Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taking Care of the Writer

With so many folks around me learning to cope with serious illness, grief, and transitions, it's absurd for me to obsess on my recent batch of routine literary disappointments. The skinny SASE's and almost-theres are nothing new to me, and I have plenty of practice handling them.

One disappointment has nothing to do with literary merit. The class I was planning on taking this summer has been canceled. I heard from Captain Fiction himself that he has chosen to take care of his own health instead. Six-hour lectures are no joke for anyone at any age. He clearly made the right choice, one that I hope might lead him back to the writing desk. (It's selfish of me, but I would not mind reading another single-paragraph Lishkowitz novel.) Maybe I can learn, if not from his yelling voice in class, from his example of self-care. (Dumb, therapyish choice of words, for which he would probably yell at me, but yeah. I said it.) He is "refusing the gas pipe," to use his own words. Refusing suicide-by-teaching.

I find myself running all those choice sentences through my head, the ones I have been composing carefully and hoping to test out on him, the man with the magic ear. Then it dawns on me: this is just the usual schoolgirl crap. Hoping to please teacher. Hoping to please editor. Please, notice me! Notice me! When will I just stop already?

The teacher I need to please is me. The editor I need to please is me. The ear I need to tune up is mine. Self-care is how adults cope with routine difficulty and disappointment.

And with that in mind, I went back to another teacher, one I have never met. Natalie Goldberg's books helped me access some rich subject matter back when I was first exploring fiction-writing. I discovered they are available on audio download, for a reasonable price, read by the author, with remarks thrown in, the 50-year-old Natalie commenting on the 36-year-old Natalie. She has evolved, but also cares for the person she used to be. It's a self study that is full of the right kind of humility. In her Long Island accent, she "nags" (her word) me gently to "get to work."

Teachers come in all forms--some gentle, some not--some in person, some far removed by geography or time. So, for the moment, I'm back on track. Writing. Back in the practice, as she says.

I feel impotent in the face of the frailties of body and spirit I have been hearing about in the past few weeks. I think we all do. For all of you I know who are heartbroken or grieving or in pain or facing giant challenges right now, I think about you every day, and wish you peace of mind, energy, and courage.

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