Sunday, September 15, 2013

What I'm Doing Here

Looking back, I'm somewhat surprised that I was able to post something every day for 50 days in a row until I finally fell off the wagon on Tuesday. Obviously, there are tradeoffs when you're writing under that kind of compulsion. The most time I'm likely to have to write on any given night is limited, maybe an hour on average, certainly no more than two. It's hard enough to write well when you have as much time as you want to develop and re-think and polish whatever it is you are working on. So forcing yourself to write daily is a little like walking on a very long balance beam. Each step is an adventure, some steps are likely to be more wobbly than others, and there's always the chance you're going to wind up on your ear. And the fact that each night is a new beginning makes it unlikely that any given post is going to be either remarkably significant or remarkably deep. Which is okay by me. This is not the only kind of writing I do. I can always go back and work into what I write here. I look at throughlines as being a kind of workshop, a place to body forth whatever is rattling around in my mind at a given time, with the understanding that any likely result will be, in the language of design thinking,  a non-precious prototype. Sometimes I'm just trying to capture and follow up on some thread or idea that came up in discussion during the day. Sometimes I'm just trying to use the act of writing as an incubator  to hatch ideas I haven't had yet. Sometimes I'm just playing around. But most of the time it feels like work, in the most positive sense of that word.

Basically it's a practice, a discipline, an attempt to live up to something I believe (and have sometimes annoyed some colleagues by saying out loud): that teachers of writing should be teachers who write. One core message that I attempt to convey to students, in one way or another, pretty much every day, is that it is better to be an attentive, thoughtful person than an inattentive, thoughtless person. The second core message is that if your question is how to do that—if your goal is in fact to cultivate within yourself your potential to be a thoughtful, attentive person—there are few more powerful ways of proceeding that to voluntarily, even enthusiastically, submit yourself to the disciplines of daily reading, daily writing, and daily reflection. Given that that's my message, how hypocritical would it be for me not to practice those disciplines myself?

That's not to say that there are no other disciplines that might serve (meditation, prayer, art, and music spring to mind, as well as things like, say, gardening, or public service), nor that people who do not read or write much are necessarily less attentive or thoughtful than those who do. But the hours and days (and yes, weeks and years) of our lives go by so quickly, and it is so easy to be drawn into the flow of everydayness, that it is certainly helpful to create a space for yourself to stop and reflect and process what is going on in your life, to consider the (inevitable) gap between the way things are and the way you would like things to be, and to think about what you might want to be doing differently by way of narrowing that gap. Gandhi's exhortation—"Be the change you want to see in the world"—implies two prior conditions: firstly, that you have looked at the world—attended to the world—carefully enough to be aware of what might need changing, and secondly that you have determined and thought through (and accepted responsibility for) what role you might have in effecting that change. It doesn't just happen. It's something you need to make happen. And that, more or less, is what I'm doing here.

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