Monday, August 25, 2014

64 x 26 (Any Old Kind of Day)

I was writing about today's ordinary pleasures, but kept hearing Harry Chapin's voice, singing it better:

It was just an any old kind of day
The kind that comes and slips away
The kind that makes up easy my life's time
The night brought any old kind of dark
I heard the ticking of my heart
Then why am I thinking something's left behind?

Process Reflection: Pretty much as advertised. It was that kind of day. I spent the end of the day yesterday and part of the morning today reading Ann Patchett's terrific memoir/essay Getaway Car. In the essay she has of interesting, practical things to say about the discipline of writing. Here's one example, from toward the end of the essay:

I was complaining that I’d been traveling too much, giving too many talks, and that I wasn’t getting any writing done. Edgar, who is a double bass player, was singing a similar tune. He’d been on the road constantly and he was nowhere near finishing all the compositions he had due. But then he told me a trick: He had put a sign-in sheet at the door of his studio, and when he went in to compose, he wrote down the time, and when he stopped composing he wrote down that time, too. He told me he had found that the more hours he spent composing, the more compositions he finished.

 Time applied equaled work completed. I was gobsmacked, and if you think I’m kidding, I’m not. It’s possible to let the thinking-about process become so complicated that the obvious answer gets lost. I made a vow on the spot that for the month of January, I would dedicate a minimum of one hour a day to my chosen profession. One hour a day for thirty-one days wasn’t asking so much, and I usually did more. The result was a stretch of some of the best writing I’d done in a long time, and so I stuck with the plan past the month of January and into the rest of the year. 
The thing about that kind of advice is that it has two kinds of impact. On the one hand, it's practical and potentially encouraging. On the other hand, it's strict and potentially guilt-inducing. I've read interviews with, and talked directly with, any number of writers who attest to the fact that writing is the hardest and most frustrating thing they can imagine doing, and yet at the same time the most enjoyable and rewarding. Patchett ends her essay on a similar note:

Do you want to do this thing? Sit down and do it. Are you not writing? Keep sitting there. Does it not feel right? Keep sitting there. Think of yourself as a monk walking the path to enlightenment. Think of yourself as a high school senior wanting to be a neurosurgeon. Is it possible? Yes. Is there some shortcut? Not one I’ve found. Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.

So what does this have to do with my measly little 64-word posts in general, or this one in particular? Well, today was a very good day in which nothing of particular note got done. I have a number of projects I'm working on, and others in mind; on this particular Monday in August I didn't work on any of them. Now it's the end of the day and I'm trying to figure out how I feel about that, and that's what I was writing about in my journal when Harry Chapin's voice showed up in my head from all those years ago. I'm still learning how to inhabit my life as a retiree, how to be able to enjoy the days in which the ordinary things (making meals, walking the dog, taking a nap, reading) predominate, without worrying too much about what else, what other opportunities for progress on some larger scale, might be being left behind.

When I started this series of posts, my intention was to set a low enough bar (64 words per day) that I would be able to stay with it even on days when I might not have been moved to write. Insofar as that was the purpose, it's worked. I've been able to stay with it. And often, like tonight, what started out more than an hour ago as a report on an ordinary day has opened up to something larger. As Patchett points out, once you set the bar, however low it is, that gets you into your seat, there's the strong likelihood that you will end up doing more than you had anticipated. In this case, the 64-word post became the jumping-off point for a process reflection that led me into something else I had intended to write about eventually, Patchett's essay, which appears in a book of equally enticing essays called This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage. I happened across her book on a trip to the library late last week and it basically derailed all my other reading projects for the week. I recommend it to you heartily.

So now it appears I got something done today after all. I suppose if I were serious I'd have to go back and re-write this entire post and focus it one what it turned out to be about, rather than what I thought it was going to be about. I'm serious. But not that serious. I'm heading down the wooden hill. Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea.

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