It’s a gift, this cloudless November morning
warm enough for you to walk without a jacket
along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing
of your feet through fallen leaves should be
enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you
when you catch yourself telling off your boss
for a decade of accumulated injustices,
all the things you’ve never said circling inside you.
It’s the rising wind that pulls you out of it,
and you look up to see a cloud of leaves
swirling in sunlight, flickering against the blue
and rising above the treetops, as if the whole day
were sighing, Let it go, let it go,
for this moment at least, let it all go.
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness,’ ‘joy,’ or ‘regret.’ Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, ‘the happiness that attends disaster.’ Or: ‘the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.’ I’d like to show how ‘intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members’ connects with ‘the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.’ I’d like to have a word for ‘the sadness inspired by failing restaurants’ as well as for ‘the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.’ I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.
Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you’re tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They’ll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.
Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving itself
to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness
lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch.
You aren’t alone. All of the continents used to be
one body. You aren’t alone. Go to sleep.
Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,
Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,
Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so
Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town
History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.
If the work we do is on a road that leads in two directions, one of those directions would lead to launching and the other (the opposite) would lead to perfecting. Perfection isn’t something that can ever be attained with the work we do, and the more we walk towards it, the more it stays a distant dot on the horizon, always just as far away from us as when we started. Whereas launching is a definite point on the road. We see it more clearly the closer we get to it. And the best part is, we can actually reach it if we work at it. Getting something—anything—out the door is the most important part. Make it great, sure. But acknowledge where great leads to diminishing returns.
I’ve been doing this freelance writing thing for about two months now, and it’s fascinating how every piece I write is a microcosm for starting a new business. I pitch an idea to an investor (a magazine), probably get turned down by many investors (many magazines) until one accepts it, after which begins a process of fretting and executing said idea into a coherent, functioning business (in my case, a written story).
Not every piece of writing turns out great. But undoubtedly, every piece is an exercise in learning what I could do better, what I have done better, and how to translate those learnings into the next “business” I start.
In Melbourne, I was introduced to the business model called "The Lean Startup", a movement that proposes that we ditch our year-long, carefully constructed business plans in favour of an organic, learn-as-we-go-along model. It’s hard work, and you need to subvert your ego and opinions in favour of experimenting and failing fast.
This is a reminder to myself: to use this season of writing to never stop exploring, never stop failing. I’m in the business of words. May I launch myself into this season with the abandon of a child with an entire white wall to play with.
A child. With four white walls. Let’s play.
Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.
I’m not sure self-doubt is an obstacle. It might even be a writer’s best ally. It seems to me that every really good writer I know is plagued by it. Confidence is highly overrated when it comes to creating literature. A writer who is overly confident will not engage in the struggle to get it exactly right on the page — but rather, will assume that she’s getting it right without the struggle. People often confuse confidence with courage. I think it takes tremendous courage to write well — because a writer has to move past the epic fear we all face, and do it anyway.