle an old post from an old blog.  No one has seen those, right? But that’s not writing is it?  That’s copying and pasting. Or self-plagiarizing–a word being thrown around a lot these days, what with the Jonah Lehrer/Bob Dylan/New Yorker scandal.  My view: If I can’t plagiarize myself, who can I plagiarize? I’ve opted to eschew the self-plagiarizing for the moment, however.
  5. Write whatever comes to mind–it will be fine.  But will it, really? If you’ve read this far, you are in a better position to judge the fruits of that bargain than I.  I am a true believer of the magical first draft, and I also know that it is a rarity which comes from writing continuously, daily, passionately.  Under these circumstances–not so much.

Apart from the bargains, I found  a number of other small tasks to complete, before beginning to write, that could not wait another minute:

I wish this was a woman, but the same principle applies…

  1. I removed an old, non-functional doorbell that has not been bothering anyone for the past 4 years.  This involved a lot of thought, then a lot of traipsing from basement to first floor, to second floor to look for proper tools, back to first floor, where the job was accomplished not with the myriad of screwdrivers I’d collected in my travels, but with a hammer, a butter-knife and pliers.  I cut the old, sticking-out wires with at least 80% certainty that I wouldn’t be electrocuted. (Who can write after electrocution?) Really, that doorbell was bugging me.  Quite a feat since it makes no sound. It’s now gone to the doorbell junk-heap at the dump. R.I.P.
  2. I watched 6 minutes of Drop Dead Diva.  It’s not a highly intellectual show, but I like it because there is almost always a happy ending. There was also a part of me that felt it would be a nice accompaniment to lunch and a precursor to the nap, after which all my glorious writing juices would be flowing. As long as I did not oversleep, that is. But why only 6 minutes? Because the doorbell was calling me to take it out of its useless misery. And I probably keenly felt my own useless misery in those 6 minutes.  Watching tv in the middle of the day when I should be writing.  For shame.
  3. I checked my WordPress account, my Facebook, my Twitter to see if anyone was talking about me.  Seriously, there is no better time-waster than social media.  A few people are talking about me, by the way, which is encouraging, but besides the point to  actually sitting-on-my-butt and writing.
  4. I’ve also toyed with the idea of framing and hanging 3 very large prints in my office. I have the frames; I have the prints.  They have been sitting undisturbed by anything but dust since last Christmas, if not the one before. I really can’t remember.  I suppose they would make my office a more colorful and inspiring place, which is why I bought them.  But it’s not my office’s fault that I have nothing of import to write about, is it?

If I had to do it all again (and I will, next Wednesday, if not sooner), I would get up, have a cup of tea and a bite to eat, turn off the phone, the internet, put the do not disturb sign on my door, and hunker down to write something, anything other than a piece about having nothing to write about.  There’s nothing new in that, is there?  Why should anyone care? It happens to all of us, more often than we’d like to admit. Well I’m admitting it.  So there. Sue me.

I’m off to take that nap now.

He is my nap guard, and will also wake me up after 20 minutes.

Not everything is important (even though it is mine…)

The road trip is a standard literary conceit. Tales from the road are forward moving, full of details, imagery, odd characters, surprises, both good and bad, wonderment and disappointment. You barely need to have any real skill other than being a weariless chronicler, who hopefully has a taste for the unusual. The ability to write a full sentence probably also comes in handy, though in our world of tweeting, texting and emailing may not be as imperative as it once was.

The question remains whether there is anything of interest left to chronicle, now that the world is so known to us, our maps devoid of mysterious and vast continents where dragons were once assumed to reside. With the ever-increasing number of people who believe their adventures to be singular and of interest to an audience of admirers, and with the obsessive/compulsive photographing, recording and posting of updates of their every move, the meaningfulness, the uniqueness of any experience has been drained.

When I was younger, I felt a large disconnect between being and feeling. I would go to a concert or a party, or to some wonderful place like the Grand Canyon or Echo Rock in New Mexico, and I couldn’t say for sure whether I’d enjoyed myself. It wasn’t until I put my thoughts on paper, until the words were found to properly describe and contain the experience that I could answer the question “did you have a good time?” By remaining the observer, I was using the experience as a means to an end–something that would give me material to share with others in order to get their approval, their admiration, their envy– thus depriving myself of the joy of being there, of seeing, of feeling all at once. My life was passing me by, and the attention for my writing didn’t make up for it.

I have managed to cure myself of this disconnect, but I see it reaching epic proportions all around me. I have seen concertgoers wave their iPhones instead of lighters, trying to capture an image, some distorted sound, rather than allowing themselves to be swept away, to be enveloped and invaded by the music. At plays, I have seen people tweeting quips, making plans for their next engagement rather than allowing themselves to be fully drawn into the depths of the story and characters. At a reading I recently gave, I was told that a few audience members were texting, hiding their phones in their purses, while I spoke. If I were prone to flattering myself, I might say that they were letting all their friends know how fabulous my novel is and that they should all run out and get a copy right away. But I believe that they were suffering from the disease of absence, of distraction, of recording for others rather than being present in the moment for their own enjoyment.

It is seductive to believe that everything we observe, think, pronounce has merit, originality, import. It reminds me of teenagers on the bus having over-loud conversations in order to let the world know they exist, who believe that everything is important because it is coming from them. So it is in our world of constant self-promotion, self-aggrandizing and exposure, which creates so much noise it is hard to know what to pay attention to, and in the end cheapens everything.

What does this have to do with road trips? I spent the last week in the Adirondacks. I was about to say that I’ve resisted taking notes, but the truth is that I haven’t felt like it at all, despite acknowledging that my memory is not what it used to be. Instead I’ve been swimming in lakes, hiking up mountains, exchanging bon mots with colorful, small-town characters, and eating gargantuan servings of fried food. In fact, I have been so perfectly content staring at mountains and water that putting anything at all down in writing seems like an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction from the glory of just being here. I’ve remembered to take a few photos, but not always of the right things at the right time. I haven’t recorded anything either, though in retrospect I somewhat regret not having footage of the immense crows gliding past me at eye level on the summit of Whiteface Mountain. I certainly haven’t tweeted anything or updated my Facebook status. Because at the moment, this experience is finally, totally for me.

Perhaps later on when it has all sunk in, I will be able to turn some of its parts into a greater whole–a story perhaps, or an essay–something more meaningful than just a grocery list of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Those things already exist out there: google Adirondacks, Ticonderoga, Lake Placid, Whiteface Mountain, Bolton Landing, Hague and you’ll get all the information and images you could ever hope for. Until I have something more than that to offer, I will keep it all to myself.

Time to go back to staring at the lake now.