It would be easy to say that today was a total bust. I didn’t finish a book, I didn’t increase my word count.But it can’t be about word count alone. It can’t be just a job, or it makes no sense. Just like it can’t be about getting the giant advance and writing a book Oprah likes. That’s all well and good, and I sure as hell wouldn’t kick a nice review out of bed once my book is out, but this is a RETREAT.
I made a conscious decision, and then had to fight my inner critic about it all day, to let the day happen as it would.
I’ve been going to bed very late, and that meant that finally today, I woke up really late. By the time I got out for my walk the wind was so fierce that I had to turn back early. I got stung by little bits of broken tumbleweed that scratched my cheeks; the air pushed my breath back into my nose and made me gasp. Spit was forced out of my mouth and across my cheeks. When I turned onto the county road, the wind at my back and pushed me into a jog a couple of times. I quickly realized the battle on the way back and turned around: I had to lean forward and walk like I was climbing uphill.
This is why the grass is so short. Why the trees are twisted and the birds stay low to the ground when they can. Why the den openings all face the road, and are below the pavement line–so they are protected by the small gravel-filled ravine.
It was frustrating, as far as a constitutional goes, but awe-inspiring as far as a walk.
I remember being held up by the wind on the Oregon Coast once. My grandmother took a picture of me that day, so I know I was wearing the multicolored sweater she knit me. Each of its buttons had a different picture painted on it: a train, a lion, a hot air balloon. This means I was somewhere between preschool and first grade–the sweater never fit after that. We were at the Peter Iredale beach. The shipwreck is long gone now, but back then it still jutted like red-black ribs of some leviathan out around the lowtide line.
I don’t have any idea what my grandparents would do while I played by myself on the beach for what seemed like hours. My sister (not yet born, or else too small to travel on this particular day) remembers being ignored by my grandmother years later, when she herself was just past toddler-age, I remember being left alone. I don’t remember whether or not it felt lonely, so I presume it didn’t. This is the fundamental problem with memory, that we each have one of our own.
That day, the wind was blowing so hard that I couldn’t build anything. My long blond hair kept getting in my mouth. I experimented with the strength of the wind; I threw things into and with it, feathers, stones, handfuls of sand. I was still small and knob-kneed then. When my grandmother took a picture of me leaning into a gust, I still had my weight on my feet. After she’d looked or walked away, I kept testing. Only once did the wind blow so hard that my weight left the sand, just for a moment. Then, just as fast, the cold arm let me go and I fell on my knees laughing like a loon.
Today, I read most of the first section of Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire. In the introduction he writes that he wants to explore our relationship with four plants “through a variety of lenses: social and natural history, science, journalism, biography, mythology, philosophy, and memoir.” The plants, and the respective desires they fulfill for humans (in Pollan’s estimation) are: the apple, and our desire for sweetness; the tulip and our desire for beauty; cannabis and our desire for intoxication; and the potato and our desire for control.
Michael Pollan can sometimes affect a condescending tone that once sensed, can’t be shaken. It’s like when someone says the singer has a lisp you hadn’t yet noticed. And then it’s all you can hear. But his information is good, his journalism is interesting, and generally I think he’s trying to be more funny then scolding. The first section, on the apple, focuses on his search for the real Johnny Appleseed, apart from the myth. But along the way he describes the botany of apples, the importance of early “spitter” apples to the frontier-driving nineteenth century Americans, and how myths and legends are bowdlerized for very specific political and religious reasons.
But perhaps most importantly, that description, the lenses, is almost exactly the way I envision structuring my book. I know I am supposed to be worried about my thesis this week, but I refuse to worry.
Getting shit done isn’t measured in how much successful worrying one has accomplished, but how much work. Today was about a different kind of work. My thesis is only one part of my writing life. And despite how my university might want me to feel, I have to act like I’m going to be a writer when I get out of here, not a student.