...for the benefit of the teacher.
I'm starting to repeat myself, but Story Club is precious gift from one of the most kind and generous writers I've ever had the good fortune to encounter. Thank you, thank you, thank you, George!
And I'm thinking about that notion of accomplishment being "only meaningful within a certain fleeting context." For me, after any hard-sought accomplishment—there's the let down, that moment of anti-climax, the feeling of "what next?" and then...back to the anxiety, back to the worry, etc.—was it just a fluke? Is that all there is? Have I shot my wad?? But I think it's the willingness to push into that unknown that matters, not the end result. Whether or not I get lucky enough to "make it" (whatever that might look like) or not, isn't the point—the point is to stay in the process, keep learning, keep reading, keep writing.
For some reason, I'm thinking of a passage from the Tao Te Ching:
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
This club has made me feel awake again; everyone's posts have enriched my thoughts; and George, amidst so many gifts, thank you for being a model of kindness. I am grateful for getting to hitch alongside to this wonderful gang of mensches.
I love this club because I love books and writers of books and blogs and letters and people who like to read and think about what they read. It’s so refreshing.
I have taken care of a few east coast writers when I was a hospice nurse in Boston. Interestingly, at the end of life, they never talked about their books.
Have a good break George and Everyone. For Easter I am off on a walking holiday to the Shetland and Orkney Isles.
I remember trying ( and failing) to finish my PhD. I was at a very respected colleagues funeral. She had written hundreds of papers, done research, taught, set up conferences etc. and in the eulogy what was discussed in detail was the amateur dramatic group she was in, her motor biking holidays, and the tennis club. Very little was made of all the academic work. As I drove home that night I mentally recalibrated myself as a person who loved people and was kind. All the rest didn’t really matter. As Raymond Carver said Did you get what you wanted from this life? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth…….
Thank you so much for your generosity, wit, and incisive points of view. Fear of death and taxes focuses the mind! Possibly books and stories are not quite as important as children and friends and lovers, but they help to remind us what is worthy of our attention. (Love of language; languages of love.)
Much gratitude to you, and to everyone in the Story Club. All of you have invited me to think and feel more deeply lately, and I am overjoyed about that.
“meaningful only within a certain fleeting context." Always good to have some perspective. But George! It's all we've got! (Duh.) I, for one, am super happy you're alive during the same fleeting earthly context as me. That "empty, frenetic activity" you mention--well, when Leonard Cohen asked "what was all that about?" I think he eventually found an answer. (Hineni. Here I am.)
I am all for a break! Honestly, I don't know how you keep up with all of this, but I'm glad that you do. We are all the better for it. And this group--so many great compassionate people here. Sometimes I just peruse the comments for good company. You can't always say that about the comments section!
Anyway, everyone else said it better, but still: Congratulations on this new work, we are all ready for it!
The more you share your experience as a writer, the more kinship I feel. I feel and think like a writer even if I’m not as successful in publishing.
Your description of being inside a process that is in some way empty in itself, and continually holds new work and lets go of the old work, reminded me of the Buddhist idea (I am a dilettante here so apologies if I am distorting) of ālya-vijñāna, "the abode of consciousness." As I understand it, it's the sort of empty-mind-place or -state, in which your thoughts and feelings -- desirable or undesirable ones - find their location. I am an editor more than a writer, so I feel great about understanding my work as constructing an editorial and production process that can kind of hold writers - help them build their own little interior locations for the creative work to unfold it. Thanks for these images (and for so many others) - super valuable to me.
George, you must be incredibly organized because you seem to be able to juggle so many things at once! And I bet you only require five or six hours sleep or less! I can’t wait to read the new collection! I’m only a reader, but I love being a member of this club, a club with so many brilliant, creative artists! I’m still blown away that I’m reading and learning about Cossacks while CNN’s news plays in the living room. And I keep thinking about Babel’s final hours...
I really appreciate this, George. Feels like you're reading my mind. I have so loved this club and am keeping up with all your posts, but haven't been sharing as much because: I'm teaching several classes and prepping for the last few weeks since I'm changing so much (because of this Story Club, as it's given me a plethora of ideas and new stuff to try), and I'm also working on a second book project that is rapidly taking shape. I get how much time, energy, tension this all causes, but am doing my best. Love this space we've all created, and I'm right (or write) with you. Oh, sorry. Puns were never my strong suit....
Uncredited in photo: blackwing pencils.
Even your "breaks" are worthwhile, not that it's always necessary to make them so. Your talk of the dissatisfaction inherent in the writing process means I can't help but share this quote:
“I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly: ‘There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have a peculiar and unusual gift, and you have so far used about one-third of your talent.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.’
‘No artist is pleased.’
‘But then there is no satisfaction?’
‘No satisfaction whatever at any time,’ she cried out passionately. ‘There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.’”
-Agnes de Mille, Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham
Perhaps there's an emptiness to it, but I think all that really means is that we don't do the work in order to "create great works of art" in the sense of a finished product with a finished meaning - we do the work because it's what that life-force is telling us to do.
And that life-force can tell us to do all sorts of things. That's why it's called the life-force: it's life...“What matters isn’t if people are good or bad. What matters is if they’re trying to be better today than they were yesterday.” (The Good Place)
Thank you for the anxiety-reducing reminder that there’s no expectation to “catch up.” Even though I have aspirations to do so!
Spending time in your company with My First Goose has opened the door to the whole of Red Cavalry... I had tried once before but been bewildered. Since working together on MFG I have been able to read and understand the stories a little better, myself a little better, and the world a little better.
That is no small gift.
It was a peaceful morning in Bucha.
The heavy snow of earlier in the week, had melted away revealing the brown mud of the road and the many dead bodies randomly strewn in the open.
One was by his fallen bike,some were burned, some missed limbs, still others crushed flat by retreating tanks.
Many others had a single bullet hole in the back of their heads.
The sounds of war and all it's deadly equipment were gone, except for all the burnt out and destroyed tanks and shattered homes.
A solitary black dog wandered slowly through a near bye yard, head down nervous, he disappeared around the corner and was gone.
The crows were calling from above in the broken trees.
They seem to sadly say; War always destroys it never gives.