Tag Archives: writing process

Don’t Go Back To Sleep

It has been just about a year since I began this blog.  So it’s time for a reckoning, I figure.  Today’s contribution from Emily is helpful.

#245, c. 1861

I held a Jewel in my fingers —
And went to sleep —
The day was warm, and winds were prosy —
I said, ” ‘Twill Keep” —

I woke — and chid my honest fingers,
The gem was gone —
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own —

She’s meditating on the work. Her work, my work, your work. You know . . . the work. In the realm of Emily, the winds are prosy and drop jeweled phrases into her hands. Everything around her shimmers with some kind of artful story. Poems happen with each shift in the breeze. Once you wake up and notice the lovely vein to be mined, the world becomes so rich with imagery and meaning that you could become doped into a stupor by the plenty that lies within your fingertips.

That’s what Em did, and I think she’s very sorry about it. She made the mistake—an honest mistake but wrong all the same—of going to sleep and thinking she did not have to capture the jewel and commit it to paper immediately. Foolish girl, she believed it would still be there later. That laziness, although understandable, left her bereft on waking. The poem had slipped through her honest fingers. Poems will do that if you’re not careful. At first they always have that bullet-proof brilliance, but it doesn’t last on its own unless you get it into the notebook. It evaporates like a gem made of mist. The sun and the wind take it away. There is no one to blame but the lazy poet.

Okay, I’m being too hard on Emily, way too post-Industrial Revolution for her. Not fair. Laziness is not the culprit for the poem’s loss. Instead the problem is that the writer can become too easily dazzled by her own wealth and forget to husband her resources wisely. (I love the word “husband” as a verb, but that’s another blog entry.) It’s no trouble at all for Emily or me to remain in our respective bubbles of radiant potential. This realm of pure thought is threaded all through with the shocking sense impressions offered by experience of “out there”. Rude physicality enlivens what is “in here”, and the result is an utterly absorbing tension between “what is” and “what might be”. Writers live on that tension and get drunk on the excitement it creates. The only drawback is that often writers, for whatever reason, do not mine the gem and bring it back to the surface. They are so captivated by their own supercharged radiance, that they forget their day job: Make it make sense and write it down!

It’s easy to see why writers are careless with their own gifts. That richness in the experience could seem infinite in the moment. So why bother rendering it into rigid form? There will always be more. Why not instead just enjoy the rich flow of imagining? This sense of infinity may even be true. Certainly, I have never noticed a shortage of words. Emily knew that better than anyone. She wrote a poem nearly every day of her life. The problem lies in the drunk stillness and rapture taking over the whole process so that the coherence dissolves. The writer naturally wants to communicate, bring her own radiance out of that vast potential without boundaries into some externalized structured form that makes sense to someone else, not just herself. She has to wake from her own trance to do that.

How many times do my thoughts pursue a shimmering trail of thread, all the way down a rabbit hole, while the pen falls to the notebook? Who knows how much time passes like that? An hour? Ten minutes? It all feels the same. Pursuing the invisible becomes more absorbing than recording it. Next thing I know, I look down at the notebook and can’t recognize the last thing I wrote because my thoughts ran ahead of my hand. The connection dissolved because I didn’t keep that psyche/soma port open and working. There isn’t any blame to assign here. It’s no one’s fault that my thoughts race too fast for my pen to keep up. But it is a problem.

The solution is to cultivate habits that make coherent capture possible. That is show up at the page and just keep the pen moving, for god’s sake don’t lose that thread of ink. Most of the stuff in the notebook is junk that makes no sense to anyone, but if I have enough junk in some fixed form outside of my head, there is a chance I can craft a shapely thing out of the junk. The best to hope for is something resembling that faceted jewel I found in the mine, but those always appear more beautiful in that pure radiance of potential than they do in the ordinary surface world light. The manifestation out of potential into form necessarily imposes limits, therefore crushes the radiance. You never have the same jewel, once rendering it to others. This loss of perfection is heartbreaking, but at least it leaves you with something more lasting than thought. Why do this? Why not let it remain pure radiant potential? Oh, I don’t know. Somehow I believe it’s worthwhile to keep the pen moving, if for no other reason than it keeps me busy.

Official notice here: Last week at the Neighborhood Story Project’s Write-a-Thon I wrote another 1200 words in this thing I’ve had moldering at the back of my hard drive for a year. I’m calling it a “thing” because there really isn’t any other word for it. Sorry to be so vague, but that’s all you’re getting from me right now.

I’ll close with another poem from Rumi that I return to often.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are moving back and forth across the threshold
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

I enjoy hearing Rumi and Emily speak to each other across centuries and continents. . . . okay, I just answered my own question.

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