On my desk is a book by Julia Cameron called The Right to Write. I don’t open it very often, but I keep it here, where I can see it, because I’m a writer. I’m a writer who doesn’t write enough, by my own (often too strict) standards. I keep the book where I can see it in the hopes that I’ll get into the habit of writing every day (just thirty minutes, I tell myself. Just one page). You wouldn’t think it was so tough, and while I could give you a long, detailed list of reasons of why it is indeed that tough, I think I’ll condense it down to one simple life fact: there is a lot of other stuff to do. (I know you know what I mean.) More than that, there’s a lot of other stuff I’d rather be doing. Maybe this means that I shouldn’t be a writer; maybe it means I should give up the ghost. But I’m not going to. I’m going to continue limping along as a would-be-sometimes-eager-maybe-good writer. (A note: sometimes limping is a good thing; it denotes devotion, and it often makes you look your courage straight in the face.)
As a writer of this ilk, there’s another reason I like to keep Cameron’s particular book in front of me; it’s full of short writing exercises, and it presupposes that any act of writing—from love note to novel—is genuine. It counts. It makes you a writer in the most basic, unpretentious sense. I like Cameron’s book because it lets me off my own hook; just because I didn’t finish editing the tenth draft of the novel today and secure a publishing deal doesn’t mean I’m not a ‘real writer’. It means that today I was a writer who chose to also be a runner and a student and a dog owner and a human being who needed to catch up on some sleep. So be it.
But today, in and around running and dog-owning and waking up when my body said, you feel better now, I also thought I’d get around to a little bit of writing, because it makes me feel good. The truth underneath all of it—the self-inflicted ‘not-enough-of-a-writer’ thing—is that writing shouldn’t really be a label; when we label ourselves certain ways, we’re unknowingly committing ourselves, and that leads us to the dangerous territory of expectation. If I’m going to be a ‘writer’ (or runner, or teacher, or artist—fill in the blank), then I expect myself to act in specific ways. I’ve grown tired of this train of thought. I’d like to make it simple:
Sometimes, I’ll run, because it makes me feel alive.
Sometimes, I’ll sleep until I wake, because I want my body to know I still love it.
Sometimes, I’ll put in ten hours on the job, because I like feeling useful.
Sometimes, I’ll write, because it makes me feel like I’m in communion with my soul.
When I opened Cameron’s book today, the task at hand was to write a list of fifty-one things that made me happy. That was my original goal when I began this post—to try and do the ‘writerly’ thing and construct a list so vivid and humble it would move you. It would make you like me. (I do hope you like me.) Instead I’m going to sign off, and take a hot shower, and walk the dog through the new snow that has fallen. I’ll write the list of fifty-one happy things at some point, and no doubt ‘writing’ will be on it, but so will hot showers, and my little orange dog, and the days spent limping forward, courage in hand. I’ll write about the days spent bounding forth with bright abandon, and the days when I let myself off the hook, and simply rest.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks for reading.