“In his spare time, he wrote”
I am meant to be continuing our conversation about Ursula Le Guin and the “novelist as crusader”, and yet my heart (and head) are aching from yesterday’s exertions of thought, these being focused on “where my centre lies” and the integration of a writer — finding my true north star, as Martha Beck might say (although as Abraham Lincoln once said, at least in the film biopic of his life, what is the point of knowing where true north lies if you walk blindly towards it and lose yourself in a swamp that lies in the way? Better to go around).
Yesterday too much of my time was taken up with tasks that I do not see contributing to either of my main vocations: the “noble adventure of writing” or of “being a voice for animals”. And yet I know your time was stricken with illness and a full-time job. “In his spare time he wrote,” writes Howard Colyer in the introduction to his translation of your “Letter to my Father”, rather laconically. And yet is that not true?
Oh, Franz, how do I live better? It wasn’t even if I don’t have far more autonomy — and vigour — than you did (although the more I read, the more I realise that this question of your ill health might actually be a grand myth). One cannot complain — I mean compare! — and yet I lose sight of the tasks — oh, wrong emphasis — what I mean and keep coming back to is this: I fill my time with too many things and the trick I play on myself is not that they fall outside (or far outside) either of these vocations, but that the sheer weight and volume of tasks and ideas becomes the burden and the impossible distraction to spending the majority of my time on a centred thing. That, really, is the thing here. And that is what must be put right — shaping each day around what is most important — a central writing practice that engages with my “self-indulgent” passions — of learning through (the reading and writing of) the literary, and being a voice for animals — and of getting this back up to four or five hours a day. To do this before anything else. And I do have the time and freedom to do this. Mostly. At least in the world. Perhaps you are right, Franz. The prison we have is the prison we create and carry around for ourselves.
Why then do I struggle so much to do this? Why do I blame it on “not having a clear main project” when I have so many — too many — projects and ideas. Books to write. Etc.
I… perhaps I have come too much to rely upon the identification of a “split” in me as core to who I am. This split between the writing/advocacy, or between my work and my passion, or between creative and critical. “The writer’s task is to first integrate himself,” says Thomas Merton, the monk. Perhaps it is simply that I do have other commitments.
No. The thing is to see clearly the reasons for these other commitments, this very limiting belief I have of “not being enough” and that to compensate and PROVE myself (that is, to gain approval and recognition that I exist and am worthy) I keep saying “yes” to stuff — even good stuff — when in fact I could be protecting my own time, my vocations.
I feel that the identification with being a busy person is real (always doing stuff; and it is not only I who suffer from this), as is the split (of being torn, bouncing around ideas and projects) and I have these identifications because they help me see myself doing a lot, active, contributing, “being” (and being worthy). And yet they are without a doubt negative much of the time — stopping me from developing the skill of being focused. Being focused is central for a vocation — especially one where the thing one is producing os such a bulky, time-consuming piece of work: a book. And books. Therefore, Franz, in my spare time — while I maintain a job to pay the bills and keep me and my cat off the streets, homeless — I must be like you. “In his spare time, he wrote.” The lucky thing for me is that in much of my work time, too, I can say this too: “he wrote.”
There are two things I wish to do: write creatively and be a voice for animals. Thomas Merton, again, yes he exhorts the writer to be an integrated whole as both people/writers, not split all the time — and this is what I must learn to do. I know what it is I wish to do. By writing creatively I meant honestly, authentically, with a good practice, the books and essays that mean something to me and are in my voice. That speak also for the voiceless — the nonhuman. I am in my heart a writer — it is in my blood. And I can hear my voice — this voice in which I write to you and do this work — and it is this time that I will reserve as the heart of my day, from 530am to 1pm. This is seven and a half hours. From this I will dedicate five hours to the central practice of the day which must always be a creative book project — and books that, from now on, mostly, fulfil both vocations.
Starting Monday, of course, as I still have this other stuff to finish off…
Image: 8 x 10 inches, watercolor on paper, October 2009 (cc) Philip Kirk