Some Big, Fat Questions
For starters, an appetizer of sorts, I'll share this morning's essay from the Brevity blog, which I found super relatable and apropos of my situation and what I hear from so many other writers.
"Rudderless" by Kirsten Voris. Here's a snippet,
"This year I had hoped to steer my writing life by a project that feels overwhelming. I’m avoiding it. I have homeless essays, fresh off the latest round of rejections. I’m ignoring them—and covering my to-do lists with new essay ideas.
I feel unsettled, fearful, and unmotivated. Rudderless."
I have a friend who asks herself, "What is it for?" when she wonders whether to undertake a task, especially new commitments that add to the to-do list and make it less likely the stuff that's already on the list will be completed in a timely manner. Like all those "writing adjacent" tasks that make it less likely actual writing will get done, or generating new essay ideas (like Kirsten in her Brevity essay) rather than getting on with the ones that are already underway.
What is it for? Which I suppose could mean a number of things. What are (insert random to-dos) going to a friend's book event, writing a blog post or editing a client's memoir in service of? Will doing these things advance my goals? Will they make me feel happy, of service, or fulfilled? Ideally the two questions are related—meaning that my goals align with what will make me happy, useful and fulfilled.
Am I living my best life? I hear this lately; often as an acknowledgement that someone isn't. Is there such a thing, or is it human nature to be looking ahead, anticipating, wishing, waiting for the next thing, then the one after that. Even my dogs aren't living their best life; or if they are, they appear very anxious much of the time. There's the next meal, or snack, or walk to beg for, and being left alone to fret about (these are the dogs' anxieties here, just to be clear).
Why write? No one is waiting on my words. In any scheme of things, it doesn't matter whether I do or don't write, do or don't share, do or don't publish. Yet doubting the value of my expressed thoughts, acknowledging their relative meaninglessness, is so close to doubting my own worth and meaning. Which brings me leagues distant from living my best life. It's a matter of wanting my life and what I do with it to have purpose, and, at the same time, wondering if writing is a valid purpose or simply a manifestation of ego, an indulgence.
Why do anything? There's that, the depressive state. I'm not there at the moment, thank goodness. But it's no different than asking, "Why write?" is it?
I spent a sweaty hour and a half in the front garden this morning, before the Sacramento summer sun was too punishing. I ripped out arm fulls of ground cover run amuck. Its roots were thick and ropey, branching out in all directions, working their way directly under other plants, sucking up all the water, binding up the soil, strangling the life from less the less sturdy, the less virulent. When I'd done the green waste bins were overflowing, the newly cleared soil a rich, loamy brown. Then I swept the sidewalk, picking up random bits of stick and root to add to my growing mountain of green waste.
It felt good. To be outdoors, to break a sweat, to see visible progress and to imagine that in the months to come, the plants I rescued from strangulation will stretch out, soak up nutrients and produce blossoms, and in that way reward me for my labor. And, to be honest, I liked that the sour-faced neighbor whom I imagine judges us for our overgrown yard, saw me at it.
Why garden? I don't torture myself with that particular question. I suppose because I don't think I'll ever be judged for it. I'm not self-conscious or even self-aware about it. I just do it. No one is going to wonder if I'm "still gardening," after all these years. No one will ask why I'm doing it, what I hope to achieve, what my ultimate goal, or plan is. They won't compare my garden with someone else's who's been more successful at it.
It's simply something people do, like housework, walking the dog, taking a shower—which, after all that sweating and rubbing body parts with hateful roots, I should probably do.
What isn't writing like gardening? Can it be? Should it be? Questions to ponder in the shower.
Dorothy, author of GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK, blogs about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman and a writer of a certain age in a youth-centric universe.