Following this slow river

So far, the experiment is not working.

I awaken each morning, usually ten or fifteen minutes before my telephone alarm begins vibrating at 5 a.m. By the way, whether you are an early riser or a late sleeper, do not accept the myth that early risers are more virtuous. It’s based on an erroneous assumption–prevalent in the U.S.–that difficulty equals virtue. I quarrel with it first because waking early isn’t particularly difficult for me as long as I go to be early(9 or 9:30 is best). Second, even true suffering doesn’t make a person noble; I’ve known people who have legitimately suffered a great deal who are absolute pricks. I sympathize with them, but there’s nothing noble about them. No, it’s not what we have endured that makes or reveals our character, it’s how we respond to what we have endured. And when we look for grace in whatever we encounter, and when we learn to move through the world graciously in the easy times and the difficult, then we can call ourselves noble.

But I have digressed, because my point is that my experiment is so far failing.

I awaken; I retreat to the office in the basement of our house, click on the small, metal lamp on the 1950s, yellow formica-topped folding table that I use for a desk; I turn on the computer, and…and…I stare. I browse through my notebook of ideas and observations. I go to the bathroom for my morning “movement.” I listen to the periodic whoosh of the heater in an enclosed room nearby whenever it stirs itself to warm the house. I think. I shiver a bit sometimes (I don’t like the cold). On my worst days, I begin to browse on the internet, even though this is forbidden, scanning the news, looking at other blogs–very good blogs, it’s true. But I do not write much.

And my plan to run later in the day–during lunchtime at work or at the YMCA after work–has been dashed on the rocks of my sloth. Well, that’s probably too harsh. But I’m running much less often that I was before I decided to try writing in the morning like this.

I admit all of this not for your sake, my patient, loyal, persistent, and devoted legion (You see, I still have my imagination and sense of humor!) of readers. I admit it to remind myself that, were I a scientist, the failure–or seeming failure–of an experiment at any given moment is but one tiny instant in the process. Viewed from the right perspective, it has something to teach. Of course, finding that perspective is the key. Does this difficulty tell me “change your routine” or “stop writing with the computer” or “run in the morning and write in the afternoon/night” or “plan and prepare your run better” or “plan and prepare you writing better” or “change your writing project” or “abandon prose for poetry”?

I had the good fortune to have a kind and very wise professor in graduate school who used to quote the poet William Stafford–one of the writers whose views on writing I love most. Stafford said that when you get stuck writing, you need to lower your expectations. But as long as I’m quoting Stafford, let me bring in more of his words:

“The more you let yourself be distracted from where you are going, the more you are the person that you are. It’s not so much like getting lost as it is like getting found.”

“I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don’t have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along.”

“One way to find your place is like
the rain, a million requests
for lodging, one that wins, finds
your cheek: you find your home.”

“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.”

And now, remembering and rereading his words, I find that I have written myself to a very different place from where I was dwelling when I began this post. Maybe the experiment is not so much failing as going very slowly forward…

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2 thoughts on “Following this slow river

  1. I think that, no matter the outcomes so far, there is something valuable gained in the craving out of a daily time to be available to yourself, if that makes sense. Maybe what you do with that time , again only so far, isn’t as important as the fact that you are keeping the committment to give yourself that time.

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