Monday, February 11, 2013

Writing in the Vacuum, Part IV

Easy does it: embracing the prolific times.

I've been especially introspective in recent months. It's probably due to a number of factors, none of which make a lick of sense when uttered aloud. Suffice it to say, I have been recollecting the past, my past, and for no other reason that I'm in very quiet time of my life currently. I suspect that all of us go through times like this. And what's even more weird about the whole thing is that the strangest memories pop up, memories that should not seem so important or so special.

In thinking about the vacuum and writing within it, these last few weeks have yielded some great memories. For instance, I spent a year as a picture framer. That's right, I framed pictures all day, everyday. I helped customers pick out matting, framing, glass and mounting options. And when the customers left, I filled orders by cutting mats, frames, glass and assembling it. Great thing to do as a twenty—twenty-one year old with very little life experience. The first of two things I remember the most about this gig: all mats and frames had numbers indicating the color. For instance, Crescent Mat #1028 and #969, still describe sunsets for me. The second thing I remember is that once I left the job, not exactly fired, not exactly quit, my coworker Inga Olsen and I went on a picture painting excursion. I was then, as I am now, no painter. She gave me a list of four paints and 3 brushes to buy. We met in the morning, a warm day in May at the western edge of Crown Hill Reservoir and spent the day painting the mausoleum in the distance. I listened to what she had to say. She was a good teacher. And it was the only painting I ever painted. Inga Olsen became Inga Zuca and she moved away, I moved away, we lost touch. But I do have the memory of the day despite not having the evidence other than my memory. What was so profound about it is that I worked away with Inga and I made something I had never made before. Should the experience had been slightly different, perhaps I would be a painter today.

What was happening to me at this time was the first of many “golden” periods of writing. I classify these golden periods as time when the writing is fluid, easy and enjoyable. Notice that I did not say that the writing is any good. Being good, or even being passable writing is beside the point. A golden period is a period when the writing process is working well and things are getting done.

When I think of my golden periods, they are almost always at times of tremendous shifts. 1993, when I left my job as picture framer and Inga and I painted a picture one day can be one of these shifts: I started a new job as a shipping clerk, and I started college. I wrote all day, everyday and I never cared if it was good or not because that just was not a consideration. The golden period of 2000 is similar. I left my gig with the Boy Scouts, and I wrote all day and all night. I didn't care if the words were any good or not. The last of my golden periods of writing in the vacuum happened in 2005, the summer I lived in Tucson. All I had there was the heat and all I wanted was to be elsewhere. Elsewhere for me was the notebook in the coffeehouse.

But what of it? Is it important to see the golden periods for what they were? Or is it important to know these golden periods as they are happening? And is it worth our time to try to manufacture a golden period? Yes. Yes to all.

I suspect that if you as a writer really wants to think about the process and your place within it, a good solid look at past prolific times is important. Look at the old manuscripts from those times. I bet they are fun to read. I also bet that they'll seem foreign as if someone else wrote them. Next, try to remember what you were doing and who you were doing it with during the golden time. If you were in college and found your inspiration there that's noteworthy. Maybe you had a muse. Who knows. If there are a set of circumstances that led to your writing prowess, note them, because you may be able to get them back. When you look at old manuscripts, do so with the courage to see them as they are. Do not self-censor, self-criticize or self-doubt. They were written long ago. What's important is to see the process, and if you want to continue this is a good place to start.

I feel like I have not presented both sides of writing in the vacuum. Yes, I have explained the downside to it. You write, you don't know if you're on the right track. You submit your work and nothing comes back to you. You become isolated. You want to grow, and it's hard to know how. These are all facets, and the negative ones of writing in the vacuum.

However, there is a good side to it. After all, when you write, and truly write, you should strive to be in the vacuum. In the vacuum you have no one telling you what to do. You should not even listen your yourself telling you what to do. Rather, in the vacuum you are just writing, just creating. What you produce does not need to be the best thing ever written. It does not even have to be good. Just write, that's it, and that's good enough.

If you are working now, writing I mean, and you have past golden periods, were they during a vacuum time too? Or do vacuums and golden periods not go together for you? It all comes down to this: if you are in a golden period currently or looking back on one, writing just comes to you, and you should face that with grace and courage. Get as much done as you can. And if you are in the vacuum currently, don't fret. Know that you will eventually meet others, you will eventually get the validation and the encouragement you need. In the meanwhile, do you best to just write. Use any frustration as a springboard into more words.

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